How About That Free Lunch Now
When newspapers and writers of other content moved to the internet, they still needed to make a living, of course, and naturally they turned to advertisers to help fund their efforts. Since there was no pay model for the internet, such as had been the case in the days of paper newspapers when readers either subscribed for home delivery or paid directly at street corner kiosks, publishers relied even more heavily on advertisers for income. For some reason, people had gotten the notion that internet content should be free, and rightly or wrongly that’s the way things developed. Here is where the interactive part kicked in and started an internet arms race.
Bob Dylan performs his song “Mr. Tambourine Man” at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. Dylan’s guitar and harmonica rig is much like the getup buskers used then and today to make a few dollars for their efforts. All that’s missing here is the hat or guitar case for collecting money tossed in by passers by. Many small websites, like this one, have to either pass the hat by posting a “Donate” button, or hope for the best from advertising revenue, or both.
Advertisers realized that since the internet was interactive and didn’t just lie there waiting to wrap fish after it was published like the old paper newspapers did, they could do things to jazz up their ads and, they thought, readers would pay closer attention and the advertisers would see higher returns. Great! Not all advertisers, just the ones who lacked any restraint, got their ads to hop up and down, to yell and scream for attention, to obfuscate for a period the content the reader was actually there to see, and to otherwise make a nuisance of themselves in order to draw attention. It turns out people did not like that, particularly the ones with slow internet connections or limited bandwidth, which the sparkly new advertisements ate into, much to the hapless reader’s dismay. Enter software engineers with a retaliatory response.
The software engineers had some experience in combating opponents in the advertising field after having worked to swat away the pop up army of advertisements that plagued internet users in the early days. One thing many advertisers have never been known for is restraint. Now here they were again, but instead of pop ups they were employing twitchy, sparkly, pushy advertisements. The software engineers working on behalf of browser makers and internet users came up with ad blockers. Now all ads were blocked. Hah hah! Internet users had the option of whitelisting – or permitting – ads on a website in the options menu of their ad blocker, but who would ever bother to do that? Publishers noticed, however, that their internet ad revenue plummeted.
An emotionally fraught rendition of “Silver Springs” in a 1997 concert by Fleetwood Mac, which demonstrates why they continued to draw large crowds well after their heyday. The song, written and sung by Stevie Nicks, who as a songwriter ranks in the top echelon of 1970s and 1980s pop and soft rock, is a deeply personal revelation. Fleetwood Mac had by 1997 long passed their peak of popularity for album sales, but concert ticket prices for such an established group with an extensive catalog of hits remained high, from $20 to $50 for the cheap seats, to over $100 for the best seats. The internet works similarly, with an enormous underclass of websites barely making it, and several well established websites with large followings dominating the market.
Enter Google in the spring of 2017 with the Funding Choices program and their own ad blocker built into their Chrome browser, which in the past year has overtaken Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as the world’s most popular browser. But since Google makes the lion’s share of its revenue selling ads and marketing user information, why would Google then be against ads? Because the obnoxious ads that prompted the development of ad blockers have poisoned the well for everybody, and Google, with its dominant market position, can dictate which ads will fly and which ones won’t.
The Funding Choices program is geared toward internet users, telling them they can pay to subscribe to a publisher’s content and go ad free, or view the content free on condition they allow ads, which Google assures them they have vetted for good behavior. Google’s ad blocker built into its Chrome browser is geared toward advertisers, telling them essentially that unless they allow Google to vet their ads for good behavior, they will not see the light of day on the world’s most popular browser. All of this would seem a boon to both internet users and publishers. But that depends on how much they trust “Don’t Be Evil” Google. Rather than turn over yet more power to Google, a company which has already surpassed Microsoft in ways not only financial but morally suspect, perhaps the time has come for internet users to seek alternatives not only for search but for the multitude of other applications which Google has used to ingratiate itself as the public’s servant, the servant whose ear is always at the door. This website, for one, will seek alternatives to displaying Google ads. Oh, you weren’t even aware there were Google ads on this website?