Meet a Web Publisher Who’s Okay With Safari’s New Ad Removal Feature (Me!)

By  |  Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Back in August, I blogged about an article that predicted that all Web browsers would eventually block all ads by default. I ended with a poll in which a plurality of  respondents said that sounded like a swell idea.

Ten months later, no browser has introduced sweeping ad-blocking. But on Monday, Apple introduced Safari 5, a new version of its browser with a feature called Reader. It’s not an ad blocker per se, but it does remove ads as part of what it does. And it’s the first significant development in built-in ad, um, discouragers since pop-up blockers became standard equipment years ago.

Like Readability and Instapaper, it examines a Web page with an article on it, strips out navigational elements, Flash modules, and other items other than  the story itself, then displays the text and images in a streamlined view that looks a bit like a word-processing document. When an article is broken into multiple pages, it’s also smart enough to stitch all the pages together without making you click on anything.

Here’s what a recent Technologizer story looks like in Reader view:

Judging from the popularity of Instapaper, I expect Reader view to be a hit with Safari users. Safari’s share of the browser market isn’t gigantic–it’s the dominant browser on Macs, of course, but an also-ran on Windows. But popular features nearly always migrate from one browser to others, so it seems like a good bet that Reader-like features will wind up in some or all of the other major browsers.

Apple’s own explanation of Reader says it “removes annoying ads,” but like I say, the feature doesn’t quite count as an ad blocker. You can only switch to Reader view by pressing the “Reader” button after a Web page has been fully loaded, so you’ll see some ads. You won’t, however, be exposed to any that you would have had to scroll down to see, or which were on subsequent pages of multi-page stories. If Reader and Reader-like features came to be the primary way that people consumed Web content, it’s clear that online advertising as we know it would be doomed.

That has some people who create ad-supported Web content spooked. Here’s one who calls Reader a weapon of mass destruction and recommends that online ad kingpin Google sue Apple over it. And here’s Ars Technica’s Ken Fisher pointing out that the chances that anyone will be able to block Apple’s new iAd platform for iPhone and iPad apps are pretty much zilch.

Technologizer–in case you hadn’t noticed–is an ad-supported business: We give away all our content because you guys are a cool bunch of folks who advertisers want to reach.  But I persist in my contrarian view that ad blocking doesn’t present an existential threat for sites like this one.

For one thing, it’s okay if some Technologizer readers use Reader or similar tools and therefore don’t see every ad. Under our current business model, we need lots of people to see the ads, but we don’t need every single person to see every single ad. (For decades, TV advertising has worked pretty well even though a meaningful percentage of couch potatoes use commercial breaks as an opportunity to go to the kitchen or bathroom.)

For another, any site whose ads amount to nothing more than an annoyance which most intelligent people want to avoid is doomed whether or not Reader exists. The most effective form of ad blocking will always be simply not going to a site whose ads annoy you in the first place; the most potent tool that publishers have to defeat ad blocking will always be using advertising in a manner that readers find useful…or at least not nightmarishly aggravating.

(I’ve written before of Technologizer’s ad practices, which mostly consist of doing things that I find okay on other sites, and not doing things that drive me bonkers–for instance, we don’t embed text ads in stories, and while we do break long articles into multiple pages, we chop ‘em up far less than most sites.)

My instinct is Pollyannish here: I think that Reader is potentially a positive development for both consumers and creators of Web content. Consumers get a new way to read stuff, and creators are forced to integrate ads into their sites in a manner that the majority of their readers can live with. Which is what we publishers should be doing anyhow.

The example of pop-up blockers is instructive. When they became default browser features, it presumably freaked out some content sites. But pop-ups deserved to die–it’s the people who blocked them, rather than the ones responsible for them, that helped the Web mature as a publishing medium. I’ll be intrigued to see what impact Reader has, but it doesn’t scare me.

If I have any reservations about it, they don’t involve being terrified that people won’t read ads: I worry that people will be less likely to dive into the conversations going on in Technologizer’s comments, since Reader view doesn’t grab the comments or link to them. But making the comments worth reading is my problem, not one for Web browser makers or Web browser users.

 
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9 Comments For This Post

  1. KJ Says:

    I wouldn’t have a problem with ads if they’d stop blocking the actual content with them. Most recently are those infernal “we’re conducting a survey” page blockers. You want to know what I think? I think you have no worthwhile content and that’s why you’re trying to hide the page.

    Technologizer ads have yet to do anything I find annoying, and so I’m willing to leave AdBlock disabled for this site.

  2. drachenstern Says:

    Isn’t this feature a) opt-in by the user (not the default) and b) doesn’t it still show the original webpage? (from the graphic it would appear so).

    So users are still going to see ads, most people still won’t turn this on, it’ll still blow away some theming so people will have a reason not to turn it on all the time, and content-publishers don’t have a need to show the same ad thirty times to a user, just once. Either the user will be influenced by the ad or not at all. So I like this.

    I can still see the ads as I chose, but I can take a moment and read the content I came for.

    Of course, if other sites would organize layout more effectively (as Technologizer does) I might visit their sites more often to read, instead of to be bombarded by ads.

  3. Steven Fisher Says:

    It also becomes the publisher’s responsibility to provide an aesthetically pleasing site: a good font, in a reasonable size.

    If it’s any metric, I have Safari 5 and love the Reader function, but I didn’t bother using it here.

  4. Harry McCracken Says:

    It is opt-in, and you’ll see as much of the site as fits in your browser window before you can switch to Reader view. But you won’t see any ads that would have required you to scroll, and if it’s a multi-page article you won’t see the ads on page 2, 3, 4, etc.

    For purposes of reporting Technologizer’s traffic to advertisers and potential advertisers, we use a system that’s smart enough to not count visitors who use ad-blocking software such as AdBlock Plus. With Reader, the ads on the first page would be counted; I’m not sure about pages beyond that. Of course, counting ads that are ignored isn’t a great long-term strategy for anyone involved…

    –Harry

    –Harry

  5. ReynaldoRiv Says:

    Harry, can I just say that your site handles ads like a champ.

    I see all your ads but NONE of them are distracting yet ALL of them are interesting an pertain to technology. Another big win is that they match the color scheme of the site so they don’t draw attention when you aren’t looking.

    I’m very happy to have you on the White List.

  6. Rob Says:

    Unfortunately, given my NoScript settings, I never see ads on Technologizer. I wish I could for your sake and, perhaps, for my own!

    Did you realize that a Reader-esque view of every story is available via your RSS feed? Most feeds give only a summary or just the initial part of a story requiring one to click through to the web site to see the whole story. That means you’re losing an opportunity to put ads before some of your readers. (Perhaps NoScript is affecting what I see in the RSS reader, since that’s the Brief extension for FF, but I’m assuming the ads are simply not part of the RSS content.)

  7. Dave Barnes Says:

    “Under our current business model, we need lots of people to see the ads, but we don’t need every single person to see every single ad.”

    But, if everyone has my behavior, then you wind up with nothing seen at all.
    I use AdBlock Plus with custom filters and block:
    *scorecardresearch.com*
    *quantservec.om*
    *stats.wordpress.com*
    *fmpub.net*
    *google-analytics.com*

  8. John Baxter Says:

    I *could* read Technologizer stories in my RSS reader. I generally don’t–I take the trouble to click through to the site specifically because Harry handles the ads so well. (That doesn’t mean I see the ads–I’m quite well trained. (If I do happen to see–on other sites–what product is being advertised, that ad becomes a negative factor in purchase decisions.

    Reader mode is the first thing about Safari on Windows that might cause me to install it (it’s my primary browser on Macs, although Chrome is gaining use on the Macs here). But I probably won’t, since Safari would bring with it Apple’s evil updater app.

  9. Big Dan Says:

    I like the Reader feature more for everything being on one page and text being clearer to read without colored background and such then the ad blocking aspect. Then again I run Ad Block Plus only because monetization seems to win over readability/usability on most sites.

    Now that I use Safari much on either Mac or Windows but the announcement of the feature made remember readability and add it to my bookmarks toolbar. :D

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