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How it all ads up

Online advertising may be intrusive and troublesome, but it is a necessary evil

Advertisements on websites started out innocuously enough. While the ad industry found its feet on the web and discovered its reach, users browsed its depths with abandon. They did crop up though, with Google being among the first to realise that selling ads was its best shot at becoming much more than a search engine. Bloggers and small websites took the search giant’s help and started displaying ads on their sidebars and headers.

Ads, by their very nature, are intrusive, and they have a habit of creeping into territory you want them to stay out of. In print media, they graduated from the bottom right of pages to taking up half the page, then entire pages, and eventually formed jackets and pull-outs that you had to hunt around for content. Their online counterparts now do the same thing. Some pop up during your browsing session, and follow you as you scroll, some start playing videos, some play in between videos. The interactive nature of the Internet multiplied their potential many times.

Over time, ads online became annoying enough for the creation of ad-blockers. Adblock, one of the leading names in the space, is a browser plug-in that actively stops ads from destroying your browsing experience. If you have the plug-in installed, glance at its icon from time to time to check the little number that depicts how many ads it blocked on that page; the results are often surprising.

The creation of Adblock gave most people peace of mind, until recently. Over the past year, many Internet users, particularly those who frequent news websites, would have noticed a trend where the site politely interrupts your reading and asks you to turn off your ad-blocking software. Some even refuse to let you read further unless you do so, leaving you with the option of paying a small subscription fee or adding the site to your ad-blocker’s whitelist.

Recently, the plug-in got into a tussle with none other than Facebook itself, because it developed features that allowed its users to block even the sponsored posts that Facebook cleverly embeds all over your newsfeed. For a platform that thrives by selling the public data of its users to advertisers for targeted marketing, this was not a good sign, resulting in Facebook updating its code to block the blocker itself. The little open-source upstart found a way around this as well, leading to the two see-sawing over the issue for the time being.

This brings us to the purpose of this piece. If there is one thing we have learnt from the history of advertising on the Internet, it is that online ads are now a necessary evil, at least for content creators who depend on the Internet for income. While some of the aforementioned news websites do have long-running print counterparts, the balance of power is now swaying towards online, and no one can afford to ignore that any more. Many bloggers have also complained about how ad-blockers and browsers like Alibaba’s UC Browser (which has such a feature built-in), are hurting their fortunes. Content creators depend on a mix of sponsorships, affiliate programmes and ads to keep their work going, and a blanket ad-block solution dents their fortunes significantly.

As users, it is time we accepted the inevitable fact that ads are part of our lives. Everyone uses them, and most of the time, that includes people who make content we care about. So install that ad-blocker, and whitelist the sites that matter to you. Use Facebook’s upcoming granular ad-control features to keep things manageable on social media feeds, and report Google-powered ads that obstruct content or cause annoyance. All said and done, ads are here to stay. It’s time we come to terms and manage our online browsing preferences to toe that fine line between supporting good content and weeding out that annoying pop-up.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 6:56:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/How-it-all-ads-up/article15604643.ece

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