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February 14, 2009

Art Not Ads or Tivo My Web

One of the things that's very cool about open source software is that people can contribute things that they think are worthy, and the community decides. If you want a new feature on Firefox (the web browser), you can build it yourself and submit a plug-in. Firefox allows users to choose "plug-ins" that change the browsing experience. This is very significant; can you imagine Microsoft opening up the Internet Explorer API so that people could play around? Not likely.

Plug-ins for Firefox are consistent with web standards; nobody re-writes a web page to leverage a Firefox plug-in. The plug-ins improve the browser, not the website.

My favorite Firefox plug-in is FastDial, which presents a visual favorites page -- thumbnail links in a flat menu. I still bookmark sites I find important, because (1) I think that our trails through the web are valuable, and (2) I hate feeling like I've come down with amnesia infonesia and can't find something that I know I've seen. FastDial is for the websites I routinely visit.

Who pays for the web? There's four primary cash sources for the internet - pornography, gambling, advertising, and online sales. Google, for instance, sells advertising. They do it brilliantly, they bring remarkable benefits, but (right now) they're an advertising company.

Some people don't like ads on their websites. It's especially problematic if you don't have a high-speed connection, and the bandwidth to get the ad through the internet pipes slows down your surfing. If you're paying for your web connection, you're paying to download advertisements. Plugins called ad blockers let you do something about that.

Tivo is to Television, what ad blockers are to the Internet. Think about the phrase "tivo the web" - fifteen years ago that didn't mean anything to anybody.

If you're a company selling ad space on your website (hello, New York Times, losing money on the print side and betting the company on profiting on the web side) this is a strategic threat that cannot be understated. Some key sites have considered blocking Firefox users as a second front in the ad-blocker wars.

Advertisers unintentionally helped the ad-blockers by implementing standard sizes for web advertisements - if you're trying to block ads, you can be pretty sure that an image that's 468x60 pixels is an advertisement. The standard ad sizes were developed because it saved the industry from negotiating each individual ad placement. At the time, they probably thought it was a great idea. It's killing them now.

I believe that one of the main reasons Google invested in developing Chrome is that they recognize the threat of ad-blockers and Firefox plugins. Google Chrome hopes to present an experience so nifty that you won't care about the ads - which is their core competency. If you sell advertising, you need to make sure people see the ads.

Usually, ad blockers will present white space in the area where the advertisement would have been.

There's a new plug-in, Add-Art that offers to replace the advertisements on the sites you visit with artwork. They've provided bits of art that match the standard ad sizes, and their plugin replaces the ads with artwork.


AdBlock Plus presents white space where the ads go, saving the bandwidth and minimizing distractions. Add-Art puts art there, using some bandwidth to download the art work, and presenting a more pleasant distraction.

One of the tricky things about art is that we all like A-R-T as a concept at the 30,000 feet view, but when it gets to individual servings, art may offend. One of the Add-Art shows is Making Arabs Fun, and others are potentially controversial. There's potential problems there.

Newspapers across America are dying. Print advertising revenues were decreasing before the economy went sour, and they're plummeting now. Some newspapers are trying to monetize their web operation as a lifeboat, and ad blockers are a direct challenge to that. It's very David and Goliath, and I don't think Goliath is going to win this one, either.

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