Notes on Advertising and Internet Media

Notes on Advertising and Internet Media

Originally, this post was going to be about how I decided to start using advertising to try to cover some of the costs of running people[PLACES]spaces (web hosting and domain registration are not free).  I still want to ask those of you who do use ad blockers to consider turning them off on people[PLACES]spaces, and on any other websites that you visit or read regularly and want to support.  And I will still promise you that I will never use auto-play video ads on people[PLACES]spaces.  But lately I’ve been thinking more and more about how to act with intention, even in the most mundane and everyday activities, and oddly enough, how we choose to view and consume advertising can be a part of that.

At the risk of sounding trite, the internet has enabled an explosion of access to information.  And so much of that information is available for free, for better or worse, because of advertising.  But online information is not created equal, and in a time when “truth” has lost its meaning, and speech seems increasingly threatened, finding and supporting reliable sources is more important than ever.  In most cases, the best way to support the sources you enjoy and trust is to support their advertising.

A screenshot example of abusive advertising from a recent visit to a Los Angeles Times story about the proposed high-speed rail route.  To even read the story I had to close a full-screen ad, then once I started scrolling through the story two huge ads, one of them a video, pop into the text, leaving only a single sentence visible on the page.  As if that’s not enough, the sidebar is full of ads, often animated, and constantly refreshing.  By the time I’ve read about half way through the story, another full-screen ad comes up, blocking the whole page.  I’m lucky if I can finish the story before all the ads crash my browser.

A screenshot example of abusive advertising from a recent visit to a Los Angeles Times story about the proposed high-speed rail route.  To even read the story I had to close a full-screen ad, then once I started scrolling through the story two huge ads, one of them a video, pop into the text, leaving only a single sentence visible on the page.  As if that’s not enough, the sidebar is full of ads, often animated, and constantly refreshing.  By the time I’ve read about half way through the story, another full-screen ad comes up, blocking the whole page.  I’m lucky if I can finish the story before all the ads crash my browser.

I write this not to guilt you into deleting that ad blocker extension on your browser, but rather to suggest a more active and engaged approach to advertising on online media.  There are a lot of websites that absolutely abuse their readers with excessive advertising (I’m looking at you, Los Angeles Times).  But websites are catching on, and some will not even allow readers to access content if they use an ad blocker (still looking at you, Los Angeles Times).  Online advertising is a never ending arms race.  So rather than blocking all ads on every website, why not block more selectively?  Think about the websites that you trust most, the websites that you rely on most frequently, and even the websites that just bring you the most joy, and consider supporting their advertising.

The majority of the work that I do to create the content on people[PLACES]spaces involves reading other things online, and I admit I still use an ad blocker for most websites.  But rather than wait for websites to require me to turn off my ad blocker to access their content, I’ve started actively allowing advertisements on the sites I visit most, and the sites that I rely on for information.  Advertisements may be annoying, but it would be even more annoying to lose the websites that I depend on most.  

In my experience, the sources that I turn to most often tend to have the least obtrusive advertising, while the sites with disruptive auto-play video ads are usually sources I don’t need to bother with anyway (looking at you again, Los Angeles Times).  And if you really want to support the sources you trust, actually click on an ad every once in awhile (preferably something you are actually interested in).  In my short time using advertising, I’ve learned that ad clicks provide orders of magnitude greater revenue to websites than page views alone, and it might also help make the ads you see even more targeted to your interests.

At the end of the day, advertising is a form of design.  It is designed to interrupt you, to grab your attention.  And like so many other types of design, some advertising is very good, but most of it is really bad.  Actively trying to silence advertising only makes it scream louder.  Let’s support the good stuff so we can avoid getting any more of the bad stuff.

Header image by flickr user bunnicula via Creative Commons, CC BY-ND