Rythie's Blog

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The Problem With Online Advertising

Ars Technica has posted about "Why Ad Blocking is devastating to the sites you love". However it is not us, the readers, that are to blame, it's the publishers and advertisers that have created adverts that are so bad, that we need sophisticated ways to work around them. I don't have the same problem with advertising on magazines and newspapers and on U.K. TV. I actually think some of the advertising is better than many of the programmes.

Why is web advertising so bad?

Lets start in early 90s when I started reading content on the web, back then there were very few ads, a few were animated gifs in banners but it was no major deal. In the early 00s ads got a lot more aggressive with popup adverts and even worse pop-under adverts. Pop-up and Pop-under adverts really destroyed the credibility of advertising for me, since they were actively making the web difficult to use and especially for non-technical people. Of course we solved this with Opera, Firefox and eventually with IE following suit so that every major browser supported blocking pop-ups.

Now, you'd think that advertisers would have learnt their lesson, don't make really adverts annoying or we will find some way to block them.

However they didn't, here are some of the behaviours that annoy me in online advertising today:

  • Animated content. This especially bad when it's in a column next to the content I'm reading, it's flashing in the corner of my eye and I can't read the content. So basically I can't read the content that was the whole purpose of my visit. Why not put this content at the top or bottom, so I can put it out of view while I'm reading?
  • Interstitial advertising. Now we don't have pop-ups, advertisers now think it's slide in a advert from the side over the content before I've read it or even worse cover the whole content with an advert before I can view it. This is again this is stopping me from using the site properly.
  • Ads that make a noise. In this day and age it's quite common for people to play music on their computers and therefore have speakers on or have forgotten to plug in their headphones. However in shared office it's disruptive and embarrassing to have adverts play sounds even when you click on them.
  • Poor quality products. For me anything where there is a prize, medical and dental products, weight loss etc.
  • Scammy ads that point to spyware to download. Really no site should have this and really it's the lesser sites that let the side down by continuing to do this.
  • Spinning up the CPU. I use Linux and the Flash support is not the greatest, in particular a Flash advert can often spin up to 100% CPU making they system noisy, slowing it down and wearing down the battery if it's a laptop.

If you are a content site and you don't do the above or you don't any more, then you probably think your safe, but you're not. People have long memories. What other sites do affects how people perceive advertising. People are tuning out the adverts everywhere they go, because they are so often irrelevant, so they don't even look at that part of the page.

Better Advertising?

I tried to think about the sites I love and how they handle advertising. The sites I love, are ones that have something so unique that is no replacement for their content. I would hate it if they closed down and would pay if asked to:


I read this because it has some good in-depth articles about kernel development and the only other way to get even close to the would be to read the very busy Linux Kernel Mailing List, which I don't have anywhere near the time to do. LWN actually has a paid option, without paying you get everything a week late, so I have the paid option.


I've followed Anandtech since it started in 1997 and it has consistently provided the most in depth coverage of hardware topics. In a way most of the articles are suggesting you buy some piece of hardware based on the reviews. However to keep the site neutral it advertises places that sell hardware, unfortunately most of the adverts are animated and that's annoying. They do have some context sensitive adverts that sometimes are fairly close to what is being talked about. I think they could innovate a bit here and have a list of the exact products in the review and where you could buy them. I think if the advertising revenue dropped they could do well buy partnering or being bought by a online computer parts retailer. Dpreview was bought by Amazon for example.

Techmeme is not a content site itself, but it a very good way to get an overview of what everyone is talking about. Techmeme have a brilliant model for advertising in that they simply have a section called "Techmeme Sponsor Posts" with some very good content from well known companies, which is often interesting enough to click on


Hackernews is a aggregation site, though it has a fair amount of content, I wouldn't want to be without it. It's not really the stories that come through, but the really good comments on every story that make the site. Hackernews doesn't have any advertising, though the whole thing is a big advertisement for the Ycombinator startup programme and Ycombinator funded startups. I think they must do pretty well out of this since they will surely see a much greater number of startups than their competitors.

Jason Calancis's this week in startups (TWiST) (Video podcast)

I think this content is simply unique, Jason basically brings in his friends to talk about startups and basically that's pretty much everyone in silicon valley and the surrounding area. The content is always very good, due to Jason and guests he has. Jason gets about 25,000 viewers to his show every week and brings in $4,000 every show, $1,000 each for the 4 advert slots he reads, this seems like a very good model to me. TWiST is also a good advert for OpenAngelForum which is Jason's own way to get startups funded, it's clear that promoting this is a genius move by Jason since a lot of the people doing startups watch his show and he knows all the best investors so he can really provide value doing that.

All this leaves me wondering, What's the future of web content? Is it paid content? More relevant, targeted advertising? Something else?