We built this city: Was it on ads or content?

Apple allows ad blockers and destroys the web. Or was it already destroyed?


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iOS 9 rolled out this week and there was no controversy at all and everyone was happy and some people got free kittens and haha just kidding.

As you may have read, iOS 9 added the ability for users to load ad blockers for Safari. This wasn’t so much a shot across the bow of the good ship Uncontrollable Slide-Down Ad for HP Servers or Something Else You’ll Never Buy, it was a direct hit amidships.

Firing back is The Verge’s Nilay Patel.

“Welcome to hell: Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook and the slow death of the web” (tip o’ the antlers to Jenny Javert)

So let’s talk about ad blocking.

Ugh, do we have to? [throws self face-down on the bed]

You might think the conversation about ad blocking is about the user experience of news…

That sounds just like you. Look at you. You barely understand how pudding works!

…but what we’re really talking about is money and power in Silicon Valley.

Money. Power. Corruption. Sex. Major League Baseball. Cocaine. An SEO engineer with a heart of gold. Cold fusion. An undelivered letter from 1942 discovered behind a post office wall. An empty baby carriage rolling down an alley.

Wait, what are we talking about again?

Oh, ad blocking. See, despite Patel’s contention, it’s very clearly about business and user experience. If it’s not at all about user experience, why in the heck are people paying for ad blockers? Because Apple told them to? Patel is a smart guy, so this seems pretty deliberately obtuse coming from him.

He runs a site that makes money on ads. There’s nothing wrong with that. Hey, the Macalope makes his money (indirectly) from advertising, too, so he has a vested interest in seeing web publishers survive. But the reason they’re in this mess in the first place is because many of them were unbelievably hostile to the people they were pretending to serve. Pop up ads, pop under ads, flashing ads, auto-playing videos (COUGH), trackers, requests to send you notifications, ads that cover the content, ads that move the content…

“Remember those ‘Hit the chipmunk to win!’ ads from the early 2000s? What if the chipmunk is the content?!

There is a special place in hell for whoever thought that was a good idea.

Point is, the list of atrocities against the good readers of the web is longer than a ZDNet slide show of the ways Apple is doomed. As the Macalope’s mother always said, “These games end in tears.”

What you want is the content, hot sticky content, snaking its way around your body and mainlining itself directly into your brain.

Urg. We didn’t want that content. Gross.

Unfortunately, the ads pay for all that content…

Well, not all of it. A few sites have made subscription models work by providing excellent content. Most of it, though.

But what gets the ads? Eyeballs. And when you offend the eyeballs—or, more accurately, the gray matter behind them—you screw with your own business model. When you drop Baby Ruths in your own punch bowl, you shouldn’t get mad when people won’t drink your punch.

Seriously, the Macalope can make those analogies all day because this is pretty obvious. Which is why Patel’s contention that this is all about Apple fighting Google and Facebook is so laughable.

Is trying to get content for free bad? It’s self-serving of the Macalope to say yes—and we can argue all day about how much the content is really worth—but the horny one is still gonna go ahead and say yes. It’s bad to expect people to not get paid for their work. It doesn’t seem like that should be controversial. Also bad, however, are some of the tactics used by sites (including this one) that make it obvious that their customers are not the readers but advertisers.

When you treat your readers with contempt, this is what happens.

Sadly, the Macalope has to leave you with a pox on both houses that, as Patel correctly notes, is going to affect us all. People who say “Ad blockers are evil!” are wrong and so are people who expect to get the web for free. There’s a middle ground to be had here, but the chance to find it is probably gone and Patel’s hell is a very real possibility.

Hope you like ads in the content drink refreshing Coca-Cola.

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