Interview responses - a summary · 2007-09-29 01:24 by Wladimir Palant
This month Adblock Plus got some great publicity. Regardless of how this sudden interest for a niche product started and regardless of what all these articles actually said — this is very good because it makes Adblock Plus more widely known. But I spent quite some time answering interview questions and most of the time these answers didn’t get anywhere. In quite a few cases I had a strong suspicion that the reporter already knew what he was going to write before asking questions. He would then throw away any answer that didn’t fit into his scheme. I would hate to see all this time wasted, so I want to publish a summary of all that I’ve written in email answers over the month (unfortunately, I don’t have recordings of phone interviews).
Why do you develop Adblock Plus?
I started developing it for several reasons:
- I am using Adblock Plus myself. For me, this is an essential tool. It makes web surfing for me much faster (this is important, I use the Internet for work and I don’t want to wait for the banners whenever I need some information) and removes the annoyances that you usually have to endure.
- It seems to be an important reason for people to switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox – and I think that the more people use a modern browser, the better.
- The more I work on Adblock Plus, the more I see that this tool could change the way the web develops. Pop-up advertisements are almost non-existent today — thanks to pop-up blockers. Now we have a chance to get rid of other annoying forms of advertising, and ad blockers like Adblock Plus will certainly help reaching this goal.
What is your opinion on online advertising?
I am not against advertising per se, it has its uses. What I don’t like is intrusive advertising that we see too often right now. Ads should not make noise, they should not try to steal your attention with animations, they should not cover up the content you are trying to read requiring you to click them away. And of course they should not waste your resources more than necessarily (bandwidth, CPU usage), invade your privacy or try to make you download spyware — issues that we are facing today.
Did you have any blowback from advertising companies?
Not really. Adblock Plus isn’t popular enough yet, attacking it would be a waste of time. So far, the only ones trying to “protect” themselves against Adblock Plus are small websites who don’t have anything better to do than alienating their user base. One interesting case is environmentalchemistry.com where the site owner spent much time and energy on blocking Adblock users (meaning really Adblock and not Adblock Plus, this was quite some time ago) — and then stated that it wasn’t worth it.
No, Google didn’t complain either, even though pretty much every filter list out there blocks Google ads (however, I heard many people saying that they explicitly allow Google ads in their configuration). And I don’t think they will complain.
Has there been any legal action against Adblock Plus? Do you expect anything in this direction in future?
No. The only case I know of is http://comparativeictlaw.blogspot.com/2007/09/hungarian-newspaper-meets-adblock-plus.html (that seems to be the only article on the topic in English) — index.hu sent out letters of cease and desist to two filter list maintainers (*not* developers). The legal basis of these letters was more than shaky, so it is not surprising that they admitted a mistake and apologized.
And I don’t expect much in future either. Adblock Plus is no way illegal. It does not even modify web pages, it only “decides” what is allowed to be loaded. And finding a legal explanation why I am obliged to load an ad will be very hard, especially if you look at the browser’s ability to disable loading of all images or even at text browsers. The way a web site is presented on my computer is not under the control of the web publisher, it simply cannot be regardless of how much some publishers would like this.
Anyway, suing Adblock Plus “out of business” will not help anybody — you cannot kill an idea on the Internet. The software that I am making is open source, even if I stop working on it — each Adblock Plus user has a copy, and any of them could develop it further. If the advertisers have a problem, they will not be able to solve it in the legal way. As long as people want to block ads, they will be able to do this.
Is there an arms race between advertisers and Adblock Plus? Do you expect one?
No and no. Adblock Plus 0.7.5.2 is the only time that I released a bug fix after the bug has been used “in the wild.” And that only happened because I was too busy with other things, this issue has been known for quite some time. So there is no real arms race, and I don’t expect one either.
So far no larger sites participated in attempts to block Adblock Plus users. Reason might be that I make it impossible to detect Adblock Plus reliably — and larger sites don’t tend to risk annoying their users for a very hypothetical gain. Not to mention that even users who block ads are valuable (Michael Arrington points it out nicely in Why Darwin Beats Danny Carlton).
Note that some sites are detecting ad blockers and displaying a message, patiently asking you to buy a subscription. This is different — while the detection is still unreliable, your users will probably not be annoyed if you show them this message by mistake. Also, it is unlikely that filter list maintainers will change their filters only to disable a friendly message (they will definitely do this for a site blocking Adblock Plus users however).
Do you think there will be technological solutions to prevent Adblock Plus from working?
I doubt anything can make Adblock Plus entirely unusable. However, Adblock Plus has a very distinct technological limit. Blocking every single ad on the Internet requires too much effort — which is why I think that over time we will reach a balance where only the annoying advertisements will be blocked by filter lists like EasyList. The others would “survive” because nobody will bother blocking them. Which is a good thing, we need something to discourage advertisers from using annoying ads.
Is there other popular ad blocking software?
Yes, actually a lot of it. Some firewalls come with built-in ad blocking capabilities, e.g. Norton Internet Security, Agnitum Outpost Firewall or Kerio Personal Firewall (I think these firewalls have way more users than Adblock Plus). There are also ad blocking solutions like Ad Muncher or Proxomitron. And, finally, there are plug-ins for particular browsers — e.g. IE7Pro for Internet Explorer or PithHelmet and SafariBlock for Safari.
Are you aware that Adblock Plus threatens all free content on the Internet?
No. I am actually pretty sure that Adblock Plus is not the end of the Internet, even though it might change some business models. If your business model is to annoy your customers, should you be surprised that you no longer can pay your bills? I wrote two articles on this topic recently: Profitability is not a right, it has to be earned and Ads don’t generate money
Does anybody make money from Adblock Plus?
No. Adblock Plus is my personal hobby project, I don’t make any money from it and neither do I intend to.
Do you work for Microsoft, Google or some of the traditional advertising companies that are loosing money due to advertising moving to the Internet?
Commenting is closed for this article.