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VPAID ads destroy performance and are still served by major ad networks (plus.google.com)
1045 points by archon810 on June 14, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 392 comments

At the Guardian we needed our own video player, because we couldn't rely on a third party platform not to take down something that we published. Editorial independence was important.

We implemented our player on top of video.js, and most of the developers who were there at the time still have nightmares about it.

We finally got the thing working, looking good, embeddable, reasonably cross-browser. We shipped it. A few days later, we get a curious email from some ad provider. "It looks like your VPAID ads have stopped running!"

Oops. We'd naively believed we could live without Flash (I take full responsibility for this stupidity). The sales folks pointed to a big gap between our old projected revenue and our new projected revenue. So we went and did the work[0], hating every minute of it.

The underinvestment in ad-tech by publishers and the cancerous ecosystem of vendors that have grown up around it is one of biggest collective mistakes made by an industry.

I am optimistic that this problem can be solved, and we are actively looking at this at my current employer. We sell direct, usually without a ton of intermediaries. Talk to me if you want to know more.

Incidentally, if you want to know if a publisher is going to survive the next five years, a decent proxy is the number of intermediaries involved in their ad supply chain.

[0] https://github.com/guardian/video-js-vpaid

I've spent months working on the video players for all the brands for one of the largest media companies in the world.

I did plenty unpleasant work for them, like building a clean redesign, agonizing over page load speeds, and then filling up the page with multi-megabyte tracking tools and every possible ad under sun (which would not only ruin the design, but often inexplicably and randomly break the page because of really, really shitty code).

All that work was pleasant compared to the horror of working on the video player though, and I felt bad for the full-timers who were usually put on 'bug-fixing' duty while we contractors got to work on the cool projects...

I always feel like people are brave to admit they do this sort of work, and I have less of this feeling reading about much older professions. However it's very interesting and the stories are often both amusing and horrifying whatever my overriding view.

I'm not entirely sure what you're saying (or implying), but I'm curious. Could you elaborate?

I perceive the industry to be a waste of very talented people's time and skill sets. The brains doing this stuff could solve some huge problems yet they are just working on ways of serving up more adverts in more distracting ways. Somewhat in conflict with this view of mine is my interest in the stories that come out of the industry and the clever ways hard problems are solved.

It takes all kinds of people and jobs to make this world work. There's no such thing as just realigning effort to "solve some huge problems".

Advertising is a massive industry and while it does have some plenty of annoying outputs, it has also powered the commercialization and expansion of the internet to what we have today. The world has definitely benefited from all the rich content, services and companies like Google that are available because of it.

> There's no such thing as just realigning effort to "solve some huge problems".

There is, it's just very hard to do and usually requires some potential catastrophe and a lot of money to do. Yes, advertising has funded some great things, but many of them I avoid. I want my data to stay where I put it and don't want to be tracked and sold. Pretty sure I'm losing though.

Hah, I agree. That's why I developed some degree of depression and vowed never to do this kind of thing again. Not that I'm likely to solve some huge problems, but at the very least I don't want to make the world a worse place.

I don't know if your view and interest are in conflict though. Valuable knowledge can come from bad sources, no?

Thanks for the reply - I was trying to avoid sounding insulting. There are ethical dilemmas with my job so it would be a little rich to go there. Regarding good data, bad source (adding to Godwin's law), Nazi medical experiments and the more recent use of their data. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_human_experimentation

Hehe, that was exactly what I was thinking of, but I wanted to avoid Godwinning. So I Godlost.

As someone who's been in the adtech business for years, I admire the Guardian for being one of the better engineered sites out there when it comes to ads. At least you guys have fast loading content and try to optimize the experience as much as you can.

We built a brand new modern ad network[1] and it's amazing how few advertisers and publishers care or even understand how important a good user experience is.

1. https://instinctive.io

Seems like the ad market is bifurcating: "native content" for those with ad blockers, and ridiculous garbage-ads for those who either (1) don't have the tech literacy to install and run an adblocker, or (2) are whitelisting out of empathy for content creators.

Increasingly I believe we'll see the former.

Does "native content" (paid-for pieces disguised as objective information) require "sophisticated" ad network tech?

There's a difference between the formats and the distribution systems.

Content has always been a good marketing tool, we're just starting to see a lot more of it with publishers setting up their own "agencies" to sell pieces written by the same teams but for advertisers. Some are actually really great (Netflix stories for example).

When it comes to distribution, there is just a lot that needs to be done for advertising. Part of the big draw for digital/online is all the data you can collect and analyze and use to optimize. Publishers usually do not have the technical resources to build this or manage and integrate with all the other thousands of systems that advertisers use. It's almost always worth it to have a vendor that specializes in the infrastructure so publishers can just focus on their own business.

However, because adblockers mostly work at the network interface level, the typical 3rd party javascript tag approach is very easy to disable, and self-published native content by publishers using the existing content management system is a good workaround. It's more of a stop gap then a long term approach though.

> However, because adblockers mostly work at the network interface level, the typical 3rd party javascript tag approach is very easy to disable, and self-published native content by publishers using the existing content management system is a good workaround. It's more of a stop gap then a long term approach though.

The major adblocker filter lists tend to quickly add filters for "native" ads on any site with a non-trivial number of users.

Rather than moving to native ads, start planning today for how you could do without ads entirely. If that doesn't turn up any answers, you should worry about your future.

Adblockers are just software and there are already dozens of ways to work around this. It's not the end of the world but a new paradigm that requires more work than before. Part of the benefit is that it's a reset in the industry that should get rid of some of the bad vendors and help improve the experience by showing advertisers that consumers do care about UX and choice.

Advertising will always be around though. No need to worry about that future. People want content but they don't want to pay, and advertising is a great model that works well for the vast majority. In fact digital advertising today is bigger, stronger and better than ever.

It's the legacy tech, formats and thinking that are broken, but progress is being made and everything will get better soon enough.

How is digital advertising 'better than ever' when everyone seems to agree that the situation is untenable?

I admire your optimism that putting consumers and advertisers in a directly adversarial relationship (by forcing them into an arms race around blocking) will somehow make everything great, but I have a hard time sharing it.

Hey Maciej - maybe this will go better than our twitter exchange a few months back.

This is a much longer discussion than fit for HN but digital advertising is doing better in pretty much every metric: There's more time spent with ads, deeper engagements, more conversions/ROI and better formats than ever before. Take a look at any of the big apps and platforms that have billions of interactions that happen every day for the data to back this up. Adblocking, even at the scale it is today, is still a small percentage of the entire market.

I'm not sure who you're referring to with "everyone" but the situation is definitely not untenable. It's just outdated. Advertising is always a relationship between the advertiser, publisher and consumer but the consumer was never really considered in the past because they had no power or way to provide feedback. Adblocking is changing that dynamic and giving power to the people while letting advertisers know that they need to actually consider the user experience.

Since the advertising model isn't going to go away, the natural evolution is that the implementation and approach will change to create better experiences that fit with the way people consume media along with the expectations around privacy, relevance and value. The market will also re-calibrate and rise up from the artificially low rates of today.

This is a massive industry so it won't be quick and there will be lots of pain in the short term. No way around that, but progress is happening and things will absolutely get better. It might be a hated industry (and for good reason) but there are plenty of good people out there working hard and doing the right thing.

> Since the advertising model isn't going to go away

There are plenty of people who would like it to, and personally I hope they win. With sufficiently widespread and robust use of adblocking technology, perhaps advertising will become sufficiently unworkable to go away entirely.

You've said the same thing several times in all the advertising related threads. While I understand some of the sentiment, let me be as blunt as possible: Advertising will never go away.

The fundamental model of advertising giving free access to content is great and works for pretty much everyone. It's fast, simple, egalitarian, requires no commitment and is very scalable.

Adblocking tech will never cover 100% of ads, there will always be workarounds and other developments to either serve ads or refuse adblocking users. With all the adblocking growth we've seen so far, it's still a tiny part of the ad market. Whatever we've lost in adblocked impressions has been more than made up for in all the mobile apps and platforms that take up more and more of people's time.

If you really want to pay for content then there are increasingly more options being offered, but this does not need to be mutually exclusive of ads. It's just a different option and more choice is the real solution.

>The fundamental model of advertising giving free access to content is great and works for pretty much everyone. It's fast, simple, egalitarian, requires no commitment and is very scalable.

Is it? Step back from the Internet. How many people keep things laden with adverts? Cars, magazine and appliances come covered in advertising crap. Better quality things suffer a less from this. We throw things away that are covered with adverts, or at a minimum pull them off. Things that come as they are, unadulterated, are things I place a higher value on. By and large adverts mark things out as cheap. I may be different to others in this regard but I like to pay more, lose the crap and that be it.

Is it what?

> How many people keep things laden with adverts?

I dont know but this doesn't really have anything to do with the advertising model. Ads don't need to be around forever to do their job. Digital ads are by definition very ephemeral and instantaneous.

> Things that come as they are, unadulterated, are things I place a higher value on. By and large adverts mark things out as cheap.

That's because ads do make goods/services cheap(er). If you dont want ads, then you have to make up the cost by paying it yourself. You're just talking about a spectrum on how much of the true cost you want to pay.

> but I like to pay more, lose the crap and that be it.

Ok, you can do that. More publishers are starting to offer paid subscriptions and there are services like patreon, flattr, blendle, optimal, google contributor and more. More choice is good but most will choose ads for free content.

> We throw things away that are covered with adverts, or at a minimum pull them off.

A former coworker posted a picture of her baby on Instagram wearing a GAP tshirt. That's an advert that's only going to get thrown away when the kid outgrows it.

Ads will never disappear entirely, because at a basic level, they are really just packets of information. Some are more obnoxious, targeted, and/or dangerous than others, but seeing as how the internet was created to facilitate the distribution and dissemination of information, selfish ads will always find a way to latch into and ride along on more useful and/or altruistic information.

I'd rather live in a world where billboards/TV commercials serve as clearly delineated frames for ads to exist in, rather than the world we are moving towards, where essays and "news" articles hide behind a facade of objectivity while subtly promoting some sponsor's content.

But submarines/native content is the logical end of all freely-published syndicated content on the web, given the arms race between ad blockers and ad networks. What could be more user-friendly than an ad disguised as an article?

Time to start paying for good content - the free ride for us common consumers is over.

> What could be more user-friendly than an ad disguised as an article?

An actual article. It's not an "ad" or "submarine content" if it's a legitimate product review or similar.

But submarines/native content is the logical end of all freely-published syndicated content on the web, given the arms race between ad blockers and ad networks. What could be more user-friendly than an ad disguised as an article?

So user-friendly, that the mistrust of the Internet is probably higher than ever [1]. Sometimes it's legitimately hard to tell what is real, and what is an ad, whether it's some website about some health concern (my favorite BS ones), some tech review site, or god knows what else. And as a discerning, analytical reader with a scientific mindset, I've trained myself to do my own research via studies and reputable sources (health) or even message forums (tech).

The user-friendliness of the ad industry presently is somewhat terrifying to me, if I'm honest.

1 - I can't back that up. :-) But why would I bother, when I can just state it, like one of those 'Top 3 Tablets [whose manufacturers that paid us ]' or 'Glowing Review of New Macbook [ with softball criticisms] '?

I guess the irony/humor was lost in my post.

My non-ironic point: there's tremendous mistrust now on the Net, as information seems more dubious than ever - from the curating of news (recent story with Facebook) to the paid reviews (Amazon finally cracking down on, but which are still quite ubiquitous), to ads that look like articles. If there's a reason I come to this site, it's because I feel like I have a more direct line to the truth, and it's 'curated' by discerning readers and comments. (Some of whom, ahem, are a little aggressive in their downvotes).

Now, how is that not a souring of the good faith of the reader, when the ad industry pursues insidious/sinuous/backhanded tactics, all because the reader doesn't want to see, hear or read something that the ad industry wants them to see, hear or read.

Advertising is doing 'better than ever' because for every x% increase in adblocking users, the adverts seen by the remaining people become more than x% more predatory. You can tell that a market is healthy and sustainable by looking at its bottom line.

See also: Cable TV.

Digital advertising is genuinely not good for anyone. I now work at a major media organization and the other day I was forced to install uBlock Origin on their news desk because they were viewing their own paper's online edition and doing digital story editing, and the ads were preventing the stories from being written because they were crashing their preferred browser.

I told the lady she'd better not tell anyone if she wanted to get her work done and allow stories to be published on the same website that serves those same ads.

What is a "native" ad?

It used to be called "advertorial" or "special advertising feature". It's an ad disguised as content.

Done well, everyone wins: good content that pushes a message for the advertiser. It's not done well very often. Quartz has done it well a fair amount.

Ok - I just wanted to verify the same. So what technology, besides AI beyond the means of our browser's JS engine, could filter out ads that are just inline HTML? I ask this because it seems likely that we'll soon be "back to the future" with "advertorials" and "sponsors" etc. and that it will be a way out of this dilemma for publishers.

When ever people call native content for "paid-for pieces disguised as objective information", I keep remembering that those are also often a under the table affair. Its hard to both pay taxes on get-paid-for-pieces and keep the fact secret from both readers and market regulative agencies that enforces advertisement laws. Somehow I believe that a scheme that rely on evading taxes can't become too much mainstream.

Thanks for your insight.

Maybe I'm naive but how are these ads of any value to the advertiser? - nobody wants them, everybody ignores them. How can ads that surely almost exclusively receive accidental clicks be so worthwhile for publishers like you?

Advertising is a weird business.

There's different types of media: print, television, digital (banner ads). Print is dead (has been the increasingly accurate argument for 10 years now), television is expensive and untrackable, and digital is here to save the ad industry because that's where all your customers are and it's very trackable.

The value to the advertiser is either direct-action ("click here and buuuuuy!") or branding ("we exist, see!") Companies like Verizon, Proctor and Gamble, Johnson and Johnson, unilever, etc. spend billions on branding.

How does that money get allocated? Well, you've got a brand manager for, say, Acme Inc. Their job is "Get more people to buy" and they split their resources between creative--often working with big agencies (think Madmen, see AdAge)--and media buying. There's often pressure to spend less on creative and more on ad buys. And when ad buys don't perform, they say "We should have spent more on creative".

Media buying is basically buying banner ads (or tv or whatever). They're typically sold at a CPM (Cost Per thousand iMpressions), less often Cost Per Click.

So to answer your question: major brands have billions for branding and it's a bunch of people's jobs to spend that money and convince the people they work for that it's money well spent. And if it's not money well spent, they'll find someone who will tell them it is.

> So to answer your question: major brands have billions for branding and it's a bunch of people's jobs to spend that money and convince the people they work for that it's money well spent. And if it's not money well spent, they'll find someone who will tell them it is.

I'll be the first to say there's a lot of mismanagement, incompetence, politics, etc that leads to this but it's also one of the most data driven industries around and there's a lot of proof behind the results. It's not all just random guessing.

I'll go even further: it's a big industry. Companies of all size and sophistication buy advertising in huge amounts.

You have some players who have honed their advertising strategy for years to try to get the biggest bang for their buck- and they're willing to pay to have professionals work out how to hone it further.

You also have unheard-of locals who have pinstriped sales reps telling them about how much money they're going to make if they buy this billboard or phone book page, and agencies paying big bucks to get the pinstripiest, salesiest representatives to the right suckers as efficiently as possible.

Then there's everything in-between for all the people who are in way over their heads but want to at least imitate the ones who are doing it right.

Despite all that data though, there's still very little in the way of a clear approach to figuring out cross-channel attribution, valuing view-throughs etc.

This is a case of it being simple but not easy.

The technical strategies are pretty straightforward but it's all the business policies, silo'ed data, bad integrations/tech, privacy issues/constraints, and (the worst of all) politics and outdated thinking, that cause these issues.

Attribution isn't that hard, it's basic analytics and statistical analysis - but half the agencies don't have any understanding of math or tech and just use last click wins with some unreliable vendor and probably poor implementation which ultimately hurts everyone.

As someone who has invested countless hours reviewing attribution reports and has seen how it is handled by companies of all sizes (including up to Fortune 50 brands), I respectfully disagree with your statement that "attribution isn't that hard."

I have the fortune to also work with an incredibly bright Data Science team (several of whom have phenomenal stats backgrounds), and they all agree with me.

Many companies and agencies know last click has very real limitations. Likewise, for anyone that has started to go down the rabbit hole, you quickly find all of the other static models have similar limitations. Dynamic/data-driven attribution at the user path level is the way forward, and Adobe's econometric attribution modeling tools are the closest I've seen to getting it right. But even that has limitations (cost being just one of them). The free reports in GA and AdWords are a great start, but likewise have their own issues.

There are a LOT of variables in terms of sample sizes, data accuracy, inability to effectively isolate an experiment group due to other marketing efforts, etc. that all throw other major wrenches into this.

All of that said, I'd genuinely love to hear your solution for how to definitively solve attribution from an analytics and statistical analysis perspective. As much as I disagree with your statement, I realize I don't have all the answers, and if you have them, I (and many others) want to hear them.

Personally, I think this is the biggest challenge the industry faces right now. My gut says display and video CPMs are overvalued, but better analytics and better data are needed to really help advertisers answer the questions of things like "what is a view through worth?" or "how much revenue should I attribute to this display/video campaign?"

> They're typically sold at a CPM (Cost Per thousand iMpressions)

M is for mille, not impressions



I've ran ads before (via Google AdWords), we had a few motivations:

- Name recognition. We don't need people to click, we just need them to associate our brand with their need.

- Sales leads. They have a need, we have a product, it wasn't a massive sales boost in B2B, but it paid for itself.

- Push competitor's ads down. Diminish their brand recognition/leads/etc.

- Advertise on competitor's search results, show us as a legitimate competitor in the consumer's mind.

The ultimate goal is that people in the industry say "we've heard of you." Very targeted adverts are a great way of doing that along with social engineering and attending inter-industry events.

It might sound crazy, but it was better for us overall if people didn't click. We got more value out of passive advertising than active click-throughs.

It is just like waving your hands around and saying "we exist!"

The ultimate goal is that people in the industry say "we've heard of you." - I have purchased items based on just that. If there are multiple options then its easier to choose the one you have heard before be it from a ad.

> nobody wants them, everybody ignores them

While the former is true, the latter is not. And clicks aren't the only measure, especially where video is concerned. There's a lot of voodoo in advertising, but advertisers do look at their statistics, and see an uptick in sales/brand awareness/etc when they run video ads like that.

I'm no expert but I believe the clickthroughs are measured in tiny fractions. It is quite possible you don't know anyone who clicks on them on purpose, but that doesn't mean few enough people do it to not make money.

I think most people here probably have your point of view. I certainly do. I don't think I've ever intentionally clicked on an ad. These days I am aggressive with ad blockers backed up by a local /etc/hosts file to neutralize the most common ad network domains.

But the general public? I don't know. I don't think a lot of people really distinguish between the ads at the top of a google search and the actual search results below (sometimes well below) them.

I think if the current model was not thought to have an overall positive ROI for the advertisers, it would have failed by now, or evolved into something else.

I find the idea in tech that "ads don't affect us" to be baffling. As others have pointed out, it's ridiculously effective and money well spent.

I think in very few cases (maybe Amazon ads are an exception) ads cause people to go out and immediately buy things -- but with constant exposure over time, the likelihood that you're going to buy something goes up.

Seriously, this is an entire profession, it's not voodoo, people aren't just sheeple, it works.

Much in the same way that research has shown (pretty conclusively) that exposing yourself to violent television over and over again makes you more violent and less concerned with violence happening around you.

Do these ads really seem like they would perform worse than typical banner ads? You're right that accidental clicks may happen more often, but you don't pay per click. You said that "nobody wants them, everybody ignores them", which can be said about any kind of display advertising if you don't like advertising. At the end of the day, an ad campaign can be a smash hit with click-through as low as 1%, or even lower depending on what you're selling.

Funnily enough, MailOnline had the same problem and also implemented VPAID for VideoJS


I really hoped that the Guardian and others were going to create their own safer (no pron/malware) and faster (less RTB) network and cut out much of the cruft when I read about Pangaea last year. Looks like it's more about sharing data though :(


I work in industry, and while I haven't explored the Guardian's player, I do use MailOnline's plugins extensively, and they work better than any other tester I've found. Fantastic stuff, and its open source.

Thanks for sharing this. May I ask, did anyone tried to talk to the management about the long term effects of this?

Long term = people will eventually learn to avoid your site because BBC feels much more responsive.

We spent a lot of time talking about that balance. The thing to remember is that these conversations are happening in the context of an industry that's in structural decline. You have ever lower print revenues, and Facebook and Google taking 80%+ of the spend that's moving to digital. And then you have a sales culture incentivised on short-term outcomes. In that environment it becomes really hard to turn down a buck.

My two cents right now would be that consumer revenues (people paying you directly) is probably the only way to run a profitable generalist news company. That, or have the backing of a nation state (BBC) or philanthropic institution. If you want to run a business from ads on the internet, you need a great case for why you're a better option than Facebook, and most news companies just can't make that case.

I've actually emailed the Guardian before to say I would gladly pay at least whatever they earn from my ad impressions to have an ad-free site. They just pointed me to the mobile apps where this is already an option.

I wish more sites offered an alternative to the dilemma of UX-breaking ads vs ad blocker guilt.

You can pay them $49/year. If that doesn't remove the ads, then install an ad blocker that you turn on for just their site.


The idea of paying them then paying someone else to remove their shit is a little insane. Until that is resolved, I pay for my ad blockers. The added bonus is that I can remove any content I don't like (lifestyle stories about our rugby players).

Ad blocker guilt? Never felt that.

Seriously, how did you (and everyone else) end up in this mess?

Imagine your printed edition where your editors have no idea what sort of ads are printed in your paper, because it's all added at the printing firm by some shady characters.

The short answer is that online advertising pays very little compared to print advertising. Obtrusive video advertising pays slightly more.

You might say that such advertising is losing in the long run because it's alienating users, and you'd be right. But when you balance sheet shows a precipitous decline month on month as your print readers convert to online ones, you don't have many other options to keep investors happy.

It already is that way to some extent.

Not every newspaper has the same ad setup. Ads are added at printing and are still targeted to the best of the publishing companies ability.

Feel your pain. Worked on a video player at a previous company.

Advertising was the biggest pain point.

The fun part is when the ad trafficker would run a VPAID payload with 18 sequential ad-auction vendors. We saw delay from first byte of the player to first byte of the advertisement go from Xms on a fast connection to > 30 seconds.

And then they blamed the player for being slow \o/

They will have to solve it by next year, because Chrome will stop activating Flash by default.


You worked on the newer Video Player for the Guardian? Coincidently I created the really old one built in Flash, never had too many bugs though since most of the work was already done with the Flash framework. Just visual stuff going all over the place.

As part of the R&R project?

I half won and then firmly lost a project around then to port their video serving to our web tv platform.

Lost due to severe inability to manage such a project but we had a nice multi-format video player for the time: js abstraction over different players for different platforms (flash, quicktime, windows media, ...).

And in doing so made something that doesn't work with the most recent browser on my phone. And breaks in a very annoying way.


> Incidentally, if you want to know if a publisher is going to survive the next five years, a decent proxy is the number of intermediaries involved in their ad supply chain.

indeed. rule of thumb: every intermediary is a potential disintermediary (see Google, Apple etc)

bright side: or acquirer!

keep in mind that the alternative for flash is downloading a script from who knows where and running it on the same scope as the page. for each ad.

it is the exact same thing. No matter if they moved away from flash or not. they still would have full control of your site and be able to do what they want just the same. They only have to copy and paste javascript instead of actionscript.

Thanks for sharing. Regardless of my opinion on the subject it's always great to read impressions coming from someone who worked on it.

Incidentally, your (The Guardian) android app is very slow to load, it's annoying enough that I uninstalled it.

> A single VPAID ad absolutely demolishes site performance on mobile and desktop, and we, the publishers, get the full blame from our readers.

The site is responsible for including ads; "publishers" should get the full blame from their readers. The publishers themselves can complain to the ad network they use, but readers are right to just blame the publishers.

It's not that straightforward though; these networks all pile in on each other, layers and layers deep, and in real time. It is very difficult for a publisher to work out who they are dealing with.

The only network ads I had running on my news site were from Google Adsense, the seemingly reputable choice, but I found ads and trackers from all sorts of networks were infiltrating through that little window.

The only reasonable action was to just turn it all off and forgo the marginal ad revenue. We now only host ads we have sold direct.

>It's not that straightforward though; these networks all pile in on each other, layers and layers deep, and in real time. It is very difficult for a publisher to work out who they are dealing with.

Then the publisher should stop working with networks that do this.

That's not in our control as users, only the publisher can do that.

The problem is pretty much all networks do this.

Maybe there's a market there? An ad network content providers can trust.

Even well known news websites have ios app store redirects that stop content from being viewed.

There are far too many attempts at this. There are almost no successes, and frankly i wish people would stop trying to make new ones and start working on consolidating existing ones into one that actually had enough publishers to act as a real player.

Adblock Plus tries to do that https://adblockplus.org/acceptable-ads

Maybe what we need isn't an ad network, but a service that makes it easy for sites to self-host ads. Like some sort of gateway- I'm thinking adapter pattern- so that advertisers build their ads to a certain spec, and the web site plugs them in. The ad isn't served by a third party, just spec'd by it. We'd also need a plug-and-play payment pattern.

That gateway is an ad network.

Now, if it was an open standard without a gateway, it would be a different beast. But fraud would kill it.

No- the ad isn't served by the gateway. It's not an ad network. It's a standard (open or not) combined with the service to help advertisers conform and site owners to plug them in. Like itunes for ads.

Ad networks seem to be immune to fraud. Large companies will pay to have their brands seen anyway; us small guys take the hit.

Having worked for an ad network that went under due to fraud, I politely disagree that they are immune.

Interesting. Is the story online? Do you want to share?

Sales people sign up publishers, I make the determination they are fraudulent, VP of Sales overrides my decisions, I leave company, advertisers demand refunds of dollars already paid out to publishers, rinse, repeat.

Hmmm. ok. Service trumps network then, for sure.

There has been a market for years. But it takes scale to pull it off. I hoped Facebook or Microsoft would jump into it, but that never happened.

It's as much in your control as a user as it is for the publisher; both actions involve complaining up the chain and/or boycotting the upstream service.

Thus, adblockers. Maybe we need something like Adblock Plus at the publisher level which lets through the "good" ads and blocks the abusive ones? Something tells me that publishers don't really care enough to go that far though.

If Google started getting significant complaints from large publishers about the crap being served over the network, perhaps they'll limit the garbage possible to serve through adsense.

It's this crap that's destroying the web and making people's devices unusable. Until it stops people will continue installing ad blockers. No amount of guilt trip adblock walls will stop that.

> If Google started getting significant complaints from large publishers about the crap

I tried to complain, but ad_server.py didn't care.

With large publishers, the people that could send such a message to Google are the same people that are responsible for maximizing revenue. Will they bite the hand that feeds them?

If the only way publishers can make money is by screwing people over then maybe the whole business model is the problem and life would be better without all those blogs.

Here's an alternative. Specialist sites sometimes sell ads directly to the advertisers without using a network. They can choose what they show, and often won't accept ads that don't relate to their users. Not really an option for a dilute gossip news blog though.

This is what I do on my site and the feedback I've received from readers of positive. Advertisers also like that the content is specialized because it generally means that the readers will more likely to have a need for the products.

As a user, I'm requesting only YOUR content. I don't get a choice past that what your revenue model looks like. Your decision (or not) to host ads from various networks means that from my perspective, I visit your page and suddenly my performance / bandwidth turns to garbage.

Ergo the lesson I learn is to not visit your site. How's that a net positive for content creators?

The hard part, for me, is that if I have 20 tabs open, I don't know which ad is killing my bandwidth and performance. In fact, it might be all of them combined.

If you use Chrome/Chromium you can see with More Tools > Task Manager and view Memory/CPU/Network usage by tab.

Were you planning on paying for the content otherwise?

I have no idea. I haven't seen the content before-- but when I show up and my first experience is a power and bandwidth draw, not only will I not pay for the content, I won't return to that site willingly.

This becomes a problem for the publisher more so than the reader from my perspective. My job in the context of this relationship is fundamentally to consume your content. Your job is to figure out how to monetize your content in a way that isn't offensive and is sustainable.

I'm not saying I won't pay for quality content (I do!), but there needs to be a way to monetize that's respectful of your readers.

So you're saying you might not pay for low quality content. But the publishers don't think this way. They want to you pay regardless if you like the content or not. It's like going to a restaurant. You can choose never come back again if you don't like the food, but you have to pay this time.

If you were planning to add a payment option that is acceptable to me, sure!

Maybe. Maybe I buy your magazine in paper every month and just expect being able to read the content online, too.

"We now only host ads we have sold direct."

Do those ads include any JS? If not, you've figured out how advertising should work.

We now only host ads we have sold direct.

Thank you. I turned off ad blocker for your site (one is still networked to the bad guys, though...)

Thanks :)

We're still talking internally about what we're going to do with the social stuff -- we're leaning towards kicking it out -- as well as the user insight we're granting to Google in return for using its (excellent) DFP to serve our own ads. Is that what you mean, or have we missed something?

Have you considered self-serving your ads? I do it in addition to selling directly and so far, no advertisers have questioned it.

I use a site that self-serves and charges by cpm, and I'm loving it. ppc doesn't work for me at all.

Edit: By "use" I mean I buy ads there.

Edit 2: Damn, that's some nice looking stuff on that site.

> We're still talking internally about what we're going to do with the social stuff -- we're leaning towards kicking it out

You don't have to get rid of social buttons; for some sites, they produce significant results. Just turn them into links and locally hosted static logos rather than scripts.

I'm getting doubleclick and quantcast on the .com site.

I agree...

I know nothing about the web advertising industry or how it works with bidding and so on and I don't think I am alone.

So if a site has ads then as far as I am concerned the buck stops with the them: I have no knowledge of the ad setup or what deal the site has and I don't care either - the site owner takes the responsibility and if I have a negative effect (hacked/malware/slow load or whatever) then I won't be back.

If you bought a car and it had a dodgy handbrake then you would blame the manufacturer of the car, not the company in Outer Mongolia that supplies it to them, or worse, the company that supplies them with their plastic... same applies here.

I don't think it's a fair comparison, but I get your point. I am not saying the user should know to blame the advertiser instead of the publisher, I'm saying it really sucks that the publisher is the one getting thrown under the bus and blamed for what is the advertiser's fault and it sucks for us publishers.

The suggested solution to "figure it out" and "find other advertising networks" doesn't work because almost all of them do this shit.

I don't mean to sound harsh and I know you personally didn't create spammy ads and so on but if your chosen method of achieving $n per month is to use an ad network that doesn't give a shit about the end user then your business model is the problem here.

You can choose NOT to use them if you want to.

NOTE: I am referring to all content creators that do this: I don't mean to aim at you in particular.

Only "almost all"? Why not use the few that don't? Is it because your revenue from them will be lower? Maybe it's lower because they aren't forcing these profitable ads at your users. That really does sound like the publisher's fault for choosing the most profitable ad network and neglecting the user's experience. Any "good quality" ad network is bound to pay less, otherwise they'd all be doing it.

I'm actually not aware of any except for maybe http://decknetwork.net, which is very selective in accepting publishers and only serves certain verticals.

And yeah, if the revenue from some other obscure network is 10% of AdSense, and a good business becomes not viable, it's not good for anyone.

There are a few, we're one of them: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11902556

Maybe advertising is moving towards being a dead revenue model, and something else needs to take its place.

It must be awful for you poor publishers to cash all those checks from serving malware to innocents. I can only imagine your heartbreak and pain as you accumulate that money, spending it on a your lifestyle in a vain attempt to alleviate the guilt from it.

What I would like in a new kind of Ad network:

- all ads are responsive HTML5 ads

- all resources are loaded over HTTPS

- ads are based on your content, not on a profile of the user

- ads can be requested server side by sending the URL where the ad will be displayed through an API. The response contains the ad code, as well as the expiration date

- if you want, you can even download a package with all resources so ad blockers can't block you. (unless they target you specifically)

- if you don't get an ad in return, you can fill that space with your own fallback ads

- the ad network also does some kind of sentiment analysis so it doesn't show ads for Donald Trump on a page that's critical about him

- the ad network immediately severs ties with anyone who abuses the system

We already built this - https://instinctive.io

It's the fastest ad network around. Simple, fast, static, all user-initiated, and we only focus on content (articles, videos, etc that you read on the same site you're already on). We also don't work with any 3rd parties so there's no security or malware risk. Happy to share any technical details.

There are good ad networks out there but in this strange industry, it's all about politics and connections, not tech or UX (which is why we're in this mess in the first place). This is the biggest battle we're fighting with everyone from advertisers and agencies to publishers.

You had me quite intrigued, at least until I saw native advertising being mentioned so prominently on the front page. Unbridled resource consumption and tracking are far from the only ethical concern around the modern ad industry. The breakdown of the barrier between journalistic content and paid content is another big one.

Our site is years old and needs a refresh but there's a lot of nuance in this.

Native is a complicated term that gets overused but the way we see it is a combination of look/feel + context + behavior. Most "native" ads today are just the look/feel but crappy irrelevant content that makes no sense on the site or isn't content at all but just takes you to some sales landing page like any other banner ad.

However, there can be good quality content (educational, informative, entertaining, and not just primarily selling) that happens to be sponsored by a brand. Native isn't about tricking the user but about being unobtrusive. The same way you would skip a news headline you're not interested in, you would skip a native ad placement as well (at least this is how it should work).

People read what they want to read and sometimes it's advertising. There's nothing wrong with that. What we do is make sure everything is properly labeled (to FTC standards) and user-initiated so that users know what it is and make their own choice - and I believe transparency and choice are the best things we can offer.

This is literally what HaloAds (HaloAds.com) aims to fix. We have been irritated with the state of online advertising for long enough now.

We are looking for people to try it out once it launches. Show your interest at https://HaloAds.com

Since you seem to specialise in this, FYI:

> Mixed Content: The page at 'https://haloads.com/' was loaded over HTTPS, but requested an insecure stylesheet 'http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Lato:400,300,700,900'. This request has been blocked; the content must be served over HTTPS. https://haloads.com/assets/img/favicon.png Failed to load resource: the server responded with a status of 404 ()

For Google Fonts, it's best practice to leave out the protocol and link to '//fonts.googleapis.com/...'. It's unhelpful that their link generator still suggests 'http://fonts...'.

Or just download them and serve them from your own domain. If you enable HTTP/2 there is little to no advantage of using a third party for hosting fonts.

Wont they be cached from other peoples websites saving the download?

No. Well, maybe, if you're using one of the most popular fonts, but each combination of weights is a seperate CSS file, that's probably a unique combination and only cached for 24 hours. A reason not to use Google fonts is that it's just another tracking tool in their arsenal. For each request, cookies are sent to Google's servers, so they have enough reason to avoid cache hits.

nowadays I just use 'https://...' instead of '//...' because

* security * I will immediately know if a server doesn't support https, because the image won't load

Thanks for the spot. The issue has been resolved.

Signed up to be notified, but new companies in my experience have a lot of issues with fill and CPM. How are you planning to compete?

Thanks for signing up.

Our primary aim is to rid the internet of spam advertising and to turn online ads into an acceptable thing to have on your site as opposed to focusing on the highest bidder regardless of the quality of what your viewers end up seeing.

My English websites are not very big but I'll check it out if possible.

Those are all great ideas for a user-friendly ad network. I think that you could add "so the user makes fewer network requests and loads the page faster" as a reason for the option to download a resource pack.

But the key requirement for an ad network is that it makes money. I am optimistic that your system would produce user-friendly sites that would, given good content, eventually develop a positive reputation, earn more traffic, and make more money than their competitors. But that requires long-term vision and user-first business ethics, which most companies are not very good at. At any time, once that reputation and traffic pattern was established, switching to a more aggressive ad network would make the site or ad seller more money. Then it would dip back down as users reacted, but I am not convinced that a sufficient number of businesses would have the wherewithal to see it through.

I don't know how lucrative and / or effective it is, but a lot of high quality websites united in using The DECK, an ad network without a lot of bells and whistles. Since it's been around for quite some time, I guess they're doing well.

The ad network I'm proposing will never be as large as Google is right now. If it's a small network that only connects entrepeneurs with solid long-term visions, I am fine with that. I don't believe in unicorns anyway.


The Deck's revenue is about 1.5 million annually. They publish their advertisers list and rates. However, it might be less if they make deals.

My intuition is that The Deck is in slow decline due to fewer advertisers and declining interest in its member sites (Metafilter, Instapaper, a lot of web 2.0 design resources.) I still think it is an excellent example to follow, though.

As a user, this is what I want: The ad network provides the javascript, not the advertisers. No ad-hoc javascript provided by each advertiser. They deal with a standard API where they provide the content using pre-configured blocks of code. Like "we provide this standard tracking tool, this standard slideshow/animation system, etc".

It's not really the advertisers providing the JS, it's that there are tons of adtech platforms and everyone just mixes and matches.

This is why you have 1 tag that loads dozens more because each agency is using a different system to serve an image or track an impression. There are some standards around formats but the actual tech delivery is terrible and this industry (for all the great tech that is actually built) just seems to have major problems at making things that work well. Probably because the consumer has never really been the major focus.

Either way, the amount of malicious code served by even the most respectable ad networks is ludicrous and unacceptable.

This would be sweet and all except for the fact that ad networks typically don't care about a) providing proper stats and b) detecting display/click/affiliate fraud.

Or perhaps, all ads are just plain html... no scripts or videos.

Ideally, this would be a choice for the publisher. I spent a lot of time making my pages fast, so I would not request video ads.

> ads are based on your content, not on a profile of the user

Have we given up on relevance? I was always hopeful that one day in the future the sites I love could be supported by showing _only_ ads that interested their users. With our post-modern privacy fetish, though, I guess I'm becoming resigned to hygiene ads just so long as they're served over HTTPS.

I think it's worth at least considering that we should give up on relevance. As far as I can tell, nobody has figured out a good way to decide what ads are actually relevant to an individual. So personalized ads tend to come come in one of two flavors:

  1. A blast of ads for something you just bought.
  2. A blast of ads for something you just decided not to buy.
At best, ads like this deliver zero value to both advertisers and consumers. At worst, they creep people the heck out. Which means they hurt consumers by making them feel stalked, hurt advertisers because nobody wants their brand associated with creepy stalker behavior, and hurt publishers because it only accelerates the proliferation of ad blockers.

This doesn't mean relevance needs to go out the window. People were targeting their ads well before it became vogue to collect people's toenail clippings and feed them into collaborative filtering models. For example, if you're a high end diamond store then you shouldn't need a bunch of whiz kids from San Francisco to tell you that your ad would be better-placed on The New Yorker's site than on The Village Voice.

I dispute that serving ads relevant to the content of the site is "giving up on relevance." If anything it's far more likely to be relevant. And it doesn't require tracking the user.

If I'm reading a site about auto maintenance, for example, what's more relevant? Ads for auto parts suppliers, or ads for cookware because that's what I last bought on Amazon?

Serving personalised ads in the EU means you will have to show a cookie warning. That for me is reason enough to focus on contextual ads. Not that I am showing cookie warnings right now, I'm counting the days till they revoke that stupid law.

How much have you spent in the past year on advertising?

If the answer is none or not much, you may see the problem with this analysis, as it has as much bearing on what the market will provide as my opinion on what I would like to see in woman's grooming products.

I ran a small Internet Marketing agency for the last 15 years (15 people) and have been a publisher in my spare time, I sold it last year to focus on being a publisher.

This small agency easily spent 500k a year on Adwords alone. Not much maybe, but there are tens of thousands of agencies just like that one.

As a self-taught developer, I rebuilt my main website from the ground up and relaunched it last month. I have an A A A A A rating at webpagetest.org, but have the feeling that Adsense is ruining my hard work.

Right now I am not focussed on maximizing revenue, but when the time comes I hope I can do it in the most user-friendly way possible, without having to setup a sales department and doing everything myself.

When you were running the internet marketing agency and spending six figures on ads would your clients have been OK with the model you outlined above? Would you have steered their dollars there rather than to platforms that allow more rich media ads, more tracking/demographics, retargeting, and similar?

Oh yes, absolutely.

As a marketer my problem never was "I don't have enough data", but it always was "I don't have enough traffic". Just give me quality traffic and I'll hand you my money.

I don't need all bells and whistles as it makes it far too hard (and expensive) to set up a campaign for a small SMB.

As for the clients, they only want to know the results and maybe a list of sites where their ads were shown.

You've poked and prodded the parent commenter, but he has provided more discussion than you have. What is your issue with his suggestion? What are your qualifications to have issue with his suggestion?

They are genuine questions.

It seems to me that it's pointless to discuss product development without considering the customers of that product, so I'm trying to elicit discussion of that specific topic.

Thanks, but I didn't mind. Seemed like a valid question.

> ads can be requested server side by sending the URL where the ad will be displayed through an API. The response contains the ad code, as well as the expiration date

So, while adserver waiting for an ad from the RTB waterfall, then your server would wait too. It's not best practice I guess.

Besides that, many of your points already adopted by all ad networks. Many of the ad sector's problems directly related to advertisers. They want to measure everything, everything! There is a section in VAST definition called TrackingEvents. start, firstQuartile, midpoint, thirdQuartile, complete, pause, mute, click, skip ... goes on.

Agency make plans and send Vast codes to networks (for example sizmek vast code). We have many publishers well we have to measure that actions too. Stats has to be match. Then we are putting incoming vast to our adserver and it generates new one with wrapped vast. Then we are sending to publisher and of course they want to measure these actions too. They putting our vast code to their DFP and it generates new codes and ad goes to public.

Dfp Code > Our Adserver Code > Agency code

Then user sees the ad, for example video ad then tracking starts.

Impression: [Dfp, Our adserver, Sizmek]

Ad start: [Dfp, Our adserver, Sizmek]

First Quartile: [Dfp, Our adserver, Sizmek]

Midpoint: [Dfp, Our adserver, Sizmek]

Complete: [Dfp, Our adserver, Sizmek]

Click: [Dfp, Our adserver, Sizmek]

See, list goes on. One ad and many requests and counting. I am not talking about RTB waterfalls it is something else already.

We all have to measure this stats because many of the advertisers pay based on this measurements.

(you name it the currency)

%25 == 0

%50 == 0.003

%75 == 0.0055

%100 == 0.007

Requesting ads doesn't have to be on pageload.

Advertisers may want to track everything, but that doesn't mean you have to. If everyone is doing it, you can differentiate by saying NO.

As a marketer my problem never was "I don't have enough data", but it always was "I don't have enough traffic". Give me quality traffic and I'll hand you my money.

As a publisher THAT's what I want to offer. Quality traffic, without all the bullshit.

Maybe that gets me 10% of the revenue that all scummy 'best practices' get me, but I think it will work out great in the long run.

I only need an ad network to facilitate this, without having to set it up myself.

How can I provide you a good quality traffic without having those stats?

I am classifying publishers based on those stats and also requesting money from you again based on those stats.

You can not differentiate by saying not, because there is no such an option like NO!

I define good quality traffic by what they are doing on my website, not by who they are or what they are doing before they end up here.

Sounds like you are a direct response advertiser (as am I). For brand advertisers, ad engagement is a huge part of their measurement. Likewise, for direct response advertisers growing awareness through display and video, these ad engagement signals are critical for optimizing. On-site performance is just one measure, but when you start going down the whole view-through attribution rabbit hole, you'll want to look at engagement metrics like these to provide additional signals to steer you in the right direction.

> They want to measure everything, everything!

They can learn to live without spying on everything (this means no javascript), or they can learn to deal with more and more people installing an adblocker. Wanting something doesn't mean they get it.

Well, you would certainly not load ads in sync with page loads.

About measurements, you can measure almost anything (except for user identity). As long as you don't monetize it. You can monetize clicks or conversions.

If each site creates a CNAME (ex: ads.example.com or not-ads.example.com or more likely [a-z][a-z0-9]{15}.example.com) pointing at the ad broker, they could use something like letsencrypt to dynamically set up HTTPS.

Just like CDN77 does with their CDN.. Great example of using Letsencrypt to move the web forward.

Mind you, HTML5 allows for advertisers to do a lot of resource-hogging crap too, and not directly sandboxed like flash was / is.

As the ultimative target of your ads, I just want ads for products that doesn't suck and that actually cater to my needs and interests - I honestly don't care if they are HTML5 or responsive, though I am not sure I even have a flash player anymore so I suggest HTML5 as the most practical solution.

But the problem with ads isn't the technical issue, it is that they suck, horribly, because the products on offer are useless, offensive, or just plain not interesting. Facebook kept showing me offers for a shitty dating site that I am almost sure was a scam, for magic healing crystals, for utility services from a company 100s of miles away. At one point they even offered me to take the degree I already had, from the university I had already attended, despite the fact that facebook knew this.

Google kept giving me ads for the same shitty apartment search site after I moved into my new apartment, rather than something useful, such as curtains, furniture, etc.

Get an ad network that can actually deliver interesting ads I won't care how many requests it makes.

That's because Google and Facebook don't give a rats ass about who uses their network. The only thing they care about is to mine this advertising bubble for as long as possible.

Another thing that would be nice is getting rid of the layers of reselling that many of these ad networks do. Ever follow the links in a VAST Wrapper? Each one is the previous ad network not finding an ad, then requesting from another parter (while taking a cut of the CPI), then another partner, etc. Request times go through the roof and the final CPI is lousy.

About as realistic as any of the other things on the wishlist but what can you do.

I am convinced you don't need stuff like that. Only if you want to run a business that makes so much money that you'll start thinking about flying cars, balloons, satellites, robots, contact lenses, glasses and hundreds of other things, not related to your core mission.

A competitor can make do with much lower margins.

If you throw in "No Flash, Java, or JavaScript" that sounds like a killer idea for a YC submission.

Could be, but my passion lies elsewhere so if anyone would like to give it a go, be my guest.

> ads can be requested server side by sending the URL where the ad will be displayed through an API

THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS is my condition for viewing ads. Request and render the ads server-side, and I'll happily view them.

what about fraud?

As in? Both views and clicks can still be tracked so fraud will have to be dealt with in the same way as it is right now.

If you are saying that fraud is harder to detect without building user profiles, that might be so. But it's not impossible.

If you are saying that ads can be changed into clickbait I guess you'll have find a way to deal with that. I think an ad network should have an active relationship with both advertisers and publishers and not the anonymous, fully automated, crappy relationship Google has right now.

Furthermore I don't believe that fraud is being stopped now. I have paid google for a lot of meaningless clicks on their search network (people come to a page for a second or two). Not just a few- but the bulk of the clicks are like that.

And don't get me started on mobile.

That's why I'm staying away from ppc and am advertising with CPM. My spidey-sense tells me it hasn't been as thoroughly gamed yet.

If you want to be truly disruptive, you could build an ad network that doesn't require you to pay for bounces. An improved version of Google's quality score (read: one that works) would also improve the quality of the network as a whole.

CPM does that (cost per 1000 views as opposed to pay-per-click).

The quality score is quality from Google's point of view. If I put in things that help me qualify my leads (and get fewer people clicking and discovering that they don't want it), my quality score goes down. (The best way to do that, by the way, is to put in a price. Then the people who are just doing research tend to not click it. But you get penalized for that.)

They are throwing no intelligence at it. I have an entire site set up around study skills. My quality score for "study skills?" 1/10.

Fraud is hard to detect even with user profiling. Among other tricks, sophisticated fraudsters replay genuine user sessions collected on hacked computers to build fake profiles.

Whatever the solution, it will always be a game of cat and mouse.

Also commented elsewhere: If I'm correct (and this might be different in other countries), in the Netherlands TV ratings aren't measured by the TV channels themselves, but they use a trusted third party (Stichting KijkOnderzoek) that has nothing to do with selling ads.

You could setup a non-profit for tracking views and maybe even clicks, that only uses this information for statistical analysis. Revenue can be shared based on these statistics. The fraud issue would also have to be tackled by this entity.

There're 3rd party trackers for ad network such as double verify, comscore, moat. But the technology on this works horribly. For example, if an ad network want to track thru a vpaid, it wraps vpaid on top of ad content and that's it. ( Say the ad is hosted by the ad network itself.) But if you want third party tracking, you first wrap your ad with one layer, then you wrap third party tracking as second layer on top of that, which makes things worse.

From the comments:

> Peter Dahlberg > we, the publishers, get the full blame from our readers. That's because you are to blame. As far as I know nobdoy forces you to use those shitty ad networks. Look for a honest way to finance your business and don't whine.

That actually makes a lot of sense. As long as Google et al. are making money from this, they have no incentive to change. Google, the automated rainbow monolith, in particular doesn't have any incentive to even listen.

But if publishers take the apparently extremely inconvenient step of using other networks, this sort of shit might get cleaned up. EDIT: Perhaps I should have said "other buyers;" these problems seem closely associated with the nature of ad networks.

The problem for me as a user, is how would I know the difference that such a site has, and then know that I can whitelist it?

One of the problems there, is Google has locked this down.

Chrome and Firefox warn users if they visit "deceptive websites", and disallow it. It's touted as part of their "safe browsing feature".

What it means in practice though, is that if you use another ad network, and that ad network has an advert that Google dislike, they will block your website on Chrome,Firefox and Safari also uses it now I believe. They won't just block the advert, they will block your whole website. Getting unblocked takes ages, and is a complete pain, because google will not tell you which advert it objects to.

So it's not a simple case of "Use other networks", because Google have thought about that, and locked it down. It's a big risk to use another ad network, because Google might just decide to block your website.

The fact that Google now controls what websites users are allowed to visit, should ring alarm bells with everyone. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be reported on.

> What it means in practice though, is that if you use another ad network, and that ad network has an advert that Google dislike, they will block your website on Chrome,Firefox and Safari also uses it now I believe. They won't just block the advert, they will block your whole website. Getting unblocked takes ages, and is a complete pain, because google will not tell you which advert it objects to.

Does this actually happen? And if so, what about the advert does Google dislike? And if there is no good reason for this, how does Google get away with it?

It's usually a legitimately harmful ad. Malware, adware or other bad stuff. But these slip through quality control of ad networks, even when they don't want them.

It's worse than that IMHO.

They dislike "deceptive" adverts. So for example, if it's an image, saying "download" then Google will block your website.

Who knows, maybe in the future they'll start banning websites that advertise gambling or other things they dislike.

Now I do think that adverts like that are irritating, and deceptive, but should the website that happens to be using an ad-network, that allowed an advertiser to upload an image that says "download", be blocked so that users cannot access it from Chrome and firefox? Of course not. Censorship in browsers is just not a good thing going forward. And pretty much every ad-network (Even adsense) has problems keeping out bad adverts. I don't see why Google should penalise website owners for an advertising-industry-wide problem.

IMHO It should be investigated by governments, as it's a clear case of using their muscle to retain their absolute monopoly of online advertising.

> Now I do think that adverts like that are irritating, and deceptive, but should the website that happens to be using an ad-network, that allowed an advertiser to upload an image that says "download", be blocked so that users cannot access it from Chrome and firefox? Of course not.

Why not? At least that would get websites to look at the ads their ad networks are serving up a little more than "not at all". Ultimately these ads would impact the site's brand even if browsers didn't block it, the damage would just be more subtle and easier to ignore.

Until somebody in the ad delivery chain accepts responsibility for ad quality nothing is going to change. Publishers and websites have the most to lose here and should be demanding better from their ad networks.

So you want to squash the tiny amount of competition there is in the online advertising space?

I think it would be fantastic to have a credible alternative to Google adsense, but there isn't one at the moment.

Technically, a better approach would be for Google to block the advertisement or even the ad network. Blocking the website publisher is just bullying tactics.

"Dislike" often means "contains malware" or similar. Few ad networks are both sizable and very aggressive about policing.

Citation requested.

"The problem for me as a user, is how would I know the difference that such a site has, and then know that I can whitelist it?"

Simple. Write that in big, bold letters at the top of your site. You know, the same place where that autoplay video ad usually goes.

A site I sometimes frequent has a big, bold banner at the top asking people to disable adblock and claiming it doesn't use audio ads and other annoying ads. It's also the site whose video ads that autoplayed with sound finally prompted me to install an adblocker after that last upgrade. The problem with claims like these is that they're not trustworthy anymore.

If you don't trust a publisher, there's no reason to whitelist it anyway. Dealing with any business entity always involves some amount of trust: a trust that your order will be fulfilled, your card details won't be misused, your news stories are real, milk from a local market is not spoiled etc. A business that abuses this trust doesn't stay long.

> and then know that I can whitelist it?

Don't bother. Your ad-blocking software does not block inline ads anyway, and this is a requirement for them being non-harmfull.

I'm a bit shocked about the state of advertising. When I was making websites (~early 2000s), there were a lot more options to choose from, it seems. Now you basically just have Google and this opaque network of algorithmic auctions. Back then, you had a bunch of small business ad networks that you could choose from.

I found you could also choose more different formats. OK, there was no video (thank God), but you could have unobtrusive text links, you could have banners, little buttons, HTML blocks, and so on. And yes, also annoying pop-ups and flash ads...

You also had paid content, which is absolutely taboo and vilified today, but I believe it was not nearly as bad as we think. It was certainly better than some alternatives (horrible pop-up-ads that installed dialers, does anybody remember them?) Back then, I was proud to not serve evil or annoying ads, and to promote articles from partners on my site - including setting links to them to promote their page ranks. (That Google shows links among search results that they get money for, but forbids slightly improving the position of search results when other people got money for it tells a lot IMHO.)

One alternative to the current situation would be for sites to serve their own ads (from their own servers). I wonder why this isn't done at least from big sites?

One alternative to the current situation would be for sites to serve their own ads (from their own servers). I wonder why this isn't done at least from big sites?

There's no way to prove that you've served a particular number of ads to real humans. That's why all these ridiculous brokers and third-party fragments of javascript exist: it would otherwise be trivial for the publisher to defraud the advertiser.

That's still The condition for me to view ads: no third party servers, no third party JS.

This means no tracking, which in turn means the advertiser has to trust the publisher completely.

This is entirely possible - it's however not going to work through an opaque network of auctions. The publisher will have to sell the advertising space to advertisers themselves, just like print and TV, and trust the impression statistics, just like print and TV. Advertisers can't just drop $10k at the doorstep of some as network and sit back and expect statistics. They will have to drop more money, and spend even more on the surveys they have to perform to figure out whether their advertising is working.

This would be the death of the "online ad industry" as we know it, and also the death of large parts of the web as we know it. I'm not sure it's a bad thing.

That's only 1 of many reasons. Another big one being it's a lot more time-consuming and costly to run your own ad sales team, you always have to worry about filling all ads in all countries, and the average CPMs you get may not be nearly as good as the ones without any headaches from big ad networks (well, headaches from the advertiser acquisition perspective).

How do physical newspapers prove ad serving to their buyers? I'm certain they don't point to every single newspaper thrown in a driveway.

Third parties and surveys e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circulation_Verification_Counc...

Similar to Nielsen ratings for television, they're approximate.

So why can't the same be done on websites? If numbers of views can't be confirmed without spying on users or trusting shady actors to do that for you, it means the business model that is based on this metric is skewed.

If one network offers approximate numbers from an expensive external audit and another network offers "exact" tracking through cookies etc., which network do you think advertisers will spend with?

Exactly such egoistic and short term thinking led us to the current situation and the widespread usage of ad-blockers, no?

In general, newspapers serve the same ads to all their users, so approximate circulation roughly correlates to an ad's reach. Websites don't, so even if you knew a website's pageview count you would have no idea what percentage of those pageviews an ad appeared on.

And that, eventually, is going to have to be good enough for online publishers and advertisers.

How about pay-per-goal, instead of pay-per-click? I believe almost all advertisers don't like their conversion rates, and introduce things like pay-per-second-click, etc.

Ideally for advertiser would be to pay per conversion, but then we need to defraud the other side.

Sure there is; that's what DoubleClick for Publishers is for: https://www.google.com/dfp

This is a really fantastic solution in terms of functionality, but it also comes burdened with a bunch of JS calls and user profiling opportunities. It's very like Google Analytics in that respect; there's a quid pro quo if a publisher uses it.

You also had paid content, which is absolutely taboo and vilified today

Is this the case? I've seen absolutely tonnes of blatantly paid-for content across the web, and if anything there seems to be much more than there ever was.

I'm not sure vilified is the right word, but the FTC in the US and the ASA in the UK have both said that paid-for content needs to be marked as such.

The ASA rules are pretty tight. The user has to know something is paid for content before clicking. So a YouTuber putting out a sponsored video needs to include something in the title of the video, and the link, saying "sponsored content". A banner at the start of the video isn't enough.

I wish a lot more people knew the ASA were a part of EASA[1] and that EASA even exist. ASA are happy to get involved with complaints about a wide range of countries[2] (basically all Europe, Canada, Brazil, Chile and the UK Commonwealth).

eg, if you complain about an advert from a Canadian firm the ASA will refer it to the appropriate national agency for you. My limited understanding is this is reciprocal for residents of those nations too.

The rules are being flouted wholesale, yet many nations have an ASA that could do something about it.

[1] http://www.easa-alliance.org/

[2] https://www.asa.org.uk/About-ASA/Working-with-others/Cross-b...

Be wary of terms such as “sponsorship” and “in association with”

The ASA is generally likely to consider terms such as “sponsored content” as referring to a traditional sponsorship relationship, where material has been financially sponsored but over which the creator retains editorial control. Sponsorship of this kind is not covered by the CAP Code.

Using such terms to describe an ad feature is unlikely to be acceptable. Following an ASA challenge, the ASA ruled against an ad that was included in a “sponsored section” of a website and labelled as “in association with”, considering that the labels in themselves did not make clear the commercial nature of the content

they just call it "native advertising" now :)

Or sponsored, which is fine by me.

> Back then, you had a bunch of small business ad networks that you could choose from.

There was a lot of consolidation. But they're still around. They're basically that opaque network of algorithmic auctions you mentionned, in fact. If they can't display one of their direct clients' ads, they sell the spot to the highest bidder.

In most walks of life we happily pay for something that provides us value: Cars, phones, shoes etc. I don't see the web/app ecosystem as any different although owners (that's app creators and web site owners/creators) feel they can make more by selling our lives to a third party - That's not something I want to happen with my details I will block your system for doing so. If I feel your site/app is not providing me with value then I likely will uninstall/never come back. It's a choice thing.

I have paid for apps in the past and will continue to do so in the future but only for stuff that brings me real value. I may not be the biggest supporter out there but I have a couple of Patreon's running (is that the right term?) for people that provide me with value.

Let's face it, there is a whole load of shite content out there... so maybe we need to cull the herd a bit.

Anyway, you can run a website for almost nothing these days and spending, say, $50 a month will get you some serious hosting solutions so if your business is just exploiting my browsing habits and selling my metadata on then I will happily grab the popcorn and watch your site burn.

I pay for access to NYT, Economist and Guardian. And I still block their ads. I expect them to eventually kick me out or charge more, because I'm sure my subscription fee isn't covering their profit goals.

Even if I was paying full fee for these things to be dropped on my physical door step every day, there would still be ads, only they'd be static and safe.

I have a visceral hate for advertising inside a product I pay money for (website, magazine, movie, etc). The only exception I've found to that being a product packaging including advertising for additional catalog items from the same manufacturer or retailer.

The problem with that is that, at least for me, is that I no longer read any one newspaper. I read whatever is linked on HN, reddit, twitter, facebook. So no, I am not going to have a separate subscription for each. I had a subscription with the Economist, and that is the last time I will have a subscription for any newspaper, but I am willing to pay for a bundle that has substantially every publication the way Spotify has substantially every song, as long as I could pay with paypal, so that I knew I didn't have to pick up the phone to cancel.

Other than that I just want a button to pay a couple cents to read just that article, no matter who has posted it.

The second problem is that far too few people are willing to pay.

Curious, given how strongly you feel about the commercial use of personally identifiable information (pii) - how do you feel about the collection, use, sharing, etc. of pii by governments?

I don't agree with Governments doing it en-mass (I have no problem with targetted surveillance based on reasonable suspicion) and I have signed various petitions to that effect over the years.

The only real option, apart from revolution, is to move to another country that doesn't do it but I don't think there is one now.

Of bigger concern is that I am in the minority: Most of my circle believe in the terrorist/paedo rhetoric the Government spins and think its justifiable.

As for the commercial stuff, my only problem is if I can't avoid it or I really have to go out of my way to avoid it but so far my tinfoil hat hasn't been breached, e.g. my wife has various loyalty cards but I don't want to carry one... I have that choice with commercial entities

I'm in the UK btw.

Thanks, don't like to assume things, and never really thought about if there are some people that're anti-commercial pii collection, but pro gov collection; as we both would likely agree, there probably are somewhere.

As for me, I give out less (real) pii than 99.999% of the world, in part because even as a kid I knew how easy it was to find and use info.

I don't know what the best way forward is to the topic, but the current situation seems problematic to me.

Only real solution long-term is a positive & significant economic culture that values privacy; my opinion.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, google and facebook are almost charcoal now.

BTW, nowadays everyone talks about AI, machine learning and "mobile-first". But when I open any mobile app or any mobile website with ads I see only ads of "clash of kings" and similar scammy games. They collect lots of data but ads have no targeting at all. At least ads on mobile phones. I can't understand it.

I used to work in the industry - mobile ads can be quite targeted. My guess is apps like clash of clans appeal to a wide range of people and are backed by heavy ad spending. This means a wide variety of people will be targeted with their ads.

Doesn't mean ads arent targeted. E.g. a 25 year old white programmer probably isn't getting Spanish language ads, or ads targeting new mothers, or ads for retirement communities.

> Doesn't mean ads arent targeted. E.g. a 25 year old white programmer probably isn't getting Spanish language ads, or ads targeting new mothers, or ads for retirement communities.

You'd be surprised. I bought a travel sewing kit five years ago on Amazon, and ever since I'm getting advertisements and "recommendations" for handbags, makeup and high-heeled shoes. It's so blatantly sexist and wrong it's almost funny again.


> It's so blatantly sexist and wrong it's almost funny again.

Have you considered that it's blatantly sexist and right? I.e., that perhaps no-one programmed the ad network to associate sewing kits with handbags, makeup & high-heeled shoes, that perhaps the ad serving AIs learnt that on their own?

I wonder what we'll do when our AIs come to socially-unacceptable-but-true conclusions. Humans can be brow-beaten or persuaded into ignoring the truth systematically, but computers have to either have each bit of truth-denying programmed into them, or have much better intelligence and spend much more CPU calculating at a higher level in order to avoid socially-unacceptable truths.

> Have you considered that it's blatantly sexist and right?

I buy an average of a hundred items on Amazon a year, among them all my – male – clothes. Your algorithms are just plain shit when a single purchase five years ago is somehow weighed more than the whole rest.

The algorithm guesses that your wife is doing the ordering, and is targeting her.

So the algorithm isn't even able to differentiate between the buying behaviour of a married couple and a single male living alone, with roughly 10 years worth of buying history to judge from?

I'd fire the department responsible for that waste of money.

I buy my wife and daughter gifts using Amazon. I don't think its unreasonable or sexist or evil for an advertiser to assume I'll continue to buy gifts for my wife and daughter.

If the algorithm makes money I don't see the problem.

I mark everything I buy on Amazon as a gift. This seems to stop the silly recommendation behaviour, and also stops Amazon emailing you asking for reviews or to provide answers to other customers' questions.

Neat tip, thanks. Have you found a way to disable browsing history cross-device? They seem to switch it back on for no reason.

No, sorry. I tend to only browse logged-in from one device.

> It's so blatantly sexist

Hmm, isn't "being sexist" the whole raison d'etre for recommendation algorithms? I mean, sexism or other form of chauvinism are basically estimation of individual traits based on group affiliation.

Is it though? Just because you aren't interested in these other recommendations and connected ads doesn't mean the wide majority who purchases sewing kits aren't as well.

If this "blantantly sexist" ads were wrong no one would purchase such ads. Sure they may be stereotypical, but that's what targeted ads are all about, creating data driven stereotypes that later can be used for increasing sales and relativity.

But they are wrong. The GP is not interested on those.

Yes, the "blatantly sexist" bias may have happened due to unbiased empiricism. But the ads as still wrong. Id the GP was an exception, that would be an worthless anecdote, but anecdotes of ads being correct are hard to find.

Maybe because noone is noticing them being correct?

You can fix that. If you go to Amazon -> Your Account -> Your Recommendations -> Improve My Recommendations, you can tell it to ignore certain purchases.

I have to do that surprisingly frequently, myself. I buy things buy as gifts, as one off experiments, or with no intention of using them for their intended purposes. ;)

You are simply the scammy games industry's target group :D

The Nutrimatic drink machine model of customization.

I don't get it either. Maybe the whole thing is a bubble.



Most ads-supported games have only ads of ad-supported games. That would be sane if it was a fast growing market with reasonable barriers to entry, but "free" games are not.

At some point the cost of advertising to the medium in terms of user disengagement will exceed the income. I can't wait for it to happen, then at least we will reach some kind of steady-state.

I really pity the newspapers, especially the ones that also have an online presence, they are caught between a rock and a hard place and no matter what they do they end up hurting themselves, their employers, users or shareholders. It's very hard to transition from a 1800's model to one that will work 200 years later.

Bandwidth being as cheap as it is means that advertisers really don't care about how many bytes they need to shove down the pipe in order to make a sale. End users on metered bandwidth (mobile for instance) will suffer but that's not the advertisers problem, to them it is mission accomplished and the website owner/publisher will end up holding the bag.

I find it pretty ironic that Google constantly tries to optimize for every byte in some of its products, pushes for speed and mobile optimization, yet ends up completely negating that in its advertising offerings.

This and the malware that gets through. Stop allowing arbitrary Javascript in ads, and that's it - problem solved. But nope, the cat and mouse chase goes on, and maldvertisers are always a step ahead.

"End users on metered bandwidth (mobile for instance) will suffer but that's not the advertisers problem"

Well, it is their problem or else we wouldn't have this "crisis" of Internet ads now and cries of advertisers/publishers. After all, you can only push a limited amount of bullshit down the users throat before they start throwing up.. It took many years of abuse by countless browser bars, pop-up ads, auto play videos, inflated network bills for a casual user to start using ad-blockers.

I wonder too if there are some good data on user disengagement. Lately there seems to be a spike of autoplay videos in the sites I visit frequently. I just immediately hit the Back button as my silent "protest", but I can't help feeling stupid, like I'm the only human being that doesn't seem to enjoy loud videos running in the background.

Where do these media companies get their data from? Data that says autoplay videos create more engagement or revenue or something that can make up for people, like me, just running away? The other day Fortune magazine surprised me with that same thing, and the video wasn't even related to what the article was about. Does it come from Facebook's success with _silent_ autoplay? These are not rhetoric questions, I'm really curious to understand the logic behind this.

I recently had a similar problem, browsing a reputable news site (newstatesman.com), I accidentally clicked an ad and got taken directly to a page containing explicit pornography. I complained to the site and they said they do what they can in terms of blacklisting ads, but they don't have enough time or staff.

I can't believe there's no ad network that will take a stand against abusive advertising and actually vet the ads on their network. Surely they could get a lot of business and at least a lot of goodwill. Is it just too labour intensive?

You would think some of the most profitable companies in the world could afford to hire a few interns to put eyes on any and all ads before they go out.

>hire a few interns to put eyes on any and all ads before they go out.

They do, all creatives are audited on submission. You can't provide literally ANY creative at bid time, it has to be one that's been audited. It's people that then switch the creative once the audit has been completed that are screwing everyone. It should result in you being banned from the network, but it's hard (apparently) to ban people that are paying the bills for you the ad network.

Why is it even possible to make changes after the audit?

Because the user is forwarded to a website that can be changed.

Oh right, I momentarily forgot that the complaint here was with the target of the ad, not the ad itself.

If you mean the sites that display ads, that's not how they work - ad companies bid on ad spaces as the page is requested.

They could still afford to Mechanical Turk the hell out of that.

Sites need to be legally liable for installing malware on your computer. That will solve all of this. I can go to prison for clicking on the wrong link but somehow they get away with drive-by ransomware installs.

This is laughable. If site owners could go to jail every time a 3rd-party code they're not fully responsible for does something bad, they'd all be in jail now.




Then don't include 3rd party code. What's the problem with it?

If I am including shitty 3rd party stuff in physical goods I am fully responsible for the final result and possible bad outcomes. Why should that be any different for web sites?

Then the only standing ones would be site owners who care enough to make sure they don't allow malware on their visitor from their site. What's the problem?

Because that's not how the world works. You'd jail 99.999% of publishers and the only ones not jailed would be ones who don't have any advertising.

And the ones who vet and "print" (locally serve) the ads. You know, the way print and broadcast media have been doing it pretty much since their inception. The "targeting" only ever has to amount to content-linked (a photography site would be pretty safe serving camera and editing software ads) and general brand consciousness stuff (they're probably not going to buy a car this week either, but we want them thinking Chevy when the time comes).

Sounds great to me. People only publishing what they want others to read, no clickbait, absolutely marvellous.

How do you expect journalists to pay their rent in this utopia?

The internet and cheap computing has made anyone with some writing skills able to compete with journalists.

So maybe journalism as a profession is dying as blogging as a hobby rises. Of course there is value in professional journalism, but the need for that journalism is more specific.

IMO it will happen similar to encyclopedia authors or GPS makers followed a decade back.

By producing much better content and analysis then they currently do. The kind of content and analysis that someone is willing to sponsor or pay for or support through other ways. There's no shortage of bloggers, small outlets, and analysts who are doing just fine - no intrusive ads needed.

Being unemployed myself, I don't really care. Perhaps I should tell them to change careers.

Or which are hosted in Russia.

The adtech industry strongly resembles a money laundering operation, except what's being laundered is malware and malvertising. The system's complexity means no one can (or wants to) pin down where malicious content enters the system, so all involved just shrug their shoulders.

"I don't know how that malware ended up on your PC, I was just serving ads from such-and-such network!"

Contributory negligence at the very least. They gave a portal to let pretty much any tom dick and harry throw whatever content they want on their site. The only way this will get better is if content providers start owning up to /all/ their content, including the stuff in between script tags.

You don't have to jail them. I think a hefty fine would do the trick.

They are not? At least I'd think it violates CFAA. I don't know the CFAA in detail, does it have an exemption for site hosters?

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