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Ask HN: What will happen when everybody uses an ad blocker?
39 points by bartkappenburg on Sept 13, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 59 comments
As experts on technology, business and startups, I'm very curious what wil happen (technology AND business wise) if the pentration of ad blockers is 100%.

1) An arms race of ad-detection tech vs ad-hiding tech;

2) A segregation of sites in those who are okay at being free&ad-free (personal blogs, hobbyists, shops, corporate sites) vs paid-content sites. Possibly site owners will have a big need for functioning micropayments.

3) Migration of ad budget from banners&impressions towards sponsorships, paid placements and "advertorial" content/biased articles.

Your list is all of these but not in a specific order I believe. I see it as more like bullet points that will happen. Is that correct interpretation?

Id like to ad 4. search engines has to change, there will be room in that market to specialize in searching the ad-free sites.

We will see the explosion of native and more tightly integrated ad formats that are harder to block. Example: Job posts on HN.

Research has shown that the problem is becoming an epidemic, with publishers losing an average of over 20% ad revenue due to ad blocking software. Tech and Gaming websites, along with other sites with a more tech savvy audience, are hit the hardest, with block rates sometimes over 50%.

With the current online advertising model, ad blocking will force publishers to take drastic measures that we as users do not want. We can shut down the ads, but the content will still have to be funded. We as users will still have to pay to view that content. Only in the future, instead of paying passively (by viewing ads), we will pay actively, being forced to deal with things like paywalls, freemium models, and subscriptions.

You can view our brand new report on adblocking here- http://blog.pagefair.com/2013/the-rise-of-adblocking/

I as a consumer prefer to pay for my content, the primary issues I have with ads.

  - A violation of privacy
  - Content creators' incentives are not for me the consumer.  Important in editorial contexts
  - An impairment of my computer systems, between another attack surface to being resource intensive.

Twitch.tv, a live streaming site, has Adblock rates of around 60% (unclear if that just means 40% fill rate) due to the obtrusiveness and frequent over-use of ads by streamers.

The Starcraft website Team Liquid also has around a 60% block rate despite actively encouraging people to disable Adblock on their site and having very minimal advertising.


A League of Legends team manager on Twitch.tv Adblock rates: http://www.reddit.com/r/starcraft/comments/1ewq95/totalbiscu...

And a Team Liquid admin: http://www.reddit.com/r/starcraft/comments/1ewq95/totalbiscu...

That ads will be directly served from the same server where the content resides, and thus be indistinguishable from content?

If it can be identified by any mechanical means, including by element xpath, by id, by class, by CSS properties, by the fact it got inserted after document load, by OCR of the image... then it can be ad blocked. A "sufficiently smart" adblock could be as good at spotting ads as a human.

How many false positives do you think users would tolerate with such smart algorithms?

There are a fair number of sites that simply don't work properly with adblock on. I load the page and I get a big grey blankness. I just shrug and move on - there's plenty more where whatever it was came from. It's well worth not having to look at ads.

I've wondered about this for the longest time, why not just embed the ads within the content so there's no way to "filter" it out? I've also thought that there is an opportunity for mobile ads, whenever the ads are blocked show a "default" built in ad. Sell these "default" ads to big companies as a block, for example Coca Cola. They never get tired of impressions, it's not like they need you to go to their website and look at an ad. Just seeing their logo reminds you of their product, and that's all they need to happen.

1. Won't happen at 100% penetration. Horses are still ridden. Some people still use quills. People without adblockers become more valuable.

2. Personal, targeted advertising rather than mass advertising. [Only you can see this: Why not try a holiday in Greece next year - it's cheap and the beaches are great, fantastic culture and the people are pretty easy on the eye.]

3. It will be as good as a cold coke on a hot day when adverts are in-place in content. Heck, you'll be paid by advertisers for including product references.

4. People will pay for some things that they don't pay for now.

5. There will be an increase in sponsored material. [This reply brought to you by Drupal. The finest CMS you will ever use.]

6. People will be paid to not have adblockers switched on. [Thanks for reading. Now click here for your $1 - news.ycombinator.com.]

Things change. Nobody expects economies to be static any more, do they? People will invent new ways or re-invent old ways.

Edit: Meh. Bad formatting. And added more ads.

Websites start to prevent it.

When I used to run a website only financed with ads, I managed to make non-blockable advertisements with some PHP scripting. I think I included the picture on my server, named it something like a book.png and setup a bit.ly redirect with PHP. It all worked even with ad-blocks on. Not sure though have adblocks advanced a lot since then.

It's really easy to thwart ad-blocking at the micro level, as you've found. Third-party ad networks have to be much more predictable, which makes them a lot easier to block.

In some ways, it's the same as with comment spam: if you have a common interface or you're a large enough target, people will write code against you.

We'll actually get to be the customers and pay for the things that interest us instead of being the product.

I think this would be a huge improvement, personally.

Interesting question. I really don't know the answer

In real life, many of the people who are inclined to use an ad blocker are not the sort to click on ads anyway and are not providing advertisers with any significant revenue to lose. In fact it may save them a small amount by reducing server and bandwidth load.

I suspect that you would never see adblockers used everywhere as it simply isn't the case that everybody minds ads

However I'm still curious what people think would happen if the advertising giants had to dump advertising

> In real life, many of the people who are inclined to use an ad blocker are not the sort to click on ads anyway and are not providing advertisers with any significant revenue to lose.

This. I recently had an opportunity to chat with the CEO of a well-known blogging platform company and his attitude was that, first, the number of people who actually use ad blockers is much smaller than you'd think, and second, for the type of person who uses an ad blocker, you're not doing yourself any good by doggedly trying to put ads in front of them. If getting people to look at your site is one of your core goals, the fact that some of those people aren't necessarily going to benefit you directly via ad revenue is just a given. They can still benefit you indirectly by helping your site's popularity: enjoying it, linking to it, sharing from it, etc. In effect, "don't worry about it."

I don't think we'll ever get anywhere near 100% ad-blockers. I've never bothered with one and I'm perfectly happy with it. It's a somewhat self-limiting problem because I just end up avoiding sites whose ads are too obnoxious, so it's in the advertisers' best interest to reel it in to the point of tolerability. I suspect a lot of people are like me in that the ads are not enough of an annoyance to want to do anything about them.

People who create AdBlock software will sell out and strike deals with major advertisers to let certain ads through.

They've already started. Google has made a deal to regain some of the $887 million they lost last year alone due to adblocking.

You can read all about it here- http://blog.pagefair.com/2013/acceptable-ads-soothe-google-p...

That's OK, if they have restraint in what they let through.

Maybe I'm not typical, but I made my peace with ads long before the Arpanet switched to TCP/IP, and every ad blocker I've installed has been in defense from an impossible ad after running unfiltered for a while.

Maybe there aren't enough of us, maybe the temptations are just too strong for ad blocking organizations if they accept some, but I have to think there's at least a little hope.

Thus AdBlockAdBlocker is born.

Well, there are some people, like myself, who are interested in seeing ads. The reasons vary. For example, im on the lookout for an upgrade to a vps. Im getting lots of targeted ads with offers and specs. I consider that a good thing. I also like to know when my friend's startups are advertising and how they are doing it. Not everyone dislikes ads enough to go through the technicalities of installing an ad blocker.

Technology-wise, an arms race. We have been in this situation before with pop-up blockers: instead of recognizing that users do not want pop-up ads, the advertising industry worked hard to find ways to circumvent pop-up blocking. Nothing has changed since then, and in fact, ad blocking continues to be an arms race as advertisers find increasingly intrusive ways to display their ads.

Well, I doubt if anything really spectacular will happen. Content owners will get their developers to whip up scripts that prevent users with adblock from accessing the content.

I visited a small forum via a google search where I was redirected to a page "encouraging" me to disable adblock since the site runs on ad revenue. Of course, I abandoned the site.

There is already a wordpress plugin to detect adblockers [1]

Now, once sites start implementing these measures adblock developers will develop their product to circumvent these scripts. Content developers will update their script to break these new tools, adblock developers will update their tools to again circumvent the new script and the cycle continues.

Don't even think of paid for/subscription models because a large percentage of these sites know their content are not worth paying for so won't even bother considering it. They simply want eyeballs to attract advertisers.


Subscription Models Could Emerge.

There are already tens of millions of folks using ad blocking.

Anti-ad-blocking technology is not difficult to implement. OKCupid had nice messages asking for donations to adblock users. Reddit thanks users for not blocking ads.

I think that if adblocking grows, a system will come up where users pay a monthly fee to not see ads on content sites & that fee is distributed among the sites. Something like flattr I think is doing something like this.

I think this model could be implemented today if you could get several big media/net companies behind the effort.

The current state where Google pays AdBlock a whole bunch of money to unblock their ads isn't really cool - I think this subscription model would be a win for publishers, win for adblock (revenues), win for users (at least in developed countries, making payments is relatively easy/we're used to it & most want to support content/music/filmmakers,etc.!)

[Disclosure: I am the founder of the Epic Privacy Browser which blocks ads because they almost always involve trackers/tracking]

> I think that if adblocking grows, a system will come up where users pay a monthly fee to not see ads on content sites & that fee is distributed among the sites.

But that's a kind of ransom, and once established, the payments could only become larger. It would be like a government demanding tribute with no benefit to the payer, just so they won't invent a reason to throw you in jail. Oh, wait, that's already true. :)

Seriously though, if a pay-the-advertisers scheme were to be considered, wouldn't it make more sense to pay individual websites a subscription fee directly? That would be more efficient, and by being focused on specific sites it would improve the relation between quality content and income.

Obviously if a website had reliable subscribers, they could do away with the advertising. So could television and radio. I don't fully understand why this isn't the model, but I suspect it has something to do with people thinking they're getting something for nothing. But if we've learned anything from nature, it's that you only get nothing for nothing.

I used to wonder this, but eventually I figured out that most of the major browsers are controlled by players who profit from the ad tech ecosystem, and will ensure that ad blocking is always an opt-in option. A large majority will always use default settings.

The same thing that happened when TiVo let you skip TV commercials.

If you're on ThePirateBay or are looking up song lyrics all the time you have good reason to use adblocker, but most ads sent intrusive enough for the average person to care about. Therefore there is no need for a tech arms race.

Popups were extremely annoying and came with malware that was on almost everybody's computers. But I highly doubt Adblock will ever reach anywhere near that level of saturation.

My wife had her work computer infected with malware by an ad that was served on the main page of one of the biggest news oultets in Germany. That single instance reportedly caused thousands of infections. Since then I unconditionally recommend adblocking.

Also, if you are browsing the russian part of the internet, you should block everything you can (ads, js, flash).

Other than the ad networks, who's surviving and growing their business off of ads, really? Like, who's in the business of ad clicks and the business of content? TechCrunch, et al. So, handshake coverage deals, just like now. Samsung is willing to pay a lot more for your site to proclaim its love of Samsung's new device than it is for some annoying little 150x150 ad, no matter how many times you show it.

It flashed over my screen for a millisecond.

huh? what's that? a pop-under? did I turn ad-block off again?

2 days after their "publicity" campaign launched, things like...

"we have detected you using an ad-blocking service. Your wait time before this video plays has been increased"

...started to show up on various websites.

If "ad-blockers" become widely used, they will stop working effectively because the advertisers will have to make sure their ads are "seen".

Ad blocking has already become widely used. Adblock Plus, the most popular ad block extension, reports over 150k downloads per day. Adblock (not affiliated with ABP) also reports over 20 million users. Adblocking in general is growing over 43% per year.

We aim to educate the internet about adblocking. You can read more here- http://blog.pagefair.com

FYI: vanilla safari on iOS does not allow for ad blockers, and I wouldn't be surprised to see future devices prohibit them as well

I think the use of adblockers has plateaued. In my experience, most people just don't mind ads that much. For example, if someone else installs an adblocker, they'll leave it on. But if they get a new computer, for example, they won't bother to go and install it themselves.

I suspect everyone on hacker news works too closely with websites to make predictions without the myopia that comes from being an "expert". I'd rather ask an advertiser what they would do if users blocked ads. And even that will predict little.

The content on the web could gradually begin to resemble an ad in and of itself. We're seeing this to an extent now in other forms of media, with the growth of (increasingly shameless) product placements, promotions, etc in movies and TV.

What will happen when everybody uses an Ad Blocker? I can think of two positives;

The Advertising Industry will finally wise up and realize that the consumers do not like having Ad's forced upon them interrupting their content. This will cause the Advertising Industry to Innovate (which is sorely needed, and good for business)

Online based Businesses will realize that Advertising is no longer an effective Business Model, which will lead them to charge for their content and/or services. Over time this will eliminate the concept of Freemium and reinforce the concept of paying for stuff (which is sorely needed, and good for business)

The other scenario is that the whole freemium model may disappear and you end up with more paid for/subscription models for a lot of sites.

I would imagine they'd move to some sort of out-of-band method, where the servers use something akin to WebHooks (or maybe just WebHooks themselves) in order to rotate their ad stock, rather than loading the ad on-the-fly from a 3rd party site upon each visit. This would allow them to maintain an ad network while still serving the content from the same domain as the ad.

The web will simply stop being an effective advertising medium. No big deal. There are plenty of others.

I wish I could just directly pay the equivalent amount of my ad views to the content provider.

Publishers will figure out how to make ads that bypass ad blockers (i.e. "native".)

The content (and ad) provider will provide a page of advertisement first, then count to ten, then release the content. User can choose to watch the ad, or (with ad blocking technology) a blank screen for ten seconds.

This is already being done with videos.

When I listen to ESPN radio on the internet I have to do it in an incognito browser for it to work properly. The adblock program stops the site from running correctly, or the site is correctly not running.

Ghostery recognizes BrightCove as a tracker, but services like amctv.com use it for video streaming. A similar thing might be happening there

Publishers will start blocking users that use ad blocking software. Those users will be shown a message telling them they can't see the content until they turn off their ad blocker.

I see new ad/paywall hybrids springing up, whereby adblock users are detected and presented with a paywall / donation / nag screen and regular users are shown display ads.

1) I think that is highly unlikely. 2) Ever look in your spam folder? Its full of questionable emails from non reputable vendors, trying to outsmart the spam filters.

There is already an arms race between ad blocker and ad producer technologies...

The ad blockers start selling ads.

Actually, the main reason I block ads is not because I can't stand ads, but because I don't want to be tracked and traced around the web, and also it turns out that as most of this ad-systems are based on extensive javascript and flash, blocking them makes most news sites load so much faster.

There's a very easy way to solve this problem for websites, and that is to host the ads from the main site. That would make it harder to track you across the web, but also harder for you to block content without braking the functionality of the page.

This in combination with how ad networks like The Deck works, with beautiful exclusive ads per page is the way to go.

"There's a very easy way to solve this problem for websites, and that is to host the ads from the main site."

It's not that simple. Almost all display ads are served through 3rd party ad servers like Doubleclick, Zedo, etc. because advertisers want the ability to:

- Control and change what ads they are serving without contacting hundreds or thousands of different site owners and coordinating mass creative changes. This is why ad networks exist. This includes controlling which creative gets served and optimizing for serving the best creative (ad + copy) when they figure things out.

- Account for frequency and reach correctly. By having a 3rd party serve your ads, you have insight across the web by "user" so you can cap the frequency. I don't want to hit you with 100 impressions per day so having global knowledge of how many times you've seen the ad helps eliminate waste.

- Account for impression based conversions / goals. You can correlate goal conversions on your own site with impressions and clicks so you can see if people who saw your ads but did not click behave differently than people who did click. This also gives you the ability to do multi-channel attribution so you can detect if impressions impact your SEM campaigns or do they increase direct-type-in traffic to your site, etc.

What about if a subdomain of the real website was pointed at the ad network, e.g. adverts on this site would be served from doubleclick.ycombinator.com

Every website would serve from a different domain, which prevents (? helps prevent?) tracking, but advertisers like myself can still run it through our own network and see valid stats.

Easy to block. Needs to serve all other non-html static files too, to be uneasy to block at mass.

The idea would be to allow adverts while still blocking tracking - sure it would still be possible to block them, but less people would want to block them.

I do understand this, but then again you can't both have the cake and eat it too. At the end of the day, maybe it's better to have ads at all if the alternative is getting blocked by users.

I would be completely fine with ads on my main sites if they had some form of quality control over AdSense and the likes, or even better yet hosted their own ads like you said, but... tasteful.

I hate flashing ads, I loathe sound, I'm irritated to no end by ads made to look like news articles or any ad that breaks good page formatting for the sake of exposure.

However, unless browsers add ad-blockers by default I doubt we'll be seeing a future where a majority of internet users use it.

We completely agree that loud, flashing, and pop up ads are intrusive and have no place on the internet.

As far as the majority of the internet, ad blocking extensions are getting easier and easier to use with a variety of browsers. AdBlock Plus reports 50k downloads per day on Chrome alone and 100k downloads per day on Firefox. Adblock Plus is also the most downloaded extension of all time. The issue seems to have already become mainstream.

If you're interested, you can read more about adblocking in our new report here- http://downloads.pagefair.com/reports/the_rise_of_adblocking...

I haven't seen a flashing ad or a sound ad on anything but shady sites in _ages_. Garbage like Taboola which is all scam pitches designed to look like "Related Articles" is a different matter, but I've just blocked them directly in /etc/hosts.

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