It might be unusual for a web developer, but up until recently I’d never had an ad blocker installed. I use Firefox as my main browser, which claims to protect privacy by blocking trackers. And to be honest, I don’t read a lot of articles on desktop, preferring to read the news on mobile while I’m on the go. While you might get one or two pop-ups on mobile, the area available for them is clearly a lot smaller, and I generally find the browsing experience for many of the sites I regularly visit is OK.
Most of the sites I do visit on desktop are for my day-to-day job, or research for this blog, and are built with developers as the target audience. I haven’t noticed any/many annoying popups or slow-loading pages on these sites, probably because I know which sites can be trusted to provide quality content, and the people who build them care about user experience.
So, all in all, I hadn’t massively felt the need for an ad blocker, although I figured it would probably make my browsing experience marginally more pleasant. Another reason why I didn’t install one was because I believe it helps me as a developer to browse the web in a way that’s similar to my end users. I’m reminded of a tweet from Sara Soueidan recently:
The fact that I live in a country w/ constant connectivity/Internet issues means that I get to see how slow & unusable most sites are.
But being the positive person that I am 😃 I see that as an edge & inspiration for my own work.
The Web should be better. We can do better.
Yes, many users do install ad blockers, but many more do not. I doubt either my parents or grandparents would even know what an ad blocker is. If I’m testing a site, I don’t want to be left with the impression that it’s faster than it actually is for the majority of users, simply because I’m blocking ads. I know many ad blockers allow whitelisting, but having to remember to do that all the time isn’t ideal. Which brings me to another point: Many of the sites I value rely on revenue from unobtrusive ads. I even have small ads on my own site. I want to support the creators that I care about to earn a living through advertising, but remembering to whitelist all of these is a faff.
I changed my mind recently, however, when browsing the web without an ad blocker became unbearable. I’ve been researching for various talks and articles, which has meant visiting a lot of sites I don’t usually rely on. Honestly, the number of popup windows and autoplaying videos I had to close, the number of pages I killed entirely because they were so slow to load that I thought my browser had crashed, came as a shock even to me as a web professional. And that’s on a decent MacBook Pro, with a fibre broadband connection.
We’re used to the web providing us with all kinds of conveniences. But it’s really a miracle that many people with spotty wi-fi, limited data, or older devices can get anything done online at all. I’d estimate that the amount of resources I downloaded from ads far outweighed the actual webpage content on the sites I visited. In a world where we all need to seriously conserve resources and minimise the carbon footprint of our sites, ads and trackers should be the first things to go.
I’m aware that the conversation around monetisation on the web is far from simple. But this state of affairs is surely serving no one.