The Internet is one of the great inventions of the world. It is particularly impressive because, barring the now-optional cost of providing a line into the house and the not-wholly-obligatory cost buying something to view it on, it is generally free to use.
On one level this is because lots of people are happy to shove stuff on the internet for nothing (this blog, for example, is not terribly remunerative).
There are also websites set up to sell you things which provide lots of information on those things, which count as sales brochures that save on paper and avoid requiring you to sift quite so obviously through 874 pages of stuff that you don’t want at this juncture.
And then there are the websites paid for by advertising revenue. Advertisers supply ads to ad companies who load them onto websites in the same sort of way as they post them up on bus shelters and roadside hoardings. Unlike the bus shelters and roadside hoardings, it is easy to track when someone has acknowledged one of these ads because they click on it and the advertiser promptly gives lots of lovely revenue to the host. There may be one of these ads at the bottom of this page and WordPress would really like you to click on it. (Except for the fact that WordPress has to stay afloat to host this thing for me, I am pretty ambivalent on the matter.)
Adverts are a key feature of the capitalist economic system. They draw your attention to certain brands and encourage you to buy those as a known brand rather than buying someone else because you either thought you knew them better or didn’t know the competition existed (or did know but had never given the matter sufficient thought to consider using them).
If we don’t have adverts online, either the internet will give up or we’ll all have to start paying for it properly (set up an account with Google and pay them 10p per search, for example).
A few months ago my web browser updated and offered me a built-in ad-blocker. I ticked the box. Why?
My mobile phone spends a lot of time, when loading web pages with lots of little adverts on them, warning me that the content of these pages is not secure. The mobile does not come with an ad-blocker, so I can’t do a proper test, but the warnings tend to come up at about the time when it’s loading the ads.
After a while I get both irritated by the warning signs (which, when supplied to excess, start to make browsing the page very long-winded) and slightly paranoid about what these ads are doing while not being secure. Ad companies who dislike this reason can sort out how to make their ads secure.
2) Browsing speed
Ads add to the time it takes to load a page. This comes in two forms. In the first, you simply have to sit and wait, staring at the page you want to use, while you wait for the ads to sort themselves out. In the second, the page apparently finishes loading and then starts moving content around and shifting links to fit the ads in.
As a result fast movers clicking at where their link was when they targeted it find themselves somewhere else entirely – occasionally on the advertisers’ site. This isn’t actually any good for the advertiser, since the usual response is to close the tab with a “humph” and find the way back to the original page.
This can make it quicker to look up journey plans with a paper timetable than a website. (Actually this remark is unfair, as I almost invariably find it quicker to check my journey plans with a paper timetable than with a website anyway.)
3) Internet usage
I spent a while last year on an internet connection with a usage cap. Ads eat into this usage cap. Most of them are high-definition and high-frame-rate. Doesn’t leave much room for anything else.
I was off the usage cap when I was offered the ad-blocker, but still in an ad-blocking mood.
There is also the small matter when running uncertain bandwidth that while Youtube videos will drop quality until they reach a happy medium, ads persist in running one high-quality offering. This can mean a lot of time spent watching them buffer-up. This is bad enough on something that you actually want to watch.
There are a few adverts which still insist on playing noise without being asked (most are now polite enough to play silently until a cursor is rolled over them, and occasionally I do this out of curiosity). When I already have something on in the background (say the flutes and triangles of the Iolanthe overture), a sudden blaring ad buried somewhere in a webpage that I’ve just opened in background tab is a trifle distracting.
5) CPU usage
Until a bit over a year ago I was running a 9-year-old XP computer which, being a 9-year-old computer laden with software, files and operating system updates, was inclined towards being clapped out.
The Independent‘s website, for those who have never used it, is inclined to feature two side-bars of high-definition ads which the computer attempts to run in preference to scrolling the webpage.
As a result the website was unusable for any purpose other than crashing the computer (for which function the computer needed very little assistance in its final months, until it began noticing “replacement” being discussed in my emails and went demob-happy). As a consequence of that I have got out of the habit of reading the Independent. So much for ad revenues.
6) Ads blocking views of webpages
There is a common body of thought amongst certain advertisers that when a person goes to look at a webpage, what they want is an advert to come scrolling across the whole page and tell them that a Chelsea Tractor that can pollute glaciers and run over polar bears is really cool.
It is nice to be spared the immediate implications of sharing the world with these advertisers. (The less immediate implications caused by people taking up the advertised Chelsea Tractors unfortunately have to be lived with, including cleaning the residue of the Tractors’ atmospheric pollutants off the front of my house occasionally.)
7) Ads blocking links
I have horrible residual memories of the sort of advert which crawls onto the screen when a cursor gets to near it and in the process blocks the “next” button. I fancy these were particularly common on the GoComics site. Anyway, I no longer have to bother with them.
I never click on web ads anyway, so webpage providers really aren’t losing much per click revenue from me not looking at them.
Half these ads are for, variously, reclaiming PPI, “you won’t believe what this child actor looks like now”, skincare with bits of plastic and teeth whitening. I suppose I shouldn’t query who’s actually paying for these adverts and shouldn’t be snooty about the quality of ads that I ignore, but am not entirely sure about this whole thing. Has the world really got to the stage where “Mom makes brilliant skincare discovery that shocks experts”, with no obvious brand for the story-carrier, is actually money-making in itself? Or will the site nick my personal details? Do I want to try it and see? (Not really.)
I do actually pay one trusted website £10 per annum to read his news – a small roughly daily update of pictures and commentary that interests me. If it now went up to £20 I’m not wholly sure I would stop paying in protest. I also happy pay £10-£12 per month for paper magazines of similar interest, some of which I then play swapsies with for other magazines with colleagues, which you can’t really do with digital subscriptions. (For some reason I also have an idea that they are not as easy to keep or rifle through for references as the ton of scraggy paper I have recording 40 years of back railway history in my front room.) I would consider the same sort of annual rate for some other news websites (and some other websites in general), but the charges for things like the Times are higher than I fancy paying at the moment. (If I were to be got into a habit…)
(The Times is £6 per week. If I was budgeting £6 per week, or £312 per annum, for such things I’d be buying the paper. This is more a subscription for existing regular readers on the train to work than for attracting the stingy sorts who read half a dozen articles a day. The Telegraph‘s article cap, if made daily, would not be an exceptional problem to me.)
And of course a lot of websites I look at have associations of being cluttered with ads which I already don’t like and don’t trust even before these ads start getting close to payment screens. If there’s a suggestion that after paying I will still have to look at lots of ads, this puts me off the idea. That’s one thing the Times has dead right. There is not an advert to be seen on its homepage, except for itself.
Anyway, people always find somewhere to put advertising…
Not that it always does them any good – sometimes they just lose the election and have to go home to the other half in Aberavon anyway…
Quite often it can barely be seen for the crowds…
So you may as well ignore it and get on with admiring its surroundings.
(Still wish I had a picture of the upside-down poster that said “Because things go wrong” mind you..)