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Firefox ad blocker stirs the pot

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Wednesday September 5, 2007 )

Ick. A plugin for Firefox rapidly gaining popularity seems to be quite efficient at blocking ads on sites; particularly those generated by third party ad networks . That’s not good for those of us on either end of the spectrum who depend on advertising – merchants and publishers alike.

According to this article in the New York Times Adblock Plus has approximately 2.5 million users globally with 300,000 to 400,000 new users each downloading the plugin each month.

It’s very simple to install and use and very effective – there are lists people can easily subscribe to that will block many of the major and minor networks. Check out the screenshot snippet below of a section of a CNN page I trialed it on (green text mine). There was a 160×600 tower ad in that section prior. After configuring the plugin, blocks of Google AdWords ads on other sites I visited are now just blank gaps.

AdBlock Plus demo

While I can understand people wanting this sort of functionality and the author of the plugin is being treated as a hero by many, what Joe Surfer needs to understand is there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The quality of content they are able to enjoy on the Internet today is mostly due to the revenue that advertising provides merchants, developers and publishers.

Regardless, this is likely not a “sky is falling” scenario by any means for various reasons, including:

a) Ad blockers have been around in various forms for a while, yet revenue from advertising is increasing
b) An IE version of this ad blocker is unlikely and IE still holds the lion’s share of the browser market.

Still, if it does become wildly popular, it may make a discernable dent in the online advertising industry.

Some have accused The Mozilla Foundation and its commercial arm, the Mozilla Corporation, of endorsing use of Adblock Plus by having it listed in the Firefox plugin addon library. Adblock Plus has riled some site owners to the point they are blocking all Firefox users, which is rather counterproductive.

While blocking all Firefox users is way over the top in my opinion, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.. or fry a fox; and there’s a few scripts starting to pop up around the place to specifically block Adplus users who block a site’s ads.

No doubt the major networks won’t sit on their hands for too long if they perceive this to be a real threat. The somewhat ironic aspect of all this is Google being a strong supporter of Mozilla/Firefox – and we all know how Google makes their money.

Perhaps the Mighty G may lean on Mozilla a little in order to have it removed from the addon library? Who knows; but maybe some of the publishers depending on ad revenue who thoroughly demonize IE and treat Firefox as a panacea may now start having some second thoughts :).


2 comments for Firefox ad blocker stirs the pot
  1. Michael:

    Focusing on the Adblock plugin seems to totally miss the bigger picture. Anti-spyware applications have been doing this for a long time, and on a much more massive scale, when you consider total number of users.

    My Spysweeper has fully automated settings for letting block a huge number of the ad serving networks straight ‘out-of-the-box’.

    Given that use of spyware blocking software is a helluva lot more prevalent than AdBlock, and applies regardless of which browser’s in use, it seems like a much bigger issue to me.

    I understand very well your point about losing the ad revenue necessary to provide the ‘free’ content, but it seems to me online content providers are now in the same position as the music companies. Technology has advanced to where users can bypass the income mechanism for the provider.

    Simply trying to “out-tech” the user will never work – just creates an arms race the hive mind will always win.

    Better come up with a new revenue model instead. (And I have no idea what that would be, unfortunately.)


    Comment by Light & Dark — September 6, 2007 @ 10:51 pm

  2. Hi Paul, thanks for your detailed comment; you make some interesting points.

    Comment by Michael Bloch — September 8, 2007 @ 5:08 pm

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