Once upon a time, one of the biggest frustrations I experienced as I browsed websites attempting to find cheat codes for my Sega Genesis was that of pop-up ads. It seemed like every other website I went to attempted to sell me something through a large, sometimes not-quite-on-screen pop-up ad. I never once clicked on the advertisement itself, and rarely even looked at what it was selling. I knew how to shop, thank you very much, and didn’t need to be told that I could win a free Pentium IV PC (wow!) just by clicking the window in the right spot.
This routine was the norm; it was expected. I’d sign on to my AOL-supplied internet, listening to a set of sounds that for some reason no one could mute, and prepare myself to click closed a ton of ads as I browsed the web. As the years went by, we eventually figured out how to connect to the internet without making our eardrums believe we’d thrown a ton of pots and pans down some metal stairs, but the pop-ups persisted. I eventually started using real web-browsers (for awhile I used Netscape Navigator), and the magic of extensions and add-ons became a reality. I almost immediately found one that allowed me to stop ads. First it was just pop-ups, but eventually they got powerful enough to disable all advertising that appeared on a page, unless it happened to be part of the actual media.
I lived in a world free from advertising, at least while I was online. Well, and anytime anyone mentioned a product they had purchased, or told me to go check out a website, or I followed someone on Twitter who promoted their new album or movie. But, you know, aside from that sort of advertising, I had succeeded in creating the ultimate Internet Experience.
A couple of months ago, after spending years in this utopia, I willingly walked away. I didn’t give up using the internet, obviously, but I no longer stop pop-ups and on-page ads from loading. My browser allows them to show up as plainly as the content I intend to view.
Why would I do such a thing?
Most of the websites I visit are run by individuals who make their living from advertisements. Whether they are web-comics (a few of my favorites: here, here, and here) or blogs (a few regulars for me: here and here), almost everything online makes money from advertising. Think about this: Google is free to use, and yet they manage to make money every year. Advertising runs a lot of our world, regardless of your stance on a culture based around advertisement.
And here is where the rub comes: I was benefiting from a number of websites on a daily or near-daily basis without providing any support for those producing the content. Sure, if it were something I was a particularly big fan of, the best way to show my support would be to purchase a t-shirt or book (in the case of web-comics), but this didn’t fit nearly so well for most of the blogs I read. I started to feel convicted. I felt like I was stealing content. These people worked to put up work, and I had been preventing them from earning money.
There are some good questions to be asked. Should I support all of the sites I visit? And here’s my current stance: I should support the sites I visit, and if I’m not comfortable with that support, I need to seriously rethink my browsing habits. What about a website with intrusive ads, inappropriate pop-ups, or something of the sort? Here’s where the power of my suggestion comes into play: depending on the size of the site, it may be worth talking to the people who run it (I know a number of web-comic artists have declined certain advertisers because of the nature of their ads), or perhaps avoiding the site until the ads change. Surely if they realize they are actually losing traffic because they hosted an ad that pops up with a nearly naked person trying to sell me a video game that has nothing to do with sex (seriously, this was an issue for awhile), then they will eventually change their advertisers.
I guess the point is this: if you are benefiting from a website’s goods or services, and they have decided to place advertising on their site, you should probably accept that this is a portion of their website. If you purchase a movie, skipping the previews (if the DVD lets you) is different: those who are paid for hosting the advertisements are not paid per viewing of the film; the payment is either up-front or based on sales, though likely a combination of both.
And so, I’ve been living in a world filled with advertisements. Some have been flat-out hilarious, while others are just easy to ignore. It’s a different Internet, certainly, but one I think worth wading through. After all, it’s only fair.