I’m anti-advertising. Not sure if I’ve mentioned that here before, but it drives a lot of my behavior. It also tends to infuriate companies. I opt out of being their product, opting instead to do things the slower, less-convenient, expensive way.
Luckily we live in a time when that’s a choice. I don’t just mean Youtube Premium or the ad-free tier of Disney+; most of the Web is built on delivering content without conditions on how I use that content.
Wait, hold on, I hear you say. That’s not the web I see at all. And you’re right, of course. Everything you see has ads: embedded in the paragraphs, floating alongside, popping up to play you a video, hijacking every link. The content being delivered has ads along for the ride.
But I was talking about what the Web is built on, at least for now. When you’re reading something like you are now, you’re looking at a copy I sent you. Your browser asked my server what it has, and my server sent you an HTML file, some images, a few other bits and bobs. Your browser then chose to combine those in a way that suits how you read. Is this page thin so it fits on your phone? Is it wide so it fits on your 4K monitor? Is it read to you by text-to-speech? That’s all possible because the Web is built on me sending you the components of what you want, and you rebuild them to suit.
So where are the ads? Not in the standards (or not yet). I could choose to send you an ad along with the components for this post. A particular image, some HTML to describe how to display it, how to pop it up, how to make sure it gets onto your phone screen or your 4K screen or (less commonly) into your screen reader. But here’s the thing: your browser still chooses whether to display it. Just like it can ignore the Windows-specific instructions, or ignore the night-mode display values, or the super-large-screen background images. It’s making choices all the time. So why choose to display the ads?
A physical example: when you get the (postal, physical, snail) mail, it has things you want to read (or have to read) alongside things that were sent to you as advertisements. Grandma’s card and a Jiffy Lube offer. The water bill and Disney On Ice at the Civic Center. When you sort out the mail (which I’m sure you do diligently), you probably toss the things you want to read in one pile, the things you need to read in another, and the other stuff goes… yep, in the recycling. You don’t open Grandma’s card feeling guilty that you “blocked” the flyer for 20% off an oil change you don’t need because you don’t own a car. You don’t pay the water bill by carefully placing it behind Elsa (on ice!) and then removing it after 15 pre-defined seconds. You toss the stuff you don’t want. You focus on the stuff you do. Why would anyone expect anything different?
So when I look at updates to the Web that threaten to take that away, that force Grandma’s card to be glued to the flyer, that shred your water bill if you don’t pay Elsa her due… I’m against those. I’ll avoid them, I’ll stop using them, I’ll support whatever’s not that.