Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Bad Ads and Content Blockers

If you want a textbook example of an outstanding response to complaints, look no further than Rene Ritchie at iMore. Notice how I didn’t make some snarky reference to how slow it is or how “heavy” it is? They’re working on it:

Ads in and of themselves aren’t bad, and can indeed provide a service where everyone wins, which is why so many sites and so many mediums employ them. But many of the ads—and the services that deliver them—suck. We all know that.

[…]

We—and by “we” I mean the Mobile Nations design and tech teams—have done a lot to streamline the site templates over the last few months. We rolled out new review templates, new article templates, and just last week, a new home page template. All are considerably lighter and faster than anything we’ve ever had before. And it’s something we’re continuing to work on and make even better.

It’s true. The whole team there seems to have been working really hard to make their site way, way better without reducing their ad revenue, and I applaud and thank them for that.

But the fact that anything like this has to be written is a testament to just how shitty advertising is on the internet. Between ad exchanges that run bidding in real time against keywords on the page, to images, movies, and Flash animations, to the tracking scripts that live underneath, there’s far too much going on for any of it to be efficient. Furthermore, it’s detrimental to privacy, and these ads generally feel cheap.

But as Ritchie points out, Mobile Nations can’t run without them:

Mobile Nations is still an independent company, with no media conglomerate or VC funding behind us, and we still have to pay our dozens of writers, videographers, developers, designers, and support staff, and all of our expenses.

While we sell premium ads directly to advertisers, that only fills a small subset of the required “inventory” to support the network. Some 85% of ads we served last month were “programmatic”—provided by ad exchanges like Google Adx and Appnexus. Those exchanges are pretty much black boxes. We get a tag, we insert it, and ads appear.

I’m really impressed with how much they do without additional funding, almost like an old-school media company. They consistently produce some of the best Apple-centric writing on the web. So, this, to Mobile Nations, iMore, and Rene directly: sorry for making you the scapegoat. It’s just that I love the words on the site so much, but hate the underlying foundation. Sometimes I forget that the things I write might actually be read by people.

But iMore, to their credit, are taking care of this. They’re improving, where few others will. I’m not sure what it will take to convince other major sites to take another look at all the advertising and analytics scripts they use, and what impact that has on their page weight, but it’s a start. Maybe content blockers in the most popular mobile web browser will be the spark.