28 April 2008

In the age of AdBlock and NoScript, AdSense may have an advantage.

I think the only people who really like advertising are people who make money from advertising. Sure, ad watchers can get information or even entertainment from a well designed ad, but for the most part it is an interruption that disrupts an experience. A lot of people would like to see advertising done away with completely. People like that who surf the Web are increasingly using tools like the Firefox add-ons AdBlock and NoScript to block ads from their view. As someone who likes advertising primarily because he makes money from advertising, I am more than a little concerned over what will happen as more and more people start blocking ads on the Web. Will the numbers of ad blocking individuals be sufficient to shake up the Internet advertising world?

I fully expect there to be many more ad blockers in the future, targeted towards surfers on all platforms and of all nationalities. There will even be an "arms race" of sorts between advertisers and ad blockers, with each group trying to outwit the other. The question I'm not sure of the answer is how motivated the average surfer will be to block ads even when the tools to do so are readily available. We have to keep in mind that people on the Internet vary widely in their level of experience using computers and the Internet. For some, using a browser other than Internet Explorer is still a radical idea. Some don't install new programs knowingly at all, end of story. So there will always be an audience available to view ads on the Web, and its size won't be small. People also vary in their level of distaste for advertising as well; those who recognize that advertising actually motivates the creation of Web content and services may well tolerate it as a "necessary evil." Still, I think the outright majority of Web surfers are going to be open to the idea of blocking ads. It's not only those who find advertising annoying who will turn to ad blocking. For some, safety factors will be paramount -- NoScript, for instance, can block a lot of ads, but I think its most important use is to prevent malicious code from being executed. Since ads themselves can be vectors for transmitting malware, people concerned with surfing the Web securely are among the most likely groups of people to block ads.

Given that ads can be a security risk and that many are only useful to small groups of people, there are millions of surfers who would not feel a twinge of regret over blocking all ads from their lives permanently. After all, what have ad companies like Casale Media and Tribal Fusion done for THEM? Google AdSense is somewhat different, however, and it is primarily because of the size and variety of its publisher base. An Adsense publisher could be someone who just started a blog on Blogger one day for fun. In all likelihood, this publisher will never reach payout -- he may never even get a single regular reader. Nonetheless, he has published on the Web and had the experiences of signing up for AdSense, getting approved to run ads, and setting up the actual ads on the blog. This is a person who will look on AdSense a little differently compared to how he looks on every other ad company. If he ever decides to start blocking ads, he's going to be more reluctant to block AdSense ads than those from other companies -- after all, he's an AdSense publisher himself! AdSense's open policy is not embraced by all; plenty of advertisers, for instance, want no part of Google's "content network," preferring instead to advertise alongside search results only. I also strongly suspect that small-time publishers are more likely to resort to click fraud and commit other violations of AdSense guidelines than their more successful cohorts. Still, I think that the relationships AdSense has formed with millions of people could really pay off if there is an ad blocking related shakeup in the Internet advertising world.

Indeed, I would advise any ad network to at least consider starting a free blog or web hosting service in which the only ads permitted would be served by that particular ad network, with revenue shared with the web publisher. Such a move creates good will and increases the network's reach at the same time. It could even give those ad networks a little bit of an edge in the (perhaps) difficult times that loom ahead.

25 April 2008

I feel a little weird using Yahoo! now.

Most people seem to think a Microsoft acquisition of Yahoo! is essentially inevitable. Not even Yahoo!'s recent positive revenue report has changed many minds. It's always a dangerous thing to trust Internet "experts," but I have no reason to distrust the many voices that are forecasting a merger between these two mammoth companies. I, too, expect the acquisition to happen, but Yahoo!'s energetic fight for its life has at least kept the possibility of another end of this story possible. During this waiting period, life has gone on at both Yahoo! and Microsoft even though both companies' futures are up in the air at the moment. Both companies are busy unveiling new projects, improving old ones, and building new business relationships. For me, though, nothing has felt quite the same since Microsoft's bid was first announced.

Every time I visit the Yahoo! homepage or a Yahoo! service I find myself inevitably thinking, "Will this still be here after Yahoo! is bought by Microsoft?" For the most part, I think the answer to that question will prove to be yes, at least when it comes to popular Yahoo! services. I can't help but wonder how things will change, however...that things will change dramatically I know. Even if a particular service isn't axed outright, it might be neglected and eventually fade away into oblivion, or be dropped suddenly when it becomes apparent it doesn't fit well into the new owner's plans. What if a service that will be axed or will be neglected and left to die happens to be one I really like? This whole thing really sucks for the userbase. Yahoo! already feels dead to me -- I find myself using Yahoo! services less and less, all because I don't feel like I can count on Yahoo! to be there for me in the future. It's almost as if Yahoo! announced it was going out of business and would no longer be around...that's how I feel. I know that Yahoo! IS going to be around in some form even after this weekend's busy negotiations, but I just don't know if it'll be anything like the Yahoo! I used to use. I don't think I'll be able to shake this feeling off until the deal is either done or taken off the table. Will I be able to survive a hostile takeover attempt by Microsoft?!

Hulu is a serious competitor to In2TV.

Despite the buzz that surrounded the launch of Hulu, I really didn't expect the site to quickly become one of my favorites. I welcomed its arrival; one can never have too many high quality video sites, after all. I was more or less expecting a site that would regurgitate a lot of content already found on its partners' sites, however, rather than a site that offered an amazing mix of old and new television content, movies, and classic sports. I wasn't prepared for the awesomeness of Hulu. It blew me away.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Lost in Space, The A-Team, classic NBA games...wow. I can burn some serious time on that site, and I have. It's not like Hulu is the only site offering television content on the Web, though. AOL's In2TV is a similar site that I've written about in the past. I remain a fan of it, and to have both In2TV and Hulu and all the other video sites online right now makes this an awesome time for video mavens. We can think of Hulu and In2TV as being equivalent to TV channels for the Web. Your particular web channel lineup might include Joost, YouTube, and/or any number of other video sites, but regardless of the particular bunch of sites you use it is becoming increasingly clear that the high speed Internet user is soon going to be able to legally access more video content online than he/she can through TV. It's no wonder that many people are shifting away from cable and satellite TV given the richness of available online content; I don't see myself taking THAT step as long as I can afford cable TV, but getting off the cable/satellite grid is now a viable choice even for people who don't like to be bored.

As loyal as I feel to In2TV, I must nonetheless acknowledge that Hulu has leapfrogged ahead of the older site. Simply put, Hulu just works. It's offering a seamless video watching experience that replicates the television watching experience. High quality video, high quality content, high quality performance. In2TV just works most of the time, too, but the rest of the time it doesn't. The last problem I had with In2TV is that my videos would skip ahead after a commercial break, forcing me to miss a big chunk of whatever I was watching -- that's not exactly the best way to endear me to the advertisers! I'm also none too sure of how dedicated AOL is: for some reason, an episode of Babylon 5 ("Signs and Portents") on the English version of the site is in Spanish, and has remained in Spanish despite user complaints. It's one thing to build a great site, but it can only remain a great site if it is maintained. I unfortunately get the feeling that In2TV is on auto-pilot at the moment. Hulu might follow the same path eventually, but, for the moment, it has In2TV beat. Since they don't offer the same content, though, it makes sense to use both depending on what you want to watch. In this case, competition is awesome for the end user.