As a student in the UK, in the mid 1970s, I remember a phenomenon that foxed me twice every week, without fail, the lights in all rooms in our hostel — would dim briefly for a second or two. My English flat mate explained: All over the UK, people tuned into what still remains the world’s longest running TV soap opera — ITV’s “Coronation Street”– with the fervour that we used to bring to viewing “Ramayan”, and “Mahabharat” on Doordarshan.
When the advertisement break came, half way through the ITV serial, Britain collectively quit watching, to switch on the kettle for making tea. This caused a country-wide surge in electricity demand. Nobody gave it fancy names like ad blocking — but that is what it was, pre-Internet era style: customers deciding they wanted to take a break during advertisements that interrupted their entertainment. Then the West came up with products like TiVo which allowed you to record TV programmes but skip all the ads. Advertisers didn’t like it — but they could do nothing: the customer held the remote.
As Internet became all -pervasive, the maidan for paid messages has embraced the new medium and some would say, engulfed it. Because we do not pay for a lot of what we search for and find on the Web (we do pay for connectivity!), Web site owners, content creators and publishers assumed they could make as much money as possible, by making us watch advertisements before we could access the free stuff. They overdid it — and how!
We all have the experience: advertisements pop up even before we finish entering a domain name, all flashing animation and graphics. Sometimes they cover what we are trying to read and closing the ad window is not always easy or even possible. They are disguise to deceive. If you download of a tool or app, you often press a wrong key for another software, that changes or even takes over your tool bar.
Which is why so many of us install special software to block these intrusive ads. Most anti-virus software brands also offer an ad blocking utility.
If things are bad enough on desktop, they are a bigger pain on phones: intrusive and unsolicited ads, take up much of the screen; they take so much time to download, we are eternally waiting to do what we started to do… and worst of all, every ad eats into the data plan we may have paid for and we end up paying for stuff we never wanted. And the irony is if we go for faster 3G and 4G connections we end up paying more, since the ads download that much faster.
The ad blockers help — but it’s a pain to download and set them up.
So last week’s launch by the Norway-based browser, Opera that it had made an ad blocker, native to both its desktop version and the Opera Mini for phones and tablets, is big news. It comes integrated with the new versions of the browser and all you have to do is to look under the ‘O’ for Opera sign and click on “block ads’. Easy!
There could be some good ads you want to see — and Opera allows you to deactivate the blocker for any special sites.
There is a bonus to using such native ad blockers: they do the job faster. Just by blocking ads, Opera claims pages on our phone or desktop will download 40-80% faster.
Content providers are fighting back. Already sites like New York Times and Wall Street Journal detect if you have an ad blocker installed and ask you to disable it before you can view their content. Some other sites are working to create ad block blockers!
Some embedded media organs are suggesting that by blocking ads we are somehow taking roti out of the mouths of poor content creators. This is nonsense. Monetizing the Net is legitimate — but it has to be done without making users see and pay rubbish they never asked for.
Opera will inevitably see other browser follow suit. And why not? TV Remote or mouse or forefinger, the customer will always be, and should be in control.