Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Few Months of Ad Blocking

Two friends each have competing ad blocking companies/products (Brave and Optimal) that I've been trying out for a few months now. Detailed reactions below, but let me start by saying how much faster the web is without extraneous connections/bandwidth being gobbled up by advertisements; each solution provides a 100x better browsing experience based on performance alone. Nearly 50% of mobile bandwidth is used by moving advertisement bits across the wire. That's not only costly from a monthly data-plan bill standpoint, but it also illustrates the size of the stake mobile carriers have in the game; without ads, they'd lose 50% of their data-plan revenue! So, if either solution takes hold, rest assured the mobile carriers will push anti-ad-block legislation (legal or commercial lobbying) hard. If you flip that model in its head, you can quickly argue that the ad-industry is heavily subsidizing our data-plan costs with our mobile carriers.

I haven't decided which approach is better yet; Brave's browser/client-side approach, or Optimal's DNS-level approach, but both are working great. Each has their bugs/issues, but it's a joy, for the most part, to surf/navigate/read/transact sans advertisements online.

If you're a publisher reading this and are upset that you haven't gotten ad-dollars from me, send me an email and I'll bitcoin you what you'd likely received had I surfed you with ads.

Brave

Brave is well, a brave approach as it requires the user to download/install/use a new client/browser. They have support for OSX/iOS/Android, so the platforms that matter are covered which is good. Brave is also attacking the end-user privacy front which is nice. They give you all the privacy/security controls/tech that you'd want as a user. They also provide probably the most important part of this ad-blocking puzzle to me, and that is the ability to pay publishers I choose based on my consumption. This was likely largely motivated by the publisher cries over ad-blockers adversely impacting their revenue, but more interestingly, to me, is that I get to decide how much I want to pay for content, and guess what, it's a heck of a lot more than the crappy ad-industry pays on a per-user basis, so, if I were a model for most consumers (and I admit I'm not unfortunately), publishers would actually make out better.

Brave's challenge is that it's a separate browser. Which plugins/extensions work and which don't? Does this website work in Chrome? etc etc. Getting consumers to switch browsers is super hard.

Optimal

Optimal chooses to do all of its blocking at the DNS level. This requires an app-install on mobile, or DNS address swapping by hand on OSX. What's nice about this approach is that ads are blocked across all applications/browsers on the system (mobile or otherwise). Downsides here though are that if  you're already using custom DNS (e.g. openDNS) for things like content blocking for kiddos, you have to pick one or the other. Optimal is still sorting out how to backfill lost ad-revenue to publishers, but, there are frameworks to accomplish this that they'll sort out in time I believe.

Optimal's challenge is in getting an alternative publisher payment model in place, and one that lets me, the user, decide who gets my dollars. Also, a DNS approach can ultimately be circumvented by the industry by pushing ad distribution out to the app-level/root-level top-level domain and subdomains of the apps/websites I'm visiting.