My view on the potential death of the ad-supported web

August 2, 2015

Partly due to the impending release of iOS 9, a certain amount of angst has been written lately about the potential increasing future of adblocking on the web. One of the things often written in such articles is more or less 'how will you like it if widespread adblocking kills the ad-supported web?' Well, it's funny you should mention that.

I'm sure that in the short term I would hate the decline of the ad supported web. Like pretty much everyone, I visit plenty of ad supported websites every day and use a certain number of ad supported services like Twitter. Having them go away or become paywalled would be disruptive and quite unwelcome; it's already annoying enough when I follow a link and hit a paywall and the more often that happens the more annoying it would be.

But in the long term? In the long term I'd be fine, and such a shutdown would probably even be good for me. The reality is that essentially all of the ad supported sites I visit are diversions. They're entertaining and informative and amusing and above all absorbing, because that's what the modern web has driven such sites to be, but they're not essential or even important; they're just how I pass time on the Internet right now. These sites are very good at getting me to visit and to spend time on them, but while that is (currently) good for the sites that is not necessarily good for me. In many ways I'm a rat pressing a lever for an intermittent reward, even if the reward is fun; it's almost all a giant distraction that drains my time in little increments.

(This includes newspaper sites, by the way. Knowing the news, especially in detail and up to the minute, is not essential or even important for me or many other people.)

The sites and services that I really care about are almost entirely boutique products of passion, and they're mostly going to continue for as long as that passion lasts. Oh, some would die when their 'free' ad-subsidized hosting dried up, but the cost of hosting your own website has fallen to amazingly cheap levels today. A good number of the people who care would continue in various ways and forms.

The hard reality is that the Internet was a perfectly fine place in the days before ad supported things were a thing. The Internet inhabitants back then found plenty of ways to spend our time, just as we do today; they were just different ways. In fact many of those old diversions are still around today, lurking in the corners and ready to be revived if needed. To the extent that the Internet was less diverting in the old days, well, I got other things done, often more in-depth things than constantly following Twitter and other sources of chatter and diverting links. I wouldn't entirely mind going back to that world, even if I lack the willpower to move there on my own.

(If Twitter went away, for example, I'd expect several of my online communities there would wind up on IRC channels. Or someone would put together a boutique version of Twitter for the small community. What makes Twitter hard is not the basic features, it's the scale. Drop the scale and you can support a few thousand people on a cheap virtual server.)

By the way, I have to admit that all of this rests on the assumption that not absolutely all of the ad supported Internet will dry up, just a lot of it. I would be fairly badly affected if Internet search stopped existing, and that's ad supported. But I don't think adblockers have any chance of killing that, whereas they do have a chance of killing even things like major newspaper websites.

(People who use GMail et al are also probably fairly safe, and things like Github are not ad-supported. As for eg Firefox development, well, we'll have to cross our fingers there.)

Written on 02 August 2015.
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Last modified: Sun Aug 2 00:31:54 2015
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