How to get me to block your web ads in a flash

December 17, 2006

Tim Bray:

The animation in Web display ads is outta control, outta control, I tell ya!

What he said (except that it's been going on for years). The fastest and best way to get me to really kick your ads to the curb has always been to make them blink and get in my face, and it amazes me that anyone has ever thought such ads were a good idea.

(Huge, page-disrupting and modem-saturating ads don't help, but they are not as scream and leap as frenzied animation is.)

It also amazes me that people are willing to run ads on their pages that are taking deliberate steps to be more attention grabbing than the content. Apart from people who are only in it for the drive-by ad revenue from suckers, it seems self defeating to any efforts to build a long-term audience, since you usually only have a relatively brief chance to hook a first time visitor and persuade them to come back later, and what is presumably going to hook them is your content, not the collection of blinking stuff, so you want your content to be what their attention naturally settles on first.

(It's easy to see why blinking things are attractive to ad people, since it is well established that people reflexively pay attention to apparent motion and change. But this doesn't mean that using this low-level hook is a good idea or is likely to accomplish your actual goals, as most people who've tried using the <blink> tag can probably testify.)

Sidebar: what I use to get rid of ads

I've used the junkbuster filtering HTTP proxy since at least 1997 or so. Although it has limitations (like no HTTP/1.1 support), I still prefer it to in-browser solutions like Firefox's AdBlock, partly because I find its simple plain text configuration easier to manipulation. (And of course when I started using it, a filtering proxy was the only real option.)

I've never bothered upgrading to privoxy, the current line of junkbuster development, partly because junkbuster works fine for me so I have very little motivation to change. I did wind up trying privoxy out recently (due to people starting to stuff ads into RSS feeds), and my general view is that boy does it seem to have a complicated configuration system.

Comments on this page:

From at 2006-12-22 22:59:58:

Have you looked at using DNS:

Or /etc/hosts to block ad sites?:

Assuming your not filtering headers, these work pretty well. - Ryan

By cks at 2006-12-23 23:32:35:

I don't like DNS-based blocking, because it's simultaneously too broad (not all places serve ads from a different hostname than their regular content) and too narrow (you cannot do pattern-matching on hostnames, you more or less have to list them one by one). I also think it's a hack, and I'd much rather use a tool that's directly aimed at filtering HTTP traffic instead of something that does it essentially by a side effect.

(DNS hacking is pretty much necessary for taking out stuff that uses HTTPS instead of HTTP, but so far this hasn't been something I've needed.)

Written on 17 December 2006.
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Last modified: Sun Dec 17 22:55:09 2006
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