With Apple adding content-blockers as a core iOS 9 feature and web publishers suing ad blocking companies and acting like they're in an arms race, 2015 is rapidly turning out to be the year that website visitors no longer have to bend over and grab their ankles.
And that's going to be a good thing all around, as VentureBeat reported yesterday. It turns out that blocking ads doesn't just improve your browsing experience, it can measurably improve network performance:
A recent study (.pdf) by Simon Fraser University in British Columbia has found that installing ad-blocking software reduces ordinary Web-browsing bandwidth usage by 25 percent. The reduction is even more dramatic for streaming video: blocking the ads cuts bandwidth by 40 percent.
This means that when you use an ad blocker, everyone who is on the same Wifi network as you benefits from your blocking the adverts.That almost moves ad blockers into the "good manners" category of sharing a public Wifi network, doesn't it?
I think so.
The simple fact is, far too many websites are bloated embarrassments which take a ridiculously long time to load. Dean Murphy proved that point a few weeks ago when he quickly slapped together an ad-blocking extension for Safari. (We all know that ad blocking is nothing new, but the changes Apple is making to iOS 9 has inspired iOS developers to demonstrate the benefits.)
Murphy picked a popular Apple blog, iMore, and applied his filter. He noticed that the mobile version of the site was immediately more usable:
He also noted that iMore's homepage was a mess that used more resources than I would have believed possible:
With no content blocked, there are 38 3rd party scripts (scripts not hosted on the host domain) running when the homepage is opened, which takes a total of 11 seconds. Some of these scripts are hosted by companies I know, Google, Amazon, Twitter and lots from companies I don't know. Most of which I assume are used to display adverts or track my activity, as the network activity was still active after a minute of leaving the page dormant. I decided to turn them all off all 3rd party scripts and see what would happen.
In comparison, this blog has about a third as many scripts as iMore. The average webpage measures on this site about 1.5MB, while an article page on iMore can be more than 14MB in size, according to Nick Heer.
I've worked really hard to keep this site lean and fast because I know that faster is better. Murphy proved that point when he enabled his ad blocker. Murphy also confirmed Venture Beat's report of reduced network traffic:
After turning off all 3rd party scripts, the homepage took 2 seconds to load, down from 11 seconds. Also, the network activity stopped as soon as the page loaded so it should be less strain on the battery.
This, in a nutshell, is why Apple is building the content-blocking features into iOS 9. It's a battery booster, a performance enhancer, and a bandwidth fix all rolled into one.
Web publishers should be taking this seriously, but something tells the worst offenders are going to develop pronounced cases of cranium rectumitis.
The Next Web, for example, has taken the position that ad blocking is immoral; this site is also the purveyor of what is arguably the worst advert idea on the internet (it's like the rolled pop ups, auto-play videos, and the blink tag into a single advert). Similarly, PC Magazine has come out against the changes in iOS 9, while at the same time their website is again a stinking pile of manure.
And then there's iMore. That blog responded to the news that their site was a resource hog with a post which admitted that yes, their website sucked, but there wasn't much they could do about it.
That we haven't made it further, faster is an indication of how hard it is when you're talking about websites visited by tens of millions of people, and companies that employ more than a dozen writers. Of course, everyone here is going to continue working to find better, smarter ways of solving the problem, because that's our jobs. I'm sure other large websites are doing likewise.
That may be true, folks, but as I have previously pointed out, if they can't solve the ad problem then they need to find another business model.
Attitudes like the ones at iMore, PC MAgazine, and The Next Web are why I am convinced that 2015 is going to be the year that ad blocking is recognized not as a problem for websites but will instead be seen for what it truly is: a disruptive innovation.
And I mean that in the classic meaning of the word:
Disruptive Innovation: A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technologyy. (Wikipedia)
Railroads killed the canal system.
Cars killed the horse.
Highways killed the passenger train.
Downloads killed record stores.
The internet is killing the newspaper.
And finally, CraigsList killed the want ad.
And now ad blockers are about to kill a lot of sites that had grown fat and happy by abusing their visitors.
It can't happen soon enough, in my opinion.
image by docentjoyce