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Blocking Adverts Cuts Network Traffic by 40%, Makes Sites Load Five Times Faster

14383213027_ea95700831_oWith 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:

ad block iphone demo ad block iphone demo

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

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jjj July 9, 2015 um 5:15 pm

They gathered way too little data. I would have loved to see RAM usage comparisons and power usage for both PC and phones. Counting the number of crashes and failed page loads would have helped too.
I don’t support blocking ads but the web is far too heavy nowadays, kinda miss the days when a page was just simple HTML a 14y old could write and a plain banner.

jjj July 9, 2015 um 5:37 pm

Need to add that on mobile this is a far bigger problem. From a cost perspective mobile data is hugely expensive. In the US at least people can somewhat afford it but still the average in Q1 was some 2.2GB only. At 10$ per GB , 25% of 2.2GB is 5.5$ that ads "steal" from the user so the economics seem to not work anymore.
In China data prices are kinda similar to the US but people have a lot less money. For example China Mobile has 110MB of data at 15CNY(2.41$) and when that’s all a user can actually afford, losing 25% of it to ads is terrible.
So it would be interesting to actually weight each ad and look at the economics -how much the advertiser pays vs the data cost for the user.
A smart ad blocker could be interesting, one that learns to only load small sized and low resources ads. Even someone like Google could find that developing such a product makes sense, in the end a better web helps them and not allowing the web to be what it has become while allowing sane ads is better than the user blocking everything.

Frank July 9, 2015 um 5:22 pm

The iPhone helped kill Flash for web video, so if iOS 9 kills ads that would be great. I don’t see that happening.
Luckily for me, I already have a tool to block ads on iOS 8 (Wi-Fi only) and on Android using Firefox can block ads with uBlock. Both are without jailbreak/root.

However, both uBlock and my tool only work in the browser, so apps can still display ads.

Nate Hoffelder July 10, 2015 um 6:15 am

I think the AdBlock Plus app kills adverts in apps on Android. It’s Wifi only as well and requires a prxy setting for Wifi, but it works pretty well.

Karl July 9, 2015 um 5:50 pm

Excellent and interesting article. I think you may be right that a truly disruptive change is coming. I wonder if one of the shake-outs of this will be that web site owners and advertisers start asking for a setting on ad-blockers that reads something like "Allow ads on sites that use a modest and reasonable amount of bandwidth for ads."

1 July 9, 2015 um 6:42 pm

1 July 9, 2015 um 7:19 pm

I’m not sure I understand your argument.
You seem to think that adblockers are new. In actual fact, adblockers have been available on desktop for years.
Adblock Plus for Firefox was released in 2006 (and I don’t think it was first one).
Adblockers suffered a slight setback do to the popularity of Chrome which initially didn’t support extensions. This changed years ago, and while the initial set of adblockers for Chrome had no performance improvements (they only hid ads instead of preventing them from downloading), their have been many fully functioning adblockers on Chrome for several years.
By 2014 there were good adblockers for the desktop versions of Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer, Safari, and many others.

While adblockers have not been nearly as popular on mobile, there have been adblocking apps for Android for years (Google went as far as to ban them).
Many Android browsers have supported adblocking for years (Chrome notably missing).

The only new adblocking event that you have attributed to 2015 is an improved adblocking experience on one mobile OS.
This will merely continue the gradual increase in adblocker usage that has been ongoing for years. Why do you think that this will suddenly force companies to rethink their business model?

Nate Hoffelder July 9, 2015 um 7:39 pm

I know it’s not new. See, that’s exactly why I wrote this into the post:

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.

I just think that 2015 is the year it’s coming to a head. There’s more talk about ad blocking than before, and that is largely due to Apple and iOS 9.

And as for why that matters:

One, all this talk is making more people aware of ad blocking for the first time. That means more users both on desktop and mobile. It also means that some web publishers are forced to face the fact that their websites suck.

And two, mobile is incredibly important to a lot of websites. It accounts for what, half of all web traffic? If Apple is successful in converting a fraction of the 300 million plus late model iDevices to ad blockers then that is a huge hit to the pocketbook.

I could be overstating the case but I don’t think I am.

puzzled July 10, 2015 um 6:08 am

If Apple is behind it, you know there can only be one reason why: Apple is going to start selling advertising, and of course, their ads will bypass their ad-blocking.

Nate Hoffelder July 10, 2015 um 6:39 am

Not necessarily.

Apple makes all of its money from hardware sales. They don’t really care much about content sales, and given that adverts would generate even less revenue I doubt it will be enough to catch and keep their attention.

I’d make a counter argument that Apple has an interest in making the device owner (the source of revenue) as happy as possible. One way to do that is to improve their browsing experience by blocking terrible adverts.

1 July 11, 2015 um 1:35 pm

Personally I don’t think it will be enough to make a significant number of web publishers make changes to their business model (not during 2015 anyway). I actually suspect we will see more effort being put into blocking adblockers (not that it will very well) before we see major changes.
I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Felipe Adan Lerma July 10, 2015 um 10:26 am

Love this article! Esp –

"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."

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