Ad Blockers and The Nature of the Web

With the release of iOS 9, ad blockers are now available on iPhones and iPads, and discussion is flying about the ethics behind what's happening. The arguments are nuanced, and there seems to be fair arguments on both sides. But what I keep coming back to, and what I feel like most people are missing, is the nature of the web as a medium. In particular, I'm surprised at the anger directed towards people who are now beginning to use ad blockers. One article screamed "Welcome to hell: Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook and the slow death of the web". This completely misses the foundation that the web was built on top of.

Let me use an analogy. I love drinking tea. Say I requested a paper catalog from my favorite tea purveyor. I know, I know...paper?! What am I some kind of animal?! But please, for the sake of argument, imagine with me. A tea catalog comes in the mail to my house. I fetch it from the mailbox and set it down next to my comfy chair. With a cup of tea in hand, I begin to peruse. But I'm interrupted, and set it down again. A day later I come back, determined to order something. But I'm having trouble deciding, so I grab a marker and start highlighting the teas that I'm interested in. But there are still too many for me to keep track of. Next I get out the scissors and start snipping out the ones I like. I arrange them on the table, then make my final selection. The tea company is not going to show up at my house and berate me for cutting up their beautiful magazine. They sent it to me, it's in my house, and it is mine to do with what I want.

I realize this analogy is not perfect, it begins to break down, as a tea company earns it's money by people buying tea. But use the same analogy with any newspaper or magazine. Once you have it, you can cut it up, throw it out, or use it to light the charcoal for the grill. You aren't even required to flip through every page to view all the ads. It's the nature of the medium. And those companies who have flourished have established a balance that takes into account what that medium is and how it functions.

The web is a similar medium. Once the data enters your device, it's yours to do with as you please. You cut and paste a quote you want to keep, bookmark the link, or close the page without reading a line. You may increase the font, take a screenshot of something interesting, or even....yes....block the ads. This is part of the flexibility of the medium of the web, and one of the things that makes the web so great. These things need to be taken into account when running a business on the medium of the web, for sure. But arguing that people should not use the medium as it was originally intended to be used, and blaming them for killing the medium itself seems short sighted and ridiculous. If you want the web to flourish, consider what it is, then try to fit your business into the confines of it as a medium. If it's not working, maybe you need to rethink your business.

Blocking ads is not the death of the web as it was originally meant to be, it's just the death of the web as we currently experience it. And I'm optimistic that with that death, we have a chance at something new, and hopefully something better.