Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It Just Dosn't Ad Up

I was reading an old article criticizing Google's advertisement service, and while I think a lot of the criticism is somewhat valid, it strikes me as sort of like a business man getting money out of an idiot because the idiot was to spaced out to actually pay attention to what they were doing. I mean yes, it might be sort of exploitive, but I often feel like smacking the idiot almost as hard as I do the business man. But really, it's not surprising to me in the least, because as far as I am concerned, advertisement in general is more or less a scam. Especially on the Internet.

I mean, yeah, I can understand the basic idea (even if I don't like it), street vendors calling out in a crowded marketplace, shops putting up some posters on some walls, events being posted on a bulletin board for people to see, but any more then that gets sort of iffy. The problem sort of started with television and radio advertisements, which interrupts the programing every now and then to have some ad play. Despite it being a bit disruptive, I can understand why it happens. For television and radio, there is no real "product" to sell to customers, so they make money by letting advertisers run ads from time to time. But this sets up a strange triangle of relations between the broadcasters, the advertisers, and the customers which can end up doing more harm then good at times.

In general, the problem often becomes a mutual animosity or lack of respect because each of the players in the game have very different and mutually exclusive aims. Customers want content, and are generally not interested in sitting through advertisements to get it. Advertisers of course, want to convince customers to go out and buy stuff and are not interested in the content or the customer's wants beyond what it takes to get them to buy stuff. Broadcasters generally want to sell advertisement time, and often are only are interested in the content as a way to get customers to watch the ads, and don't care if the advertisers actually sell anything.

What all this leads too, I think, is an environment where the kind of more disruptive and exploitive advertisement practices thrive. If a vendor is being too disruptive or a business is putting posters or notices in the wrong place, customers are free to confront them in person or call the authorities. But in an environment where the very medium is owned by someone who uses it to sell advertisement time, advertisers are free to do almost whatever they want to get people's attention. They can funnel more and more money into something and make bigger, longer and more disruptive advertisements without regard for the customer's wishes.

But also, advertisers themselves are also a victim in a lot of cases. Street vendors can see face to face the kind of reaction they are getting, and a poster or notice can be placed in a position most likely to be looked at by someone who is already interested in finding the business it's advertising (though billboards and such are much more like tv/radio ads in this regard). But an advertisement that is just put out there randomly even if it's in a time slot most likely to be seen by it's target audience, has little guarantee that anyone who sees it will pay any attention or be interested. Often times it can just waste money.

But all of this is nothing compared to the sometimes downright abusive tactics in internet advertisements. Really for all that article above disses on Google, it might be one of the more honest and safe ad providers (I also think Project Wonderful is fairly honest and safe, or at least seems so, but I would rather they do everything via server-side scripts and not javascript). Part of this is because it's just so unregulated and doesn't have any sort of barrier to anyone doing what they want with it, and part of it is that there is too much information being gathered about people who browse it, but I think it's mostly just a lack of responsibility on everyone's side.

But it's more complex then that. With tv and radio, broadcasters and content providers are usually more or less identical. The broadcasters don't necessarily create the content, but they fund it's creation or buy the rights to show it (though I am not a fan of copyright, but that's a discussion for another day). Sure, often there can be a lot of strife between broadcasters and content providers on TV and radio, but for the most part they act as the same group. On the internet, almost anyone can create content, but not everyone can host it (or at least, host it reliably, quickly, or easily enough to be worth it for most people), and the people who can sell content creators space for hosting. So now, you have four groups of people and not three, each also with often mutually exclusive goals. The rift between web hosts and content providers is much deeper. They are no longer generally in the same group and this can come with all sorts of complications.

Not only are there more groups, the role of the groups is much less solid. Content providers often are also advertisers, and sometimes web hosts are as well, the people who browse the web can become content providers easily even if it's just in the forms of comments or forum posts. One particular absurdity I have noticed is that often content providers will advertise to get more hits to make more money with their advertisements to pay for hosting that charges for the extra bandwidth they use for the extra hits, and a number of the ads they use are for other content providers who are doing the same thing. It makes me wonder how such a system could ever work, but most of the sites that do that are just making enough anyway, even if they have to resort to donation as well.

And really, this would be all fine and good to the browsers to just have a banner or something, if it didn't end up attracting an even worse escalation of disruptive advertisements that used flash and javascript to be as disruptive as possible, and if it people with more ethical flexibility didn't decide to use well-meaning technical tricks to gather as much information as possible from the person browsing, or hackers using bugs and security holes on unwitting victims, or people taking advantage of stupid people by offering things through advertisements and directing them to malware or gathering their personal information, or any of the million other problems with internet advertisements.

Luckily, unlike TV where the best you can do usually is hit the mute button (or pay more for premium cable channels), there are programs to block ads, like this firefox plugin. The sad thing is, so many content providers only means of support is advertisements, although a good number of them do collect donations too. But it's kind of hard for me to feel bad for a lot of them to be honest, because again, I often feel like smacking the idiot almost as hard as I do the business man. I know most of these content providers have very little choice, but I can't help but feel that too many content providers don't think about what advertisements or advertising services they have. It's too often lately that sites just use advertisement servers they have no control over and that may do any number of underhanded things, or may allow the people who advertise to do underhanded things. I don't trust internet advertisements anymore. It used to be you could ignore them. Not anymore. Even Project Wonderful, which generally seems safe, uses javascript, and javascript and flash in ads is one of the main reason why they are allowed to abuse a lot of security holes (I also use the noscript plugin btw). So no. Of the sites I frequent, I made an exception for only one, and only because I am so heavily involved in the community.

And I feel bad, I really do, for all the owners of all the pages out there that I look at that rely on advertisements. But the fact is, it's an abusive relationship on all sides. I understand why it's necessary, but every once and a while, someone is going to walk away with a black eye, and it isn't going to be me. If you take that to mean I don't love you enough, I am sorry you feel that way.


  1. It wouldn't be capitalism without the exploitation, right? Also, I figured out how to actually comment with my name. Also also, you should do a tl;dr on bronies sometime. You know, if you care about those.

  2. Honestly I don't know much about bronies. I am not sure of they are the same kind of obsesive cult-ish fandom as startrek or furry fans, which I think I have talked about before, or if most of them enjoy the show ironically. Or just to troll people. Or all three.

    I will say that Friendship is Magic reminds me of Touhou in that a lot of the fan stuff is probably more interesting then the original work. And I really enjoy the porn. :P

  3. If you didn't enjoy the porn, I'd be shocked.

  4. On the other hand, porn is porn to me. I mean, when it comes to naughty stuff the actual characters involved don't usually matter that much.

    That's probably one of the reasons rule 34 is incapable of "ruining my childhood". Because I recognize there is usually almost no connection between the character's action and there actual personality. And honestly if there IS a connection, I think it's all the better for it, but that is very rare.