No doubt you have heard or read about, and possibly (more like probably), installed for yourself one of the popular Ad blocking programs or browser extensions in order to improve your web browsing experience, protect your privacy, and even perhaps to send a message to the internet publishers of the world that you are sick and tired of a terrible, ad-filled user experience.
While Ad blockers have been around for quite some time, their usage has recently seen a dramatic uptick. A study released last month by PageFair and Adobe reported that the usage of Ad blocking tools worldwide has grown by 41% in the last year, and now about 45 million US internet users use these tools, (a 48% growth rate in the 12-month period ending in June 2015).
Finally, ad blocking has hit the news more openly due to the recent release of Apple's update to the iOS operating system that powers iPhone and iPad that now supports Ad blocking apps and Safari browser extensions to enable ad blocking. Immediately, Ad blocking apps shot to the top of the App Store popularity charts, (although the number one app, Peace, was quickly withdrawn by its creator for reasons of 'conscience').
And the short-tern and pretty obvious repercussions to online publishers from this rise in user Ad blocking?
A loss of revenue, for sure, for those sites that rely heavily on banner and display ads for revenue. If these ads are not seen, they can't be clicked on, and therefore can't produce revenue. From the user/reader perspective this is great, you never clicked on any of these ads anyway, and they drover slower page load times, potentially ate of monthly data allotments on mobile, and were just plain creepy and annoying.
But for the publishers, you or me or anyone blocking these ads presents to their point of view almost a breach of understanding of sorts. The deal, such as it it, is that for non-subscription and non-paywalled sites, the publisher would provide 'free' content, and you, the reader, would 'agree' to put up with seeing and occasionally clicking on ads to fund the content creation operation. It is impossible to tell for sure the number of sites that if Ad blocking continues to grow at the current pace will end up either having to shut down, or adopt an alternate business models, (subscriptions, donations, or more 'sponsored conent'). Sponsored content, for now, looks enough like 'regular' content that the ad blockers can't easily identify it as such.
The deep backstory behind some of what is going on here, and not really worth diving into on an HR blog, is the macro battle being waged for user time and attention, and the corresponding advertising dollars that follow, between Apple, Google, Facebook and if you wanted to be generous, probably Twitter and LinkedIn too. The iOS 9 updated placed a non-deletable 'Apple News' app on your iPhone, Facebook wants every important publisher to publish direct to Facebook, and LinkedIn and its Pulse app want to be the sole source for your news as well.
Some of these companies, (Facebook and Apple for sure), want to control and segregate user's interactions with the internet into their own platforms, devices, and/or apps - formats where they can define the rules of engagement and protect their advertisers ads from being blocked. Others like Google, want to continue to drive traffic to sites (again, especially on mobile), that don't attempt to drive users to download individual publisher apps as opposed to using the mobile web.
It is still really hard to know how these trends are going to play out, how we find and consumer information might change, and how the revenue models will adapt. But ads are like water - they will continue to push and flow into whatever openings they can find to get in front of our eyeballs on on our mobile phone screens.
But to tie this back, if I can, to the HR/Talent/workplace space, I think the potential for the reduction of independent voices in our space is the real threat and the thing to worry about longer term. If indeed the rise of Ad blocking, combined with the ubiquity, wealth, reach, and influence of the world's largest tech companies drive us to an environment where fewer, siloed, and single-entity controlled sources of information dominate the conversation, then that can't be good for the generation, discussion, and spread of new ideas.
This, to me, is worth paying attention to in the next couple of years. Sure, web pages free of ads do look better, load faster, and are less frustrating.
But if the tradeoff is a world where all of the news (or at least most of it), gets filtered, approved, and distributed via Apple, Google, and Facebook can't promise to be a less frustrating one either.
Have a great week!