Thursday, August 04, 2005

“Without permission”

Dave Winer’s all in a flap over adverts appearing in one of the feeds he subscribes to. Well, I sympathise: I’m not keen on adverts in feeds either.

One of the secret joys of reading feeds, rather than webpages, is that you sidestep all the adverts. It was with a sinking heart that I read the Google AdSense for Feeds announcement, and with an inner cheer the later reports from beta users that they’re not finding such ads effective.

However, Dave’s latest post on the subject is bizarre:

It only seems fair to say that I unsubbed today, and that’s the last time you’ll hear about it here. He brought the ads back, without notice, without permission of the readers.
“Without permission”?

Since when does a publisher, of any type, need its readers’ permission to make changes? There’s no implied contract, when you subscribe to a feed, that the content will remain exactly to your liking.

As a reader, you have the power to vote with your feet—as Dave has done—by unsubscribing. You have the power to voice your opinion—as Dave has done—by commenting. But you do not, and should not, have the power to veto changes in what’s being published. That’s not your content to control.

As for Dave’s assertion that “advertising is so over”: you wish. Google AdSense, and the newly-in-beta Yahoo! Publisher Network, have a very clear goal: to let anyone, no matter how small, become a publisher of advertising. Google’s text ads are everywhere. Advertising’s not dead; it’s becoming more and more ubiquitous.

Ultimately, I suspect solutions to controlling overreaching advertising will be both social and technological. Remember what happened to popups? They were everywhere; readers complained, and complained, and complained; and then three things happened.

  1. Popup advertising started being less effective for advertisers, as readers became jaded and frustrated with them.
  2. Publishers started to reject popup advertising because of their negative effect on readers.
  3. Popup blocking software went mainstream, first as part of the Google Toolbar and then built into Internet Explorer.
Now we rarely see popups; and when we do, they’re a reliable indicator that we’re in a seedy backwater of the web.

I suspect the same will happen with other forms of advertising. When it becomes too much, readers will vote with their feet and stop visiting. And technologists will vote with their keyboards and start building adkilling tools.

This is already happening: the GreaseMonkeyUserScripts wiki lists Greasemonkey scripts for hiding AdSense adverts; for disabling IntelliTxt links; and a clutch of scripts for removing feed advertising from Bloglines.

Not that any of that helps Dave, of course; for despite wanting to be asked for permission before publication, he’s vehemently against content modification after publication.