Wonkier Worldwide Web

The Internets are terrible.

Lately, it seems that my web surfing experience has gotten worse. After having seemingly stabilized a few years ago, I’m suddenly being served an inordinate number of popups and other junk at otherwise reputable websites. It’s bad enough browsing via a laptop, which I still do more than the younger set, but positively awful on my iPhone, where accidentally clicking on an ad sends me to a page that makes it impossible to get back to where I was.

Google’s Chrome browser had long done a good job of blocking this stuff but, presumably, programmers have figured out ways around that. For whatever reason, I had uninstalled the AdBlockerPlus extension and re-installed it a couple of days ago. But about every third site that I go to has something like the above set up, forcing customers to allow an exception for their site to continue without a subscription. Almost invariably, those are the spammiest sites, immediately serving an absurd number of ads, popups, and other junk.

Has this been your experience as well? Is there some newfangled workaround I don’t know about?

As I’ve noted many times in the past, I’d happily pay a reasonable fee for bundled access to all the news sites out there. But I’m not going to subscribe to, say, NJ.com—or even the Boston Globe or Los Angeles Times—to read the occasional article that I find via a referral link.

FILED UNDER: Crowdsourcing
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    I go to TheHill.com fairly regularly (god help me, I don’t know why) and it is the spammiest most unreadable web site I still go to. If I see anything of interest I click on it and then immediately go into reader mode. If they ever take away that option, it will be terminally unreadable. Thank god.

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  2. Mu Yixiao says:

    This is exactly my experience.

    I have AdBlockPlus, ScriptSafe, and Privacy Badger running on my browser(s). I have ABP set to allow “acceptable” ads–which I never see (apparently everything is unacceptable). I’m not opposed to advertising, I just can’t tolerate how obnoxious it is on most sites.

    If I get “disable your ad-blocker” messages, I leave the site.

    On the rare occasion I need to view a site without all the blocking, I’m completely baffled at how obnoxious and in-your-face it is. This is how most of the world sees the internet??

    Sometimes, I actually fire up Lynx and read sites that way.

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  3. CSK says:

    At the moment, I’m using a Chrome Book with Adblock Plus, and it seems to work well for me. If I have to turn off the Adblock on a particular site, I do, but the ads that appear aren’t too intrusive.

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  4. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Well, I do kind of see their POV on this. Unless you’re the NY Times or Washington Post, or if you’re strictly regional, you do need revenue from ads to survive. And if ad companies are now getting more insistent that you do your part to make sure those ads are actually seen, companies like NJ.com are in a tough position. It’s rough out there for regional or mid-level media.

    There’s also new tricks I’ve noticed. Most ads have that little x in the upper right-hand corner so you can close an ad; there are some ads, though, where that doesn’t work: the ads don’t close but actually expand into the ad you’re trying to avoid. Sneaky. Another thing that I find more irritating than anything is the little video that slides sideways onto the page, covers the content and starts playing so that you have to actively close it and watch it slide away again.

    I have take to sending emails directly to the companies, describing the ads and video experiences that annoy me, and asking them how they expect me to feel good about their brand after that. I got my colleague in our company Marketing Dept. to insert some marketing/ad jargon; my colleague says it might make the email stand out from the standard griping.

    And I do get emails back from some companies, apologizing but admitting that once the contractor starts posting the ads, the company has little control except to fire them. I just think that this kind of thing is an area where marketing professionals haven’t caught up with the impact. It’s a case of well, we are able to do this, and so let’s do it, and not thinking that it turns off the very consumers the company wants to contact. Very strange way to sell product.

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    If your a Chrome user and probably a Firefox user as well a couple of aps can help. Quick Javascript Switcher allows you to turn on and off javascript for a website. Magically all, non HTML adds disappear the downside is that some photos and tables do as well and you end up relying on the writers interpretation of the data, rather than verifying it yourself. The second is Reader View, this simply renders the web page as text. If audio/video ads are a problem, then Disable HTML5 Autoplay, stuffs a rag in them.

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  6. Michael Cain says:

    The combination of uBlock Origin and Bypass Paywalls on Firefox does a reasonably good job for me. I don’t know if they are available for Chrome or not.

    I noticed that Balloon Juice recently asked for money from their readers, and got enough to offset the ad revenue, so have dropped ads entirely. They had run into a series of problems where the ads were actually breaking some of the site’s functionality.

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  7. Michael Cain says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    More and more sites use JavaScript on the client machine to not only download images but to do the actual page layout. Some just do fine tuning of the layout (eg, depending on the browser window width), so are usable without JS. Some send labeled content pieces without any organization and are completely dependent on JS to make the page human readable.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Cain: That’s a big reason we dropped ads at OTB—they were literally making the site nonfunction or appear to be nonfunctional for a large number of readers. We haven’t offset the ad revenue with donations but, honestly, the ad revenue stopped being all that much after a brief heyday that long passed. I think that’s why the ads have gotten so spammy—people learned to ignore them.

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  9. Andy says:

    unlock Origin is far better than adblock plus IMO. Once configured, I almost never have problems with anti-adblock walls. Note that Ublock Origin is not the same as Ublock.

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  10. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Many of the “Please disable your adblocker” popups have a way around them – either clicking the “x” in the upper corner – or somewhere! – or clicking “continue without disabling,” which the nj.com one has in the screengrab.

    Like James, I would be happy to pay per article or for a mass subscription to the secondary news sites. But, even as a former Bergen Evening Record reader, not gonna subscribe to nj.com.

    And yes, the phone is quite impossible. I thought it was permanently broke a while back, but turning it off and on again got rid of the sticky ad. I use it to read the “no adblocker” sites that don’t have a way around.

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  11. Michael Cain says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    I continue to be surprised that Gannett in particular hasn’t gone the route of “subscribe to your local paper for $10/month, get access to the rest of the family, too.”

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  12. James Joyner says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Yes, many have a “continue without disabling” feature. Sometimes, it’s just an inconvenience. Other times, it takes you to a subscription page. I generally just close the window and look for the information elsewhere.

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  13. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: Giving it a try. It let me get to the NJ.com article referencing Rasha Abual-Ragheb without incident so, so far, so good.

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  14. MarkedMan says:

    As a reminder, a few years back OTB created a Patreon account. You can subscribe by clicking the link in the upper right corner of the web site. It may not cover the costs, but I rest better at night my modest subscription must have paid for a decent bottle of scotch or two…

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  15. MarkedMan says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    I would be happy to pay per article

    For the life of me I can’t understand why this isn’t a thing. If there was an easy way to pay fifty cents or a buck to read an article, I would do it more often than not. Wouldn’t, say, the Arizona Sun be better off getting a few dollars a year from me then nothing, given that there is zero chance I’ll ever subscribe?

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  16. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    That is a good reminder, thanks!

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  17. Kathy says:

    I kind of learned to ignore advertising though years of watching TV, and reading newspapers and magazines. The problem is when the ads steal my focus. This happens with pop-ups, and it’s annoying. It gets worse in some sites, mobile specific or not, when viewed on a phone. Not pop-ups per se, but ads that cover the story or parts of it, auto-play videos, links to other stories that take up i/3 of the screen, ads that stick to the bottom of the screen, etc.

    My usual procedure is to leave such pages where ads make it near-imposible to read the content. If I followed a link from the suggestions on Chrome or the Goggle app, I also block further stories from such sites.

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  18. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Cain:

    By default I begin viewing a web page w/javascript on and turn it off, only if the page is a problem to read due to ads or cute layouts. If they simply send data and instructions, then Reader View works to simply deliver the text.

    Though I do, with many others, wish there was a comprehensive micro payments system, that allowed you to send the website a token and get back ad free access. I suspect that only Google and Apple and Microsoft could pull this off, given these 3 effectively control, the OS environment and browsers. Given that all three have the bones of such a system existing in their respective ‘stores,’ they would need to offer an applet to the website that could be embedded that authorized payment. So far they have not shown much interest.

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  19. Sleeping Dog says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Wouldn’t, say, the Arizona Sun be better off getting a few dollars a year …

    They might, except the setting up of the account and cost to process the payment would become a huge hassle for them. It needs to be done by a larger entity, so that the website can simply subscribe to the service.

    If micro payments were done at the website level, you would need to create an account enter a CC or authorize Paypal or equivalent. You wouldn’t do it for a site you may seldom look at.

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  20. Michael Cain says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    They might, except the setting up of the account and cost to process the payment would become a huge hassle for them. It needs to be done by a larger entity, so that the website can simply subscribe to the service.

    This is why I’m surprised the Gannett set haven’t done it as a comparative advantage. Gannett is big enough to do the back end. Heck, they’re already forcing most of their papers to adopt the Gannett content management system; they could add a subscription check easily.

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  21. Kingdaddy says:

    There are many things about this world that I freely admit that I do not understand. Among them is the “logic” behind advertising-heavy web sites. Speaking purely myself, I have the following reactions:

    If your site is so filled with ads that it renders an article effectively unreadable, I’m not going to return to your site.

    If you repeatedly show me the same ad, I won’t buy your product. I will resent you, not be intrigued by you.

    Ads with video are just distracting, not enticing. There are enough distractions.

    Arbitrarily breaking up an article across several pages, just to maximize the amount of ads and clicks, is a cheap ploy that will decrease the odds I will read any of that content.

    Ads that keep following where I am as I scroll down the page are like having an annoying, yapping dog at your heels.

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  22. Kingdaddy says:

    When you try reading a local newspaper, and it’s behind an expensive paywall, or carpet bombed with annoying ads, it’s worth remembering that your crappy user experience may actually be the result of a deliberate business strategy that’s killing local journalism:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/11/alden-global-capital-killing-americas-newspapers/620171/

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  23. Michael Cain says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    They depend heavily on traffic coming in from some aggregator: Google, Bing, Facebook, etc. I admit that when I have been searching on Google and the little content snippet has caught my eye, I often fail to look at the URL to see where I’m going.

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  24. Michael Cain says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    Yep. In some ways I consider myself fortunate that Gannett bought up my local daily. Full disclosure: I pay them $9/month because I’d like to keep a local paper in business.

    Here’s an interesting experience over the last several days. Gannett has been doing a large investigative piece about the US Forest Service’s piss-poor record keeping regarding water diversion permits in the national forests. It was, so far as I can tell, first available to USA Today subscribers (real subscription checked at the server, not just a NYT-style paywall). The same story(ies) are becoming available on the Gannett local papers as subscription content (again, server side check) at least regionally.

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  25. Stormy Dragon says:

    Google’s Chrome browser had long done a good job of blocking this stuff but, presumably, programmers have figured out ways around that.

    What actually happen is Google realized there was a revenue stream in letting particular advertisers pay for a being allowed around the blocking, particularly if they also eliminate the ability for third parties to provide additional enforcement on top of what’s built into the browser.

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  26. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Wouldn’t, say, the Arizona Sun be better off getting a few dollars a year from me then nothing

    As god as my witness, when I proofread this comment I thought I had inadvertently replaced “than” with “then” and corrected it back to “than”. Looking at it now, it clearly is “then”. Am I insane? Is spell check having a wank with me? Perhaps both?

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  27. sam says:

    Umatrix is your friend (although the maintainer says it’s on its last iteration).

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  28. Stormy Dragon says:

    One big piece of infrastructure the web definitely needs is a standardized micropayment system. Most websites are getting fractions of a cent per view from advertisers, so if there way a way someone could just look at an add-free NJ.com article for 1 cent per view, NJ.com’s revenue would vastly increase and their users would be much happier.

    The problem is that people aren’t going to go to the trouble of creating millions of logons, giving their pay details, etc. so there’s no way to really implement this sort of model right now.

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  29. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    One idea I had was, since most web ads are sold realtime through brokers anyways, is what if there was away you could “buy out” your own ads and then just send empty 1×1 pixel images to fill any spots a sight tries to sell when you visit the page?

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  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    My kid keep installing an AdBlock extension for Chrome. I use it for a week or two then delete it. If I’m not paying for content with cash, it’s my moral obligation to pay for it by enduring ads. If the ads get to be a pain in the ass, I don’t go back that site.

    That’s right, I am morally superior to all you depraved free riders! Hah!

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  31. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    James Joyner says:
    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 at 10:25

    @Michael Cain: That’s a big reason we dropped ads at OTB—they were literally making the site nonfunction or appear to be nonfunctional for a large number of readers.

    This leads to a another issue; the astounding amount of people who feel everything on the internet should be free. I support OTB with a monthly payment because I value the work that Drs. Joyner and Taylor (and the late Mr. Mataconis) put into giving me a place to visit and engage with many people smarter than me. I learn good stuff here. I consider the small monthly stipend well worth the value I take from the site.

    I also support several other sites, and pay for the Washington Post, RawStory, HotAir, and The American Conservative. My outlay isn’t much; less than $30/mo, so it’s well worth it to me.

    I know not everyone can do it, but if enough people give even a small monthly amount regularly to the sites we visit, we have a much better chance of keeping those sites running, and without ads.

    /stepping off soapbox.

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  32. sam says:

    Apparently there’s an unfixed (and not-to-be-fixed) vulnerability in Umatrix. There’s a workaround at the link. (Then comes Michael pricking my conscience…)

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  33. Stormy Dragon says:

    @EddieInCA:

    I also support several other sites, and pay for the Washington Post, RawStory, HotAir, and The American Conservative. My outlay isn’t much; less than $30/mo, so it’s well worth it to me.

    The problem with this is that it’s not scaleable. You now have five more accounts you have to manage, five more chances for a databreach, etc.

    And also you generally can’t make these donations anonymously. And while for something the size of the Washington Post you probably don’t care if they know who you are, for smaller sites, you may not want the people operating it to know who you are, or trust their ability to protect that information from third parties.

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  34. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Ethics runs both ways. If I’m expected to let the ads run, I assert that those providing the ads are ethically required to ensure that they aren’t overly offensive, don’t bring rendering of the regular content to a halt, don’t force repeated layout redraws, don’t stash content on my machine, don’t leave nefarious JavaScript code running invisibly, etc.

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  35. Michael Cain says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The problem with this is that it’s not scaleable. You now have five more accounts you have to manage, five more chances for a databreach, etc. And also you generally can’t make these donations anonymously.

    It’s not scalable if I have to keep track of separate accounts. It is if I just have to keep track of one account with a micropayment provider, and the web site owner has to keep track of one account with the network of micropayment providers, and individual transactions are between those accounts with appropriate security.

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  36. EddieInCA says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The problem with this is that it’s not scaleable. You now have five more accounts you have to manage, five more chances for a databreach, etc.

    And also you generally can’t make these donations anonymously. And while for something the size of the Washington Post you probably don’t care if they know who you are, for smaller sites, you may not want the people operating it to know who you are, or trust their ability to protect that information from third parties.

    All true. But those are risks I’m willing to take. Again, my point is the amount of free-riders on sites that have real costs, and how many people feel entitled to those sites without paying for them.

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  37. MarkedMan says:

    @EddieInCA:

    The American Conservative.

    [Jaw drops] Why? Or have you not visited in the last year or two?

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  38. EddieInCA says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Because whether we like it or not, those are the people who make up the base of the current GOP, and I want to know what they’re thinking in the fever swamp.

    Dreher has lost his mind over trans rights.
    Buchanan is still the ugly racist he has always been.
    Others, like VanBuren and Curt Mills give a good insight into the non-conspiracy Trump right. They support the policies, if not the man.

    I want to know what my “enemies” are thinking to better prepare my arguments against them. It’s why a also read Salon, Mother Jones, and Talking Left. The left has it’s own share of crazies, and I want to know what they’re thinking too.

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  39. Neil Hudelson says:

    Brave Browser.

    I use it both on mobile and pc, and I have never had a pop up, and rarely have any websites block me for using an ad blocker.

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