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Jason Kottke has quoted me on RSS/Atom Ad (Blocking). It's true that we've had "filter ads" since before release (the picture shows 9-22-04, because that's the day we reinstalled Mantis, our bug-tracker - and you can see a few other features in the screenshot).

He then asks another question of us:

Newsreader makers… how will you react to pressure from feed advertising companies like Overture or Kanoodle or companies that rely on feed advertising as a revenue stream to encourage you to keep ad blocking capabilities out of your software? Are you worried about getting sued by CNN or the NY Times (for example) if you allow users to block ads in their feeds?

Overture and Kanoodle haven't gone out of business though they've been advertising on the Web for ages. I think that, so long as "RSS ads" continue to be as non-intrusive as Google AdWords ads, that people simply won't care. There will be no revolt. If they get obnoxious, well, tough for the advertisers: users will figure out how to remove them, or will ask the developers to help them. I haven't seen browser "ad blockers" removed - it must be legal.

This is a big issue to which I've given quite a bit of thought, and this is the nickel version. I'm most interested in hearing from others about it.

7 Responses to "RSS Ads"

  1. Jeffrey adds some more information on how you can block ads now with CSS-based tricks.

  2. If a company uses as its business plan something against which people revolt, the company fails. Such is the beauty of the free economy - the economy in which two parties meet under mutually agreeable circumstances.

    I personally hate advertising. It's one reason I have a TiVo, unsubscribe to all junkmail lists, tell every vendor who gets my address not to sell or rent my address, etc. I am perfectly capable of finding out about things on my own.

    I'm also a fee-for-services type of guy, but I will freeload sometimes (but not always) if the opportunity is presented. I'm currently freeloading on your excellent PulpFiction, but I'll probably eventually buy it - it's such excellent software. (Unless I switch to RSS-over-email, but anyway...)

    Unless you're the RIAA or MPAA, you can't legislate a business plan. And not all business plans succeed. If a company depends on RSS feed ads, and people block or filter those, so be it.

  3. If people go through the trouble of blocking ads, I doubt they would have been clicking on them anyway. It's wasted impressions for the advertiser, though I suppose you could argue brand recognition.

  4. The legality of ad-blocking in terms of a web browser feature or rss is quite clear. Both mediums expect the data to be rendered on the client side. A publisher of such data cannot take legal action against a user if they choose to parse or filter the data. If this was true, then everyone would sue Microsoft for creating the beast that is Internet Explorer, that has the incapacity of being able to parse anything standardized right. A service that manipulated a rss feed and redistributed it of course would be in violation of the orginal author's copyright.

  5. What I think the paradox is, is that I want fulltext RSS feeds.

    To get that from larger news services, they're going to want to push ads (after all, that's why they only include summaries).

    However, I agree that intrusive ads are annoying - my adblock plugin for firefox is very handy on sites laden with annoying flash banner ads that consume my cpu as a "prize" for viewing their content - in response, I don't see their ads anymore.

    If perhaps advertisers could solve this problem through flagging or other means, so that I could get fulltext RSS feeds and deal with the ad mess if I feel necessary, I think people would be much more acceptant of it. (Like BBC RSS? Want fulltext? Sign up here to get an RSS account with ads! - to which they set a cookie or some sillyness and track your ad views vs. your feed views.)

  6. On "they won't click on it anyways", this is patently false.

    Advertisers know that you won't click on every or even most ads - what's important is that they get an ad to you that you WILL find interesting, so you'll click on it - as I have done many times, even though I can probably count how many times I've done it since 1998 or so (when ads really started getting prominent) on one hand.

    I'm not a believer in completely blocking ads - and tools like privoxy, the easier they get to install, are going to eventually make a huge impression on the amount of freely available content out there if they get "too good".

    While you may cheer at that, think about how many jobs relate to internet advertising - FSS's PulpFiction benefits from it indirectly, as it still does cost money to distribute RSS feeds, and no RSS feeds, no need to purchase PulpFiction - I think you get the idea.

    Commerce on the internet is one of those double-edged swords - we'd still all be moaning about AOL users on usenet right now if big companies with VC and advertising interests didn't lower the bar for network accessibility by bringing the masses... You might recall that the "killer app" the internet brings isn't really the collaboration or the freely available information, but porn and shopping, which are still the highest trafficked goods on the internet, and have been since it's commercialization. I have a broadband internet account in a podunk town in southern oregon, not because I have a lot of cash to throw at it, but because jane and joe like to buy things on eBay, and there's a ton of jane and joe's who like fast connections cheap.

    What frustrates me is that the "I hate advertising" attitude is infantile and doesn't really express a lot of foresight... Approaching it in a constructive manner - talking to advertisers and say "this is what works" and "this is what doesn't" will start to make a difference, or ISP's will start offering privoxy support as a service. 🙂

  7. The only time ads in RSS feeds bother me, is when they interfere with my filtering, and ability to search.

    I may have mentioned this in another NSlog thread, but for instance, using pulp fiction, I might filter for iPod for two reasons

    1) it is a very popular item that many report on redundantly for the same news

    2) I don't need to read the same news release twenty or more times.

    Right now, Engadget, or perhaps more accurately, their provider WebLogs Inc, is running text ads within feeds for the Bose iPod SoundDock. That makes searching or filtering for the phrase iPod useless in the case of Engadget, as it will pull up every Engadget post there is. Even if I could do a boolean NOT to filter iPod, but not SoundDock posts, it will still group all the Engadget feeds together. I don't have to search for Engadget, I just need to search for SoundDock.

    I just can't figure away to get the ad to be ignored, for the usefulness of searching. (even then, I would still be exposed to it) I have nothing against iPods, Bose, or the SoundDock, or the ad being there for me to see. What is irritating is, that it obfuscates the abilitie to search the articles.

    I could pull the feeds into BBEdit, and edit out the ads, and get the URLs that way, but the more work a Blog or other RSS feeding site makes me do, the less likely I am going to be to continue to visit them by any means. I already have to double link, to the article, then the original article it is referring to, so I see any ads on their HTML page, but the reason I got into RSS was to LOWER my bandwidth and search faster.