Tag Archive for ‘The Deck’

The Deck: ‘We’re Fine With Knowing Nothing’ ➝

From the Deck’s new privacy policy:

As a network we have never issued cookies or tracked readers in any way. The only data we collect is gross impressions: the total number of times an ad has been served during a month. We have never known, or have had any way to know, who was served what ad. Basically, aside from our surveys, all we know is what we can learn from our server logs.

We have never allowed third-party ad serving via iFrames or Javascript. In years past however, we did allow for simple “standard” third-party ad serving. We discontinued that policy in 2014. As that technology became increasingly sophisticated, we felt we could not adequately police those situations. Nor do we have any desire to do so.

On rare occasions, we have allowed specific advertisers to use a simple 1×1 tracking pixel for limited periods of time. Given the current environment, we’re not going to be doing that any more. We have never allowed the injection of scripts, page takeovers, interstitial splash pages or any of the other tomfoolery that so frustrates readers. Smart marketers do, of course, use specific links in their ads, which in combination with the gross impression data, allows them to evaluate performance.

I wish Carbon Ads would mimic more than just The Deck’s ad format (seriously, just look at that privacy policy). Don’t get me wrong, I love Carbon Ads. But I would prefer they take a stronger stance on privacy by only tracking the total number of ad impressions per month for each ad, like The Deck.

Of course advertisers will continue to point ads for their products and services to specific URLs to track performance, but I’m perfectly fine with that. What I’m not okay with is the “industry-standard” practice of tracking users across multiple websites with cookies. The Deck doesn’t do that and has still managed to build a very successful and continuously growing company. Everyone should follow their lead.

Why Peace 1.0 Blocks The Deck Ads ➝

Marco Arment on whitelisting good ads by default in Peace:

In Ghostery’s desktop-browser plugins, users can selectively disable individual rules, so you could, for example, whitelist The Deck if you find their ads acceptable. Peace 1.0 doesn’t offer this level of granularity — you can whitelist individual publisher sites, like Marco.org, but not ad rules across all sites. That wasn’t an opinionated decision — it was simply cut for 1.0 to ship in time, and I’ll likely add it in the first update.

Whether such “good” ads should be unblocked by default is worth considering. In the past, ad-blockers’ attempts to classify “acceptable” ads have been problematic, to say the least. I don’t know if that can be done well, but I’d consider it if it could.

I hope Marco makes an effort to find a way to whitelist the good guys by default — he’s a very smart developer, if anyone can do it, I expect he could. In my eyes, the primary reason for installing an ad blocker is to improve the browsing experience, not to punish publishers who are trying to make an honest living. That is, unless those ads eat up outrageous amounts of bandwidth, kill battery life, and get in the way of content.

The Deck doesn’t do any of these offensive things and instead simply hangs out on the side of many of my favorite sites’ webpages while displaying tasteful and respectful ads — I think most reasonable internet users would consider them one of the “good guys.” But I can see why Marco shied away from whitelisting The Deck out of the gate. He would be leaving himself open to criticism for favoring The Deck in his very popular ad blocker while running a site that generates revenue from the same ad network.

As for future versions of Peace giving users the ability to decide what ad networks are acceptable, that’s a big step in the right direction. And at the very least, I hope the app encourages users to allow ads from networks like The Deck and Carbon Ads.

I’m beginning to feel a bit more hopeful about this “cause.” John Gruber proclaimed that ad blockers should display The Deck ads by default, Marco is open to the idea of doing so in Peace, and the developer behind Purify plans on adding it in the 1.1 update. Maybe publishers won’t have to uproot their entire business model and can just start displaying more respectful ads — writers will be able to continue making a living and readers will be able to browse the web without being bombarded with junk.

Update: Marco has pulled Peace from the App Store. He’s also published an explanation as to why he made the decision on his weblog:

Peace required that all ads be treated the same — all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white. This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough. If we’re going to effect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app.

I completely understand where he’s coming from. I’ve never used ad blockers until earlier this week because I’ve always felt that online publishers should be able to earn a living through advertising. I’ve installed and tested several ad blockers over the past five days, but I haven’t felt comfortable about it.

That uneasy feeling I’ve had is what sparked my interest in the conversation and why I’ve come to the conclusions that I have — ad blockers should whitelist networks like The Deck and Carbon Ads by default and only block ads if there are more than three on a single page. But that’s based on my level of tolerance and interests in ensuring that folks who publish on the web are able to make money doing so. It’s going to be different for everyone and I agree with Marco that a much more nuanced, complex approach to the situation is required.

I wholeheartedly respect Marco for making a decision like this. He’s leaving a lot of money on the table and many of us wouldn’t have been able to do the same. I hope that the developers behind other content blockers take notice and think deeply about whether or not a blanket, all-or-nothing approach to ad blocking is really best for everyone.

Instant Articles and Online Publishing

I didn’t give much thought to Facebook’s new Instant Articles feature until I noticed John Gruber’s take on it. He wrote about it from the perspective of an independent publisher and how efforts like it could impact his livelihood writing on Daring Fireball.

I’m intrigued by the emphasis on speed. Not only is native mobile code winning for app development, but with things like Instant Articles, native is making the browser-based web look like a relic even just for publishing articles. If I’m right about that, it might pose a problem even for my overwhelmingly-text work at Daring Fireball. Daring Fireball pages load fast, but the pages I link to often don’t. I worry that the inherent slowness of the web and ill-considered trend toward over-produced web design is going to start hurting traffic to DF.

Soon after John published, I started seeing a multitude of articles from other independent writers discussing the ramifications of Instant Articles and, ultimately, what online publishers need to do to maintain relevancy. Federico Viticci is concerned about a world in which every social network has its own Instant Articles-like feature, Peter-Paul Koch blames the proliferation of web development tools that bloat page sizes, and Om Malik explains that Instant Articles has refocused our collective attention on network performance and speed.

The web is still a wonderful place filled with a never ending supply of great content, but people will stop showing up once publishers push them away with enough terrible experiences. Although speed is what keeps getting everyone’s attention and is something publishers should definitely keep an eye on, the overall act of reading content on the web has lost its luster.

Facebook obviously has ulterior motives — there’s a great deal of value in keeping users inside of their ecosystem — but Instant Articles resonates with users because loading the average web page has become a miserable activity. So many sites these days plaster their pages with Javascript sharing links, Feedback buttons that hang off the side of the web page, banners asking you to download their iOS app, omnipresent navigation bars that shrink the amount of visible content, full page advertisements that require you to tap on tiny close buttons — I could go on for days. Not only is the average web page quite slow, but its a dreadful place to read. I hate loading a web page and being bombarded with junk. All I want to do is read the article you published. Why is that so difficult?

What I think it comes down to is greed. Online publications are often quick to sacrifice user experience in order to increase page views which they expect to increase revenue. Publishers are struggling to keep their revenue consistent, or even worse, ever increasing in order to account for their growing staff. And the only way they’ve found to increase revenue is by encouraging user “engagement” — typically adding a bunch of “call to action” or “social” features.

But, there’s a problem with the underlying thinking that increasing your ad views will translate into increased revenue. What seems to happen is the cost per impression paid to publishers has continued to decrease and its a matter of simple economics. As the supply of ad space increases the actually cost to advertisers per impression naturally goes down based on supply and demand. By covering their websites with advertisements and then making every attempt to increase page views, online publications are thrusting themselves into a world in which online ad space is worthless because of its ubiquity. I think the ad networks that are addressing this best are the single-ad-per-page networks like The Deck and Carbon Ads. They turn the traditional online advertising model on its head by not allowing publishers to cover their websites with ads. This increases the amount of attention each user pays to the ads allowing them to charge premium prices for each spot.

I don’t expect most online publications would be willing to move to an advertising platform like The Deck or Carbon Ads, though. These single-ad-per-page networks are just too radical of an idea for most of these companies. Instead, I expect most of them will slowly transition to publishing content through mediums like Facebook Instant Articles, and it will work for a while. Advertisers will be quick to jump onboard because its a new and exciting mechanism and there’s natural scarcity given that only a select few will adopt it early on. But, in time this medium will eventually succumb to the same pitfalls we see today on the web — obnoxious advertising and bad user experiences. It’s not going to happen all at once and probably won’t take place for many years, but eventually the slow erosion in quality will take place and Instant Articles won’t look all that different than the web of today.

I’m not worried about the future of online publishing. I expect one of three things to happen (or a combination there of) which will ensure that independent writers will continue to be able to make a living. The first possibility is that tools will eventually be built that allow writers to continue writing as they do today, but have their content seamlessly funneled into whatever ecosystem they want it in. Whether that be a service that reads a website’s RSS feed and turns it into an Instant Article or an application platform like Glide that will allow writers to produce content designed for viewing inside of an application, developers will build what’s necessary to allow writers to continue having an audience wherever that may be.

The second scenario is that this move from the web is simply a fad that will eventually die just as AOL keywords and a myriad of other technologies have in the past. Web developers and online publications will at some point (hopefully) realize the error of their ways and start producing web pages that are a bit more user friendly and readers will return to their web browsers again. Compound this with future increases in bandwidth speeds and there might not be a need to move to another publishing platform.

The third possibility is that some percentage of readers will disappear from the traditional web and will spend nearly all of their time reading content in ecosystems like Facebook. If that’s the case and developers aren’t able to build quality tools that change the way we publish today then many of us will have to double down on what we’re currently doing to maintain readership — engage with others in social networks, share links to our own content, build email newsletters that add a more personal touch to what we’re writing and makes it even easier for readers to reply directly to our thoughts from within the same application they read it in (their email app).

I would consider the last possibility the least likely of the above options as it assume that developers aren’t going to be working on new ways to deliver or consume content and that social networks like Facebook and Twitter are going to live forever. And that’s a bit too far fetched for me. Don’t get me wrong, its a good idea for most of us to double down on what we’re doing anyway, but developers are going to realize that there’s a need and build tools to provide a solution. And at some point all social networks fall by the wayside no matter how big or powerful they become.

I don’t subscribe to the doom and gloom scenarios that other writers have posited since Facebook announced Instant Articles. There are plenty of websites that need to take notice and start working towards a more user-friendly experience, but most of the writers I pay attention to already attempt to minimize page load times and completely avoid the Javascript toolbars and cluttered sidebars that are keeping other publishers down. The good thing is that us geeks already use tools that allow us to read the web in a more friendly manner — Instapaper, RSS readers, Safari’s Reader View, etc. And, I hope there’s plenty of developers working on ways for everyone else to catch up and start using these types of tools to improve their experiences as well.