Oct 042011
 

Apple's new Safari web browser offers to remove web page 'clutter' - but at what cost to the internet as a whole?

Nothing (of any quality or value) is truly free on the internet.

Somehow, the content developers, the content publishers, the website designers, and everyone else involved in creating sites and services and offering them to us; all these people need to be paid, and all the costs of the associated hardware, data connections, etc, need to be covered too.

So how is it that we can browse around most of the internet without ever needing to reach for our pocketbook?  Simple.  Some websites are provided as a ‘loss leader’ way of selling you something.  Other websites have advertising on them – The Travel Insider is no exception, as you’ll see on any of our pages.

Depending on the site and its business model, there might be other forms of revenue generation as well.  However it is done, make no mistake – money is the lifeblood of the internet; the only point of subtlety is that it is unusual for sites to directly charge visitors to read their content – the commercial factors are usually obscured behind the scenes and not seen or sensed by ordinary web visitors.

The good news is that usually the advertising on web pages is moderately unobtrusive, and sometimes even relevant and interesting.  Unlike television or radio, where you’re stuck waiting for the ads to finish prior to the content resuming, web page ads never obliterate the content and cost you time.

Well, there is one notable exception – ‘pre-roll ads’ that are becoming both more common and also, regrettably, lengthier, on video clips.  Don’t you hate having to ‘pay’ 30 seconds of your time in return for watching a 3 minute video clip that you don’t even know for sure if it will be of interest to you until after you’ve made the 30 second ‘payment’?  You’ll never get your time back if the video clip turns out to be uninteresting.

Fortunately, viewing mandatory 30 second video clips is not required to visit most of the internet, and it requires no great feat of skill for us to avert our eyes from the ads, if we so wish, and simply concentrate on the main content of the article.

Okay.  So, with that as background, how is it that the new ‘Safari’ web browser to be built into all iPads and iPhones as part of iOS 5 will threaten the entire internet?

Simple.  It includes an advertising filter.  On Apple’s site this is disingenuously referred to as ‘view web articles free of clutter’.  Sounds great, doesn’t it.  We all hate ‘clutter’, don’t we – ever since we were little children, we’ve been taught that clutter is a bad thing and should be eliminated wherever we find it.

But that ‘clutter’ is paying the freight for our free web surfing.  If pages can’t have clutter on them, the content providers will no longer make money, so they’ll either have to charge you money to visit, discontinue their service, or come up with some new (and undoubtedly more intrusive) way of parading advertising in front of you.  Maybe you’ll find that every internet page will now have an associated and mandatory 30 second ad before it can be viewed – that would truly destroy the concept of web surfing and clicking across the internet freely, wouldn’t it.

Clutter is not bad.  It pays for the internet, at little or no cost/compromise to us as internet users.  Apple knows that, but feels free to break the protocol of how the internet is funded, just because it can.

Shame on Apple.

UPDATE :  See a continued discussion of this threat over on our sister site, The Tech Letters.

  6 Responses to “Apple’s New iOS Safari Browser Threatens the Entire Internet”

  1. Hmm. Not sure I agree David.

    Perhaps I will if the Safari ad filter’s default setting is “on”. If not, and its use is optional, it’s no different from all sorts of ad filters commonly available as add-ons for use with other browsers. I’ve used them myself. I like having a choice.

    If enough people chose to block out web site ads, it seems to me that would say something about the ads, which web publishers and advertisers would need to address. But the emphasis should be on “choice”.

    If Apple takes the decision out of users’ hands, then it’s not intended to improve the user experience at all; it’s intended to attack Google, the leading carrier for these ads, and probably Amazon, the leading advertiser.

  2. I’m not sure about the default setting.

    The thing is it will be easier for people to simply flip the setting in the browser and have instant automatic ongoing ad-blocking, whereas in the past the technical barrier to doing so meant that most people didn’t know how to find a suitable ad blocking add-on to their browser, and/or didn’t want to risk adding third party products to their browser, and so on.

    As for attacking Google and Amazon, I’m not entirely sure that Amazon is a leading advertiser. These days we all see different views of internet advertising anyway, and of course you see things further fine tuned for the UK market, but my experience here in the US is that I rarely see Amazon ads. Plenty of credit card ads, plenty of travel ads, all sorts of other things, but not so much Amazon.

    Attacking Google? Perhaps. I also noticed that Apple’s new Siri voice interactivity will search for answers to things on Wikipedia but not on Google. But I’m also not sure about what share of online advertising goes through Google’s Adsense, either.

    I do wonder though if removing other company’s ads is not the first part of a two step approach – to be followed up with an improved conduit for Apple’s own mobile advertising product to then ‘fill in the gaps’ at least in part.

    That would be an interesting new twist – adding third party ads to a web page via the browser. I’m sure someone will think of it (hmmmm, I just did!) and add it to a browser at some point in the future.

  3. […] let’s talk about iOS 5. My pal David Rowell has taken Apple to task on his Travel Insider blog. An advertising blocker to be introduced in Safari for use with iOS 5 […]

  4. […] iPhone 4 (again)’ you pick up on and amplify my comments and concerns about the ad stripping feature in the new Safari browser that I mentioned here.  As such, it is hard for me to disagree with anything you […]

  5. While ads to help pay the bills for websites, new devices that have additional functions are profit centers for others. It is this cat and mouse game that improves both devices and advertising. Hopefully both will side on innovativation and not litigation.

  6. Web pages tailor their displayed content based on the browser that they detect. If a server sees an iOS browser, it may choose to show the ads embedded into the content. As Dan says in the earlier post, it’s a cat and mouse game. Often, my HTC Sensation running Android clicks a link and takes me to a web page where I get a “mobile browser detected – do you want the original site or the mobile site” dialog.

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