Death to Design? Death to the Banner Ad?

by Hugh

We are getting to a point where all data – web sites, books – are accessible as raw, structured datasets, to a point when we users can/and will do as we wish with the outputs. This is the case with web sites now. You can force your browser to display things in a particular way. Or, you can do as I do: install the Readability bookmarklet – which strips all the junk off a web page, and gives you text on white, easy to read. Apple’s Safari browser just implemented a similar feature, based on the Readability code. You can also use Instapaper, which downloads the text from a page to your iPhone, and displays it, again, in a simple format – black text, white screen – that’s easy to read.

I rarely read anything on the web without using either of these tools, because both provide the best reading experience. This is going to become the norm for all kinds of reading: someone gives you the text, and you decide how you want to read it.

UPDATE: Matt just pointed me to Today’s Guardian – a simple display of all Guardian articles on any day, built by Phil Gyford, using the Guardian’s (revolutionary) Open Platform API.

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Sample inline advertising: Buy Hendel’s On Book Design from Amazon
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What’s happening here is that “design” is starting to fall away as a responsibility of the producer/distributor of texts. Their role is becoming more as a provider of an API to access the data. And then on the *other* end the reader is starting to choose the tools that deliver a design they like, how they want to consume that content.

Among other things, this should *kill* banner advertising. It will also obviate lots of book design.

Danny Sullivan, of Search Engine Land, has taken issue with Readability – or at least the way it was described by Rich Ziade on the Arc90 blog. Says Danny, in Readability’s comment thread:

I have ads because they help support the quality journalism my blog provides. I have related links because, news flash, sometimes readers like to read related material.

If we’re talking about due respect, here’s the “harsh reality” for those readers who want to be left alone. Ads pay for what you read. Since most readers don’t want to pay for subscriptions — don’t even make voluntary donations when asked — those ads underwrite content that they consume.

Now this is kind of interesting. Danny is a seasoned, and savvy web/media commentator, part of a web-native industry that tends to criticize mainstream media for trying to defend dying business models in the face of consumer choice and technology.

And here it looks like Danny, of the web, is defending a business model in the face of consumer choice and technology.

I don’t begrudge Danny at all – as a business owner, when you see a technology that might kill a major revenue stream (eg. banner ads), certainly you’ll get nervous.

So, are banner ads dead? I for one hope so. I hate them, and they get in the way of what I want to do: read.

But, what am I willing to pay in exchange for no banners? How am I willing to pay it? It’s not clear to me. I do know that I click on one banner ad in perhaps a gazillion impressions, so I’m not a consumer that’s generating any value for banner ads either. When I read your stuff, your banner ads bug me, and I sure as hell don’t buy anything from them. So what’s the point in having them there when I read your stuff? I’d say, there isn’t much.

But I also don’t know the alternative. I do know that asking me not to read comfortably is likely to work as well as asking my friend Tom not to watch television on TVShack.