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Death to Design? Death to the Banner Ad?

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.

Sample inline advertising: Buy Hendel’s On Book Design from Amazon

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.


  1. Joe Clark Joe Clark 2010-06-11

    Anyone who believe advertising is any kind of mandatory feature of a page simply does not understand CSS. Then again, few do. Designers merely suggest presentation, which readers can and increasingly do override. Readability and Instapaper are the Lynx of 2010: Only markup survives. So your markup can’t suck, either.

  2. Hugh Hugh 2010-06-11

    yes, i think that’s more or less what i was trying to say. The key adverb being “increasingly” … and the key question being: “at what rate of adoption?”

  3. Matt Matt 2010-06-11

    Another thought… I don’t want to watch TV with ads but there they are.

    We expect, demand, and get a lot more from the web because it’s a user-controlled environment.

  4. Hugh Hugh 2010-06-11

    all “stuff” will soon be accessible thru the web.

  5. AJ Kandy AJ Kandy 2010-06-11

    Well here’s an alternative to advertising — why not support ad-free sites through some sort of public mechanism like British TV license fees (collected as part of your Internet bill?) and disbursed through the Cable Fund, the NFB or Telefilm…of course you’d have to apply to get that funding, but in a sense it can be considered a kind of grant — if we do it for documentary filmmakers (and even art films) why not for citizen journalists / writers? Maybe the amount of money you get can be based on verifiable stats — like how parties are publicly financed for election campaigns based on the previous number of votes they received…

  6. Andre Ivanchuk Andre Ivanchuk 2010-06-11

    Advertisers jumped to quickly into the online space (with a traditional mindset) without giving it any thought that perhaps the old methods of adverting attention is not quite the same online.

    Traditional advertising strategy finds a space, and plasters it with adverts. This cannot be applied to a user controlled and powered environment.

    What if word of mouth was the only accepted form of adverting or product placement. And, no a blogger cannot be paid to push a product.

    Essentially, only through experiences that products are talked about online.

  7. […] and tweets of Mitch Joel.  Mitch tweeted a link to Hugh McGuire’s blog article entitled: Death to Design? Death to the Banner Ad. I recommend reading the article and listening to media hacks.  Let me know what you […]

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