We Messed Up

Talk about disruptive technology… when Apple introduced iOS 9 at the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June of 2015, mobile Safari extensibility (deep linking, ad content blocking) was a footnote… fast forward to the September’s iOS 9 release and content blocking apps became the #1 free and paid apps in the AppStore.

While some look at this as a travesty and a short-sighted attack on the “free web”, consumers have resoundingly taken action to breath a sigh of relief from the bloated crushingly slow as riddled webpages that have been consuming their data plans. There is an issue when a site takes more than 10 (dare I dream a few) seconds to load. There is an issue when actual content cannot be viewed because of a poorly coded app. Sadly, there was an issue long before the release of iOS 9, but consumers had little voice and advertisers had little caution or concern.

Armed by developers, consumers started taking a stand on bloated and invasive ads… publishers feeling threatened, started attempting to strong arming users by closing off content to consumers leveraging ad blocking apps… advertisers began putting developers in the middle blaming the developer for giving power to the consumer (whose data this ALL impacts)… interestingly, instead of the advertisers and publishers working to fix the issue they created, it was the developers who once again started trying to create a solution.

Fast forward into October 2015, iAB’s Senior Vice President of Technology and Ad Operations at IAB, Scott Cunningham, pens a soliloquy to promote being responsible to consumers… and to present a new online advertising platform. The Interactive Advertising Board’s (iAB) platform is used by over 650 advertisers and produce about 86 percent of online advertising in the U.S..

We messed up. As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience.

Translation: We got caught. We had a good run, but now that consumers have a way to impact our (and our true customers — the advertisers) bottom line, we need to publicly change.

Consumers for years have been complaining of slowness, spam, and invasive ads, only now with an actual recourse is the industry that caused the problem even willing to accept some responsibility… well after deflecting a bit…

Many of us in the technical field felt compelled, and even empowered, to produce information as the distribution means for mass communication were no longer restricted by a high barrier to entry.

Translation: We saw a way to make money… lots of money…

Digital advertising became the foundation of an economic engine that, still now, sustains the free and democratic World Wide Web. In digital publishing, we strived to balance content, commerce, and technology.

A very altruistic view — with advertising, everything is better, right?!…

Through our pursuit of further automation and maximization of margins during the industrial age of media technology, we built advertising technology to optimize publishers’ yield of marketing budgets that had eroded after the last recession.

I love the visual that “Industrial age of media” invokes in a reader. Building in adversity… Engineering for future generations…

Looking back now, our scraping of dimes MAY HAVE cost us dollars in consumer loyalty. The fast, scalable systems of targeting users with ever-heftier advertisements have slowed down the public internet and drained more than a few batteries.

The emphasis on MAY is mine. Consumer acceptance of advertising has eroded over the long years of increased advertising… well everywhere. 60 minute televisions shows now have less than 45 minutes of actual content. Even public bathrooms are now littered with advertising. But I digress… we are focusing on the digital realm here. There are sites that are more advertising than content. Sites where advertising gets in the way of the actual content. Advertisers and groups like the iAB have perfected the art of confusion and bloat, where a user can think they are looking at content and it is an ad, or it completely hijacks the user and drags them off to a completely different — unwanted — place on the web… Mr. Cunningham, have you ever installed Java, or a number of other web tools only to find ASK.com set as your search engine? Have you gone to some of your content providers and suddenly been dragged into the AppStore and have Candy Crush Saga presented for you to download? “MAY HAVE” is not the word that should have been used there… HAS.

We were so clever and so good at it that we over-engineered the capabilities of the plumbing laid down by, well, ourselves. This steamrolled the users, depleted their devices, and tried their patience.

“Over-engineered” sounds like an oops… Well, we only needed the hose to water the lawn, but gosh darn someone made a mistake and the 3/4" intended hose was manufacturered as a 3" hose… Oh well, why don’t we turn up the pressure, you know since the capacity is there and all in the hose… What we washed out your rose garden and lawn and now you only have a muddy squish of a front yard. Well it is watered, we are going to move to the back yard now… HEY! what is this gate you put up here?

The rise of ad blocking poses a threat to the internet and could potentially drive users to an enclosed platform world dominated by a few companies. We have let the fine equilibrium of content, commerce, and technology get out of balance in the open web.

“The rise of ad blocking poses a threat to the internet…” Can we all just take a minute to think about that marketing hyperbole there? Really, what ad blocking represents is a reduction in the money lining the iAB pockets me thinks… Especially with what comes next…

We had, and still do have, a responsibility to educate the business side, and in some cases to push back.

Oh, that’s right… you are the ethical industrialists who engineered the modern age of media technology. It is what OTHERS have done with the “capabilities of the plumbing laid down by, well, ourselves…” that is at issue here. Your altruistic ways need to be used to benefit society and defend the against the threat to the internet… How are you setting out to accomplish this herculean task? Ready for it? Here it comes…

Today, the IAB Tech Lab is launching the L.E.A.N. Ads program. Supported by the Executive Committee of the IAB Tech Lab Board, IABs around the world, and hundreds of member companies, L.E.A.N. stands for Light, Encrypted, Ad choice supported, Non-invasive ads. These are principles that will help guide the next phases of advertising technical standards for the global digital advertising supply chain.

You don’t say… A new platform. I am hoping that you keep a tight reign on your plumbers and engineers this time. We don’t want that “over-engineering” issue to crop up again. So, the goal of L.E.A.N. is to provide guiding principles aligned to the iAB’s role and responsibility to educate businesses…

The IAB Tech Lab will continue to provide the tools for publishers in the digital supply chain to have a dialogue with users about their choices so that content providers can generate revenue while creating value. Publishers should have the opportunity to provide rich advertising experiences, L.E.A.N. advertising experiences, and subscription services.

Ahhh… There it is… we have come full circle. Consumers making choices were threatening income, so in true marketing and advertising flair the technologist and developer was able to create a solution — create a new platform to sell. Bravo!

Moving away from the criticisms, the advertising and freemium industries are truly devaluing themselves and marginalizing the consumer while making the user experience extremely undesirable. The Acceptable Ads vision needs to move forward for both publishers and advertisers to continute to bring content and products to consumers. This is a period of change one the internet that does need guidance, but the traditional publishing and advertising industries need to change — both are reliant on the end user and consumers to survive. Cutting off the proverbial nose to spite the face is a lose — lose scenario.

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