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What happens when a publisher meets an ad blocker? Our interview with Till Faida, Co-founder of Adblock Plus

We caught up with Till Faida, Co-founder of popular ad blocking software, Adblock Plus to discuss advertising in general, ad blocking, online marketing and much, much more.

And the general feel we have following this conversation is that Adblocker Plus could rapidly become the equivalent of YouTube, TiVo or Napster for the online advertising market; a catalyst of chance and a stakeholder that is both unwanted by the sector, and also likely to disrupt the status quo.

For a background on my thoughts about ad blocking, check out what I wrote seven months ago (An Open Letter To Developers of Ad Blocking Software). Note that Net Communities, the publisher of ITProPortal, also sells adverts for a number of other popular technology websites like Pocket-Lint, PC Mag, Photography Blog, Anandtech, Mashable, Gigaom and many others.

Some figures first, how many ads does Adblocker Plus block on a daily basis? How many people use it?

Currently over 40 million active users use Adblock Plus, growing at 150,000 downloads across all platforms per day. Every single day, over 20 million people access the web using Adblock Plus. While we respect people’s privacy and therefore do not track any data of our users, we have some good estimates from other studies: an average Internet user sees over 100 (!) ads per day, in many cases multiple ads per page. Hence, Adblock Plus blocks 2 billion ads per day worldwide!

Do you think online audiences should be educated on how non-ecommerce websites make money?

Education is good, but we know that most people actually know already how non-ecommerce site make money. That’s why over 80 per cent support Adblock Plus’ acceptable ads concept based on our own surveys, because they like to browse the web without annoying ads, but they really would like to support their favourite web sites who advertise responsibly. Remember: The goal of Adblock Plus is not to hurt providers of free content. By putting users in control over the ads we want to make sure that bad ads (e.g. misleading messages that sneak through or malicious apps, etc.) are eliminated and good ads that focus on a positive user experience will gain a competitive advantage. So we are not preventing e-commerce websites from making money if they use responsible and controlled types of adverts.

Could news publishing exist without ads? If yes, what are the alternatives?

Yes, micropayment for content is an option, but it’s not popular by users.

Will blocking ads hurt app developer, many of which rely on ads for generating revenue?

Not yet, we have only launched the app last week and the user base is way too small for now. But in the future, when Adblock Plus for Android has reached a certain level of popularity, we will make sure to find a reasonable middle ground between app developers and our users in our Acceptable Ads initiative.

Can you suggest a few ways how creative/ad agencies can improve their chances of not being blocked by AdBlocker Plus?

Generally, ads should be created with the user in mind. Our “acceptable ads” criteria give some good hints. Stay small, relevant and non-intrusive, don't roll over the whole screen, or generally block the user from accessing the content that they are trying to access!

How does AdBlocker generate revenue?

Adblock Plus is a community-driven open source project; monetization is not our highest priority. We do have very ambitious plans to become a positive influence on the internet by letting the community eliminate bad advertisements and supporting good ones with the Acceptable Ads initiative. We have been able to show that companies are able to significantly increase their revenues by making their ads less intrusive and we are being supported by some of them as it is in their strategic interest to secure the sustainability of the Acceptable Ads program. Also, there is the possibility for our users to support Adblock Plus by either donating or using our new “typo correction” feature which is not only good for our users but also supports our further development.

What are the next strategic steps for AdBlocker? Being able to block Press Releases? Advertorials? Sponsored content or Twitter posts?

Over time, we will give the users more and more choices, because the user should be in control. We know that most users are not bothered by advertising like that, but if a user hates e.g. advertorials, sure, in a future version he or she might be able to use AdblockPlus to see the web without them. But for now, our next strategic steps are to roll out Adblock Plus on even more platforms, like Internet Explorer and Safari.

Have you approached the IAB (or vice versa) to help towards “promoting better online advertising for all”.

We are in an intensive dialogue with many online advertising partners and associations on how to promote better online advertising for all. While we can’t comment on specific talks, we certainly welcome the dialogue with anyone.

A few months ago, the owner of a small website commented that Ad-Blocking harmed tiny startups disproportionately compared the likes of Twitter or Facebook. What are your thoughts?

Actually, our acceptable ads program is free to join for any small web site, so the opposite is true: we are actually helping smaller startups – we know their pain, we are a small startup ourselves. But at the same time: Bad advertising is bad advertising, whatever the website, so any small web site also would need to abide by the acceptable ads criteria if it wants to take part in the program.

Desire worked at ITProPortal right at the beginning and was instrumental in turning it into the leading publication we all know and love today. He then moved on to be the Editor of TechRadarPro - a position he still holds - and has recently been reunited with ITProPortal since Future Publishing's acquisition of Net Communities.