Home > BlogTech > Don’t Move

Don’t Move

April 4th, 2008

I’ve said it before here, and I’ll say it again: movement on a web page is bad. It started with the beginning of HTML, and the dreaded–and thankfully now defunct–“blink” command, which would make text blink on and off continuously. Even the guy who created that is said to have lamented that it was “the worst thing I’ve ever done for the Internet.” The dreaded animated GIF followed close behind, and has powered who knows how many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of annoying, blinking ads. The present-day scourge is the Flash animation, which–while cool and productive if used sparingly and correctly in the right context–is most often used to maddening effect.

Maybe some people can get by reading a web page with stuff flashing an moving all around the periphery–I cannot. It drives me up the fracking wall. And yes, that’s the whole point of an ad, to draw attention to itself–but ads are getting far too intrusive, like those animated ads they have on TV now, where you’re trying to watch a show and characters from some other show walk on to the bottom one-third of the screen and dance around for several seconds. Sorry, but that’s like coming up to someone while they’re reading a book, shaking their shoulders, and then dancing around, saying, “look at me!” You get their attention, but you also piss them off. I understand the necessity of ads, but ads which compete with the content they support are self-defeating–ads should be separate from the content, not taking your attention away from it.

Fortunately, there are measures that one can take. Various browsers have various ad-blocking software; I have settled on using Safari, liking its appearance and overall feature set. For that browser, I use PithHelmet, and have gladly paid the $10 for it (even though just clicking on “I Paid” would stop the nagware element). It does an excellent job of giving the user power over the browsing experience. You choose an overall set of ad-blocking preferences, but you can also change the settings for each individual site. You can choose to switch plug-ins, Java, and/or Javascript on or off for any given site, and there are a dozen or so settings for ad-blocking, by size, source, or type. If there’s a site you visit with any regularity, you can tweak the settings to allow for maximum accessibility and maximum ad-blocking.

An ad blocker can make a difference like night and day. I have been blissfully unaware of how many ad have invaded so many web pages, and was shocked to see how bad things had become when a new version of Safari temporarily disabled my blocker, and the ads suddenly appeared. That demonstrated to me so clearly that a good ad blocker can change a web page strewn with flashing, annoying ads into a nice, simple, quiet place to read your favorite content.

There are drawbacks, of course. For some reason, I can’t get any blocker to stop animated GIFs on my computer, and I can’t figure out why. Fortunately, they are less common today, but the occasional ones on my favorite political blogs (like the EFF button on Daily Kos or the “Listen” mini-ad on Kevin Drum’s blog) annoy me; usually they are small and minimally distracting, but I have a low distraction threshold, and they still bug me. I have to either zoom in on the text (another great use of Apple’s brilliantly-executed zoom feature), move the window so the movement is put out of frame, or suffer through it just long enough so I can scroll past it.

Another drawback is when wanted features and annoying ads use the same resource that your ad blocker can opt the block. Disabling plug-ins will do away with nasty Flash ads, but it will also disable YouTube videos, now a standard component of many blogs. When plug-ins are disabled, there’s no way to even link to the video, so you either have to fish around in the page’s source code and copy it, or temporarily turn the ad blocking off long enough to copy the URL from the YouTube menu. Similarly, when you disable simple image ads, other design-element parts of the page will also disappear. Getting rid of all the ads on Daily Kos, for example, will also get rid of the title banner at the top. Too much of this can make the page look a lot worse, but is still better than having to bear through ads.

But nowt here’s a new development: about a week or two ago, a series of related sites introduced a new version of their code which severely breaks the site’s appearance if you switch off the ads. I’m not sure how they did it, but it’s annoying as hell. LifeHacker, Wonkette, and Gizmondo are among the cross-linking group that use the same base code, and now all look like this:


If you scroll down, you can see the content, against a broken background image; it’s viewable, but only just. The annoyance factor reaches close to that of the ads being blocked. It’s impossible to say whether this was an accidental breakage due to bad coding, or if it was an intentional ploy to tell users, “pay by watching the ads or get the frack out of here.” Sadly, it will probably make me leave those sites for good–maybe what they want, as if I do them no adly goodness, then they make less money.

I have no problem with ads per se, just the annoying ones. If ads had only sat still on the periphery from the start, I probably would never have resorted to an ad blocker. Google does it best–unobtrusive and limited text ads off to the side, and relevant to content the user is looking at–I have even clicked through to some of them, which is a huge thing–I usually, as a matter of principle, never patronize ads on the Internet. But if they’re done right, they’ll work for me. And that’s the magic secret to good advertising: make it palatable, make it so it pleases, not so that it annoys. Advertise right and you can make money. Do it wrong and you drive customers away. The problem with ads is that it’s a lot easier to be an annoying attention-stealer than it is to be a quietly persuasive reminder. And the problem with web sites comes when people get so goddamned greedy that they smother their content with crap so annoying it overrides the enjoyment of the content itself.

Categories: BlogTech Tags: by
  1. ben
    April 4th, 2008 at 15:00 | #1

    mmh… i use firefox with adblock+ and checked the aforementioned sites… Gizmodo works just fine… dunno what could have caused the broken site layout

  2. Luis
    April 5th, 2008 at 02:35 | #2

    Ben: as I said, it depends on the software; your ad blocker might not allow variable settings, or the settings are not set to disable ads in the right way to make the page break. PithHelmet on Safari only breaks the pages if the settings are changed to make all the ads go away; less than that, and the page looks fine–which is what made me suspicious. When you see the pages with AdBlock in Firefox, are the ads all gone, completely?

    If Firefox can get rid of the ads and maintain the page, that’s great… but I’m sticking with Safari all the same. I just find it interesting that it happens at all.

  3. Stuart
    April 5th, 2008 at 10:03 | #3

    animated GIFs have all the code for animation as part of the picture file itself. There’s nothing in the web-page making it do that, and no way for a browser to be able to tell animated vs. non-animated GIFs apart, so there’s nothing to stop it either, short of not loading any pictures at all.

  4. t.c.
    April 7th, 2008 at 07:52 | #4

    This comment has been moved to the appropriate post — Ed.

    “it’s a lot easier to give 9.5% of $14 million per year and enjoy the remaining $12 million-plus, than it is to give the same from an income of half a million per year while you’re still paying off massive college loans. The Clinton’s $109 million makes the Obama’s $3.9 million seem paltry in comparison.”

    Yeah, well someone with an income of 3.9 million doesn’t truly get what middle class people like me go through any more than someone with an income of $109 million. I assure you, anyone who runs for president isn’t living like a blue-collar laborer. And most people who make half-a-mill a year don’t worry about how much longer they can drive their car before replacing it, like I and many other people do.

    Actually – and Saturday Night Live addressed this last night in a funny skit – while the Clintons were earning virtually all their income, the media was right there reporting it. So you would have already known about their earnings, was it really important to you to begin with.

    Plus, I’m almost positive Obama is financially much better off than
    the Clintons were when they were 46. And that Obama will be just as wealthy as they are now when he’s in his 60s, especially if he becomes the president. And whether he wins or not, how much you want to bet his next book deal will be worth?

  5. Luis
    April 7th, 2008 at 09:14 | #5

    t.c.: please see my reply in the post this has been moved to. Thanks.

  6. Luis
    April 7th, 2008 at 09:24 | #6

    Stuart: I could swear that previous versions of my ad blocking software were successfully able to stop GIFs from displaying animation. I’m pretty sure of it.

  7. Geoff
    April 7th, 2008 at 09:56 | #7

    In Firefox and Mozilla/SeaMonkey, you can “freeze” animated GIFs just by hitting the Esc key. I’m not sure if it works in Safari, but you can try it. If it doesn’t work, than that’s one more good reason to use Firefox instead.

    Often, Ads are served by an advertising server/ad service which is on a different server than the primary one. Sometimes, manually blocking these big ad servers by address will remove ads from a page with minimal impact on the rest of the site.

Comments are closed.