Oh The Huge Manatee

Drupal, Sysadminning, and Tech.

An Open Letter to Wired Magazine

Dear Wired – I read your post about the changes in ad blocker policy on your site. Thanks for writing in such an open and respectful tone; it’s clear you care about your readers and want to find a reasonable way forward.

Unfortunately the post fails to address the REASONS that your readers use ad blockers. If only you had gone a little bit farther in the post and offered specific promises in exchange for being whitelisted, I think you would keep a much larger proportion of your readers.

As an example, here are some promises you could have made that would have convinced me.

  • Third party scripts will be kept to under 33% of page weight. (They’re at ~50% for this article, and that’s with a 1.1MB gif in the content!)

  • We will respect “do not track” headers in your browser (or settings on your Wired account) by excluding you from ad- and analytics-related tracking, and only serving you anonymous ads.

  • We may serve ads based on your browsing behavior at wired.com, but they will always include a short explanation. For example, “because you were interested in Article X:”

  • Our ad placement and content will follow strict rules (link to a public page of your guidelines), similar to the Adblock “Acceptable Ads” criteria (https://adblockplus.org/en/acceptable-ads#criteria).

  • We will serve all content and ads over HTTPS, from within the wired.com domain (or include a list of specific sources), so you can trust that it’s really coming from us.

I’m not asking for those specific promises or numbers per se. They’re only an example of how you could reassure 20% of your readers that they can trust you as a whitelisted site.

As it is, Wired doesn’t offer to address any of the issues that make (technical) people enable an ad blocker. Your post is reduced to a nicely worded ultimatum. You’re asking me to make a special exception for Wired, and offering only a stick as incentive. No carrot, no quid pro quo, and no addressing my concerns. And you’re doing it on a 3.3MB page with 1.5MB worth of third party ads and tracking code attached, served over HTTP. As a technical reader, this FEELS to me like an ultimatum; like a belligerent challenge. Wired is close enough to the technical community to know how well we respond to ultimatums: I expect you’re about to lose ~20% of your direct readership in a core market, and suffer a PR backlash in tech community blogs to boot.

I doubt this is what the Wired board had in mind.

Perhaps you could take a lesson from application designers. If 20% of your user base uses workarounds to get at your content while dodging parts of the user experience, that indicates great content and bad user experience. Before locking out a fifth of your readership, try a little market research to improve that Ux. Just do a cursory investigation into WHAT people find so terrible, and WHY they use the alternative; consider how you might change your Ux to make that unnecessary. After all, this is 20% of your user base who likes your core product (content) so much, they find ways to access it despite a shitty Ux. It would be a shame to lose such a dedicated (and large) group of fans.

It’s possible that all of those users install ad blockers because marketing execs personally insulted them, and they won’t have anything to do with ads in any form. But I suspect you’d find a good percentage who use ad or script blockers for security, faster page loads, and to avoid badly behaved trackers. If you can promise even some of those benefits in exchange for whitelisting, you will get a lot more takers.

I will become a Wired reader again if you can promise me that your ads will be unobtrusive, exclusively from Wired, transmitted over a secure connection, and respectful of my wishes with regards to being tracked or my browsing behavior sold.

Until you can make that promise in clear terms, I’ll keep my ad blocker turned on.

Thanks

Campbell Vertesi

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