For this past Christmas, my parents bought us a subscription to a major monthly periodical. While the magazine isn’t my favorite, I do enjoy paging through it from time to time. As with any magazine it has its good articles, and a lot of over-hyped mediocre ones. But the thing I enjoy most about the magazine is tearing out the pages that have full-page ads on both sides.
And you’d be surprised how many of them there are. (Well, maybe you wouldn’t, if you’re still a member of the rapidly shrinking population that still pays for things like magazines and newspapers.) The magazine literally reduces in size by half. It’s immensely satisfying, but what’s troubling is that there is so many ads in a magazine that people actually pay for. If you think about it, similar content online is available online for free, and with less obnoxious, intrusive ads. I can’t remember the last time I saw two full page ads, back-to-back between the webpages of an article (or blog post) on the internet. Every now and then you do see a full page, “you’ll be redirected to what you want to see after staring at this ad for the next 10 seconds” advertisement, but I think those are generally frowned on, and pretty rare. So why on earth does any magazine think it’s a good idea to show a full page ad for soup, followed by a full page ad for knock-out pills, followed by three pages of technical medical jargon for said pill? It’s kind of like borrowing a fiver from your friend, and then punching him in the gut after he gives it to you. Only it’s the magazine publisher collecting the the money and delivering the sucker punch.
Don’t get the impression that I like online advertisements. I think they’re an online business necessity, and occasionally, when done right, they’re actually a service to the viewer. But for every well placed, content relevant ad I see online, I see a hundred stupid animated banners featuring idiots dancing because they got an average rate on their mortgage. How the hell is that relevant to checking my email? Or reading the latest serious news on lolcats? (I just really wanted to put “lolcats” and “serious” in the same sentence.) iPod-esque, manic dancing silhouettes are not only completely obnoxious when you’re using the internet for something work related, they’re distracting. And of course that’s the point. That’s why I’ve been serial internet ad-killer for the last 8 years.
My current preferred tool is FireFox’s popular Adblock Plus add-on. It comes with a huge database of ad spam URLs, which it automatically blocks. What I really like about the add-on is that it adds options to your right click context menu. When you see an offending, obnoxious, whack-the-lolcat ad, you simply right click on it, and select “Adblock Image” from the menu, and it goes away. Awesome. Take that stupid tattoo-a-mortgage-rate-the-back-of-some-guy’s-head ad! Ha Ha! If that isn’t fun, I don’t know what is. (Whether or not I actually know what fun is can be debated in the comments.)
Before executing that plaid-suited idiot that’s trying to push cars, auto insurance, or crack on you from his tiny box with the click of a button, I used to be a bit more hard core. How hard core? I used to update the windows’ hosts file to point all the worst offending domains (doubleclick, for instance, and no, I won’t link there) to the localhost IP address. (Non-technical translation: I tricked the browser into looking for ad images on my laptop instead of looking where they actually live.) If Adblock is a precision strike on a banner ad target, updating the hosts file is napalming the countryside of a advertiser’s domain. And I like napalm. 😈 I keep a desktop shortcut to the hosts file on all my PCs. Still. I like to think of it as the red button. And, yes, I have scanned through the source of a web page to find the source of particularly annoying ads.
If you share my passion eliminating ridiculous animated hippo banners and would like to learn more about my napalm approach, here’s some links to get you started. (Note: I have not looked deeply into these websites, and would advise caution in downloading or installing anything from them. Reading through their content should give you the specifics you need to make changes on your own.)
- A premade ad-blocking hosts file available for download here.
- Another one here.
- One more, with bit more information here.
Of course, I should tell you that changing the hosts file may have unintended consequences. Sometimes in your attempt to block an ad, you break a website. (I’ve broken hotmail several times in the past.) Fortunately, you can easily fix that by removing whatever block you put in, but this process may be beyond less technical users. Adblock Plus is a good option for the less technical.