Ad Blocking Cat and Mouse Game

There is a little war going on between web ad companies and ad blocking software. For examples of ad blocking software see AdBlock and Firefox’s new tracking protection. The latter focuses on blocking tracking software some of which is ads. I don’t use AdBlock but I do have Firefox’s tracking protection enabled.

One of the reasons ad blocking software works is that ads are typically served from an ad network, not directly from the website the user is visiting.  Specifically, the browser makes a separate connection to a different host to get the ad content. This makes ads easy to distinguish an ad from the rest of the site’s content.

I wonder how long the ad blocking cat and mouse game will go on before the sites that are most reliant on ads simply switch to proxying the ad content through their website. This would add some cost to running the site but it would make it much more difficult to identify which parts of the site are real content and which parts are ads.

Redirects in Google search results ‘waste’ $1B per month

Lately I’ve started to notice how much time is wasted by web redirects. Most of these aren’t actually necessary but are added by various services to insert their servers into the link flow to track user behaviour. The most annoying example of this is Twitter’s t.co service. Every time you post a link to Twitter it rewrites the URL (not the link text) to be a t.co URL. Then when someone clicks the link a request first goes to Twitter where the browser is redirected to the real destination. If you go to t.co you’ll see the following text:

Twitter uses the t.co domain as part of a service to protect users from harmful activity, to provide value for the developer ecosystem, and as a quality signal for surfacing relevant, interesting Tweets.

And, as a side effect, every user clicking on a link gets a hundred milliseconds of time their time wasted. Much more on low bandwidth or high latency Internet connections.

For sneakier example look at Google’s search results. If you hover over the links in the search results you will see the real URL. Under the hood Google uses Javascript to force a request to their servers for each link you click. JavaScript then rewrites the link and sends your browser to the real site. In Google’s defence this does give them valuable information to optimize the search results and of course it gives them more information to monetize. And, as a side effect, every search result clicked wastes a hundred milliseconds of someone’s time.

For fun let’s do some rough math on how much time this wastes and what it costs. After all, we’re all paying with our time so Google and Twitter get more information.

Ouch, a billion dollars worth of lost time each month. I have no idea how to compare this against the value Google users get from better search results but one has to at least wonder if this is a good deal.

CBC’s Spark and Search Engine

CBC has been doing a fantastic job of making most of its programming available as podcasts. More recently, CBC has also upped their Internet cool factor by adding two excellent new shows: Spark and Search Engine.

Both of these shows cover the interaction of technology and the Internet with society in general. Topics range from intelligent and interesting discussion of the forthcoming Canadian copyright changes to the funeral of a main frame computer, and more recently the applicability of the publication ban laws in the presence of blogs and social networks sites such as Facebook.

What is really unique about Search Engine and Spark though is how far they go to integrate the show into the web; or maybe it’s the other way around. Both shows make extensive use of their websites for listener feedback and to look for new story ideas. If this doesn’t seem particularly novel take note of how much these shows try to integrate ‘blog culture’. Search Engine starts each episode with keywords like a blog post. All of the music used on Spark is Creative Commons licensed and linked from the show’s website. Most importantly both shows sound very personal. Almost like an audio version of a blog post at times.

On a final note, these are not geek shows. If you read blogs or publish your own or use Facebook regularly you are likely to get something out of each episode.

A Preview of HTML 5

A Preview of HTML 5 gives a quick overview of some of the new features being worked on as part of HTML5. Especially interesting is the fact that HTML5 is being developed based on the DOM representation not the syntax as was done with previous versions of the standard. Also, two serializations, HTML and xHTML will be supported.

The Social Graph

I’ve been thinking about the social graph (though not by that name) for a little while now. It seems I am not the only one. My interest in this area comes from my dislike of walled gardens such as Facebook (which I have still been able to avoid joining despite the peer pressure).

Here are a few interesting links.

Thoughts on the Social Graph
Social Network Fatigue and the Missing Web 2.0 Address Book
Opening up the Social Network Graph
Using Open Standards to Free the Social Graph

SVG demo

If you are running Firefox (no idea what other browsers this works with) take a moment to play around with photos.svg. This is a reimplementation of one of the Microsoft Silverlight demos using SVG and Javascript. It may be slightly slow but I think many people will be surprised that this level of interactivity can be accomplished on a web page.

After you are done playing with the above take a look at the SVG video demo. It is basically the same demo as above but has movies playing instead of static pictures. Unless you run a development version of Firefox you’ll just have to watch the videos.