John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Safari Reader: A Dislike Button for Online Ads

Sure, Apple’s new Safari Reader “removes annoying ads and other visual distractions from online articles.” But does that necessarily make it a threat to ad-supported online publishing or an effort to force advertisers to embrace Apple’s new iAd platform?

Not really.

The reasons for this are quite simple. With less than five percent of the desktop browser market, according to Net Applications, Safari simply lacks the critical user mass to do any harm. And while its share of the mobile browser market is significantly larger (58.2 percent in the U.S.), it is not really much of a threat there either because of its design. Unlike browsers running standard ad blockers, Safari displays Web pages as they were originally intended–ads and all.

It doesn’t eliminate ads.

Only by pressing the Reader button in its address field can a page be stripped of its ads. In other words, every time they visit new articles, Safari requires readers to make a choice about whether or not to view the ads.

This seems to be an elegant compromise between readers and publishers. Activating Reader requires additional navigation and a click of the mouse. In other words, it requires motivation. So as a reader encountering a well-designed page with nonintrusive advertisements, I’m inclined not to bother with it. But if publishers plaster their content with “smack the monkey” banner ads, auto-play videos and whatnot, making it difficult to read, I probably will.

In Reader, Apple (AAPL) is presenting a sort of publisher-consumer contract. And this may inspire publishers to think a bit more about the advertisements they run on their sites and their ad-to-content ratios. As software developer Fraser Speirs recently noted, “Most interesting thing about Safari Reader? It shows how little actual content there is on these busy, long Web pages.”

And then there’s this: People who truly loathe online advertising are surely running ad-blocking software already. Those are the folks publishers should worry about, and to them, Reader won’t be any use at all.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik