The NY Times Business section for 13 May 2007 reports on the work of open-source artist and programmer Steve Lambert, Web Fight: Blocking Ads and Adding Art. It says in part
Steve Lambert, a conceptual artist, plans to add his own twist to one type of software that blots out commercial messages. His add-on will replace the display ads — which are usually papered over with blank windows — with curator-picked artwork from contemporary artists.
Mr. Lambert, 30, said he and Evan Harper, an artist, are not starting from scratch, but rather were modifying the program Adblock Plus. “Why reinvent the wheel when you can insert a gear and make it run backwards?” said Mr. Lambert.
Far from taking umbrage, the developer of Adblock Plus, Wladimir Palant, who lives in Norway, wrote in an e-mail response to questions, “Replacing annoying and obtrusive ads with some eye candy, turning them into their exact opposite, is a consequent continuation of what Adblock started — making the Web endurable and enjoyable.”
As open-sourcers, Mr. Lambert and Mr. Palant give away software and encourage others to tinker with it, which they believe improves the Internet by putting users’ interests over commercial ones. They have renounced their intellectual property rights to join a community where, in a sense, when everyone kicks off their shoes, stepping on someone’s toes is not an issue.
The article laters details the travails of a web advertising firm:
“There ultimately has to be a balance established where consumers recognize that if they don’t take the ads, there won’t be free content,” said Dave Morgan, founder of Tacoda, a Web advertising firm. In fact, EnvironmentalChemistry.com, a news and educational site, in 2004 began blocking anyone with ad-blocking software.
Kenneth Barbalace, its owner, said that heavy traffic on the site kept exceeding his available bandwidth, costing him up to $300 more monthly. Meanwhile, 10 percent of users were blocking ads, so he bid them adieu to reduce his traffic — and expense.
“A user who comes to my site and is blocking the ads is essentially denying me the ability to pay for the content that they are getting to access for free,” said Mr. Barbalace, who lives in Portland, Me. He said he found himself in “a little arms race” with software developers: they would rewrite the program to access his site, and he would in turn rejigger it to block them.
Finally, in 2006, Mr. Barbalace called a truce. Bandwidth is much cheaper now, and his ad revenue is way up. Plus, all the extra code he wrote for the site to keep ad blockers out made the pages load slowly. “I saw the 5 or 10 percent of people using ad blockers as an annoyance, as a philosophical problem, but not as a business problem,” Mr. Barbalace said.
What a refreshing thought –a businessman adjusts to changing technology by revising his business model. The idea of “calling a truce” is even more refreshing. Would that other businesses uncertain how to deal with open-source would take the same approach.
The article ends with these final words from Mr. Lambert:
“I don’t make money from this, so if it bothers some people, that’s O.K. Art should bother some people.”