If you read a site and care about its well being, then you should not block ads (or you subscribe to sites like Ars that offer ads-free versions of the site). If a site has advertising you don’t agree with, don’t go there. I think it is far better to vote with page views than to show up and consume resources without giving anything in return. I think in some ways the Internet and its vast anonymity feeds into a culture where many people do not think about the people, the families, the careers that go into producing a website.
I was recently on a roadshow with some folks from EyeWonder, a company that provides a framework to build and place a lot of the ads on the internet. Some are very clever, others would fall into the annoying category. During the trip I talked to a lot of the creatives at big agencies who are working with sites to place these ads for their brands and the adblocker concern was a big topic. If their brands aren’t getting the views on the ad, they’re not going to want to pony up, and sites lose money.
What’s worse, is that it becomes a downward spiral where the ads being served become more intrusive in order to get the attention of a fading audience. Ultimately, one of the best conversations I had was with someone who used to be the creative “gate” for agencies on a major network of sites. Agencies came to her with their ad ideas and she was the person who gave thumbs up or thumbs down on the ad depending on whether or not it was too obnoxious or wouldn’t jive with what the networks users expect.
To me, that’s the key. Flash may be synonymous with advertising now, but the same obnoxious ads are going to be created with HTML5 when it becomes prevalent, so the people creating ads have to build them so that they’re targeted and interesting. I don’t think they have to be static, or can’t take up the whole page, but they should follow some basic guidelines (auto-playing sound being a terrible, terrible scourge) and leave the user in control. Close buttons should be obvious, mouse out events should minimize the ad, and it should be difficult to accidentally trigger it. And making sure ads are optimized so they aren’t causing Flash to spin up the CPUs is key to a good user experience.
The web is an interactive place and there is a lot of very interesting work going on in the interactive advertising space. That work directly funnels money back to your favorite sites and pays a lot of bills.