Adblock Plus and (a little) more

#CampDavid NYC · 2015-11-12 12:43 by Ben Williams

A board becomes a committee … and we learn a lot

Last Tuesday night we held an unprecedented event in New York City. We called together around 20 leading publishers, tech companies, journalists, advertisers, nonprofits and academics to discuss ad blocking. Specifically, we wanted their unvarnished advice on how we should formulate the new Acceptable Ads Committee, which will take over the Acceptable Ads initiative sometime next year.

Disclaimer: we are still collecting feedback on and refining our idea of the Acceptable Ads Committee – nothing you read in this post is by any means final … so please also continue to share your ideas!

We didn’t really know what to expect: would people be pissed? Would we get yelled at? Would they care? Would it be more productive than most of the meetings at the real Camp David? Would there … be blood?

Well, thankfully, no – quite the opposite actually! It was a very constructive three-hour plus conversation in which we learned a great deal. And that was our primary objective – to learn. Why? Well, look, we’ve never done something like “form a committee” before. C’mon. Sounds like something you make a presentation for in business school. So we wanted to get the straight dope from potential representatives as to what they might expect.

The Acceptable Ads Committee: tentative goals

As said, our plan for the evening was to collect feedback, especially about the new committee. As we approached the discussion we talked a lot about what the committee’s overarching goal should be. This is what we’ve got so far:

To define and continually evolve the criteria for what constitutes an acceptable ad, and thereby govern the Acceptable Ads initiative by creating standards for ads that users of ad-blocking software will deem acceptable and that bring value to publishers and advertisers.

Beyond the main goal, we felt that the committee should stick to a few objectives to guide their actions as they take over Acceptable Ads. Briefly, the ones we came up with were the following:

  • Protect user experience.
  • Only allow formats that adblock users do not find intrusive.
  • Still, allow formats that provide meaningful monetization opportunities.
  • All proposed changes/additions must be technically feasible and based on data.

At #CampDavid we presented these ideas to those present, and they generated little objection. Where we really learned a lot was on how we should structure the committee. Now, I won’t bore you with the nitty-gritty details, but suffice it to say, we will certainly have to answer some important questions before the committee is formed.

Lessons and learnings from #CampDavid

Those in attendance politely voiced their concerns about the ad blocking debate, the future of online advertising and the proposed goals of the Acceptable Ads Committee. The majority of the feedback revolved around how we should structure that committee.

First off, as you may have noticed, we had been calling it a “board.” In this blog we’ve switched to “committee.” Not an accident. Because of the excellent feedback we received at #CampDavid, we’re changing the name to better reflect its purpose. “Board” sounds too inflexible; “committee” was more the working group we’d envisioned. (Thanks, #CampDavid NYC!)

Second, we were confronted with who might “own” this new … committee. Hell, to be perfectly honest, we hadn’t even thought of this – why would it need a legal ownership structure? Well, having an independent legal structure allows a working group – errr, committee – to maintain its independence and integrity even if the original group that formed it should dissolve. So having an independent (probably) nonprofit foundation that would “own” the committee allows it to keep its independence.

Third, we had envisioned having six groups represented at the committee:

  • Advertisers
  • Adtech companies
  • Content creators/journalists
  • Publishers
  • Consumer groups
  • User agents (browsers, adblockers, extensions)

Well, some people felt we should divide consumer groups in two: nonprofits focusing on security and nonprofits focusing on privacy/civil-digital rights; an alternative would be to change the name to reflect varying priorities. Others felt that “adtech” covered too many differentiated groups and that it, too, should be split. Also, many people suggested that we add a category for academics.

Finally, we got a lot of great suggestions on how we can be more transparent about the goings-on here at Adblock Plus/Eyeo. We’ve always made an effort to be as transparent as possible, even though sometimes things like NDAs limit that – BUT at #CampDavid we found that that wasn’t always the perception others had of us. This was a surprise and it kinda stung. So, we have some great ideas about how to communicate what we do a little bit clearer, and those will be coming soon on this very blog. Stay tuned!

Next steps

We’re still a little wound up from #CampDavid NYC, but we’re already planning #CampDavid Europe for London.

One thing that needs to be very clear: we’re still very much in the formulation stage, so take everything you read above as tentative, “planning-stage” stuff.

So of course we’re taking all the great feedback we got and incorporating it into our formulation of what we believe is the next great step in digital advertising: the Acceptable Ads … Committee (title still TBD ;)

Comment [6]

  1. Blocking ByPass Attempt · 2015-11-13 05:09 · #

    So suddenly the advertiser found a reason to talk when previously they did not care and used “excuses” to justify their intrusive tracking. This is them again trying to bypass further blocking. Well when they show some self restraint I may consider unblocking, until then, good luck. I did not need ad before, and I still do not.

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    Your choice! Keep on blocking em all. The meeting was actually really constructive, though, especially getting their POV on us.

  2. Trevor Marsh · 2015-11-13 12:42 · #

    Your Acceptable Ads is pointless as anybody that runs an adblocker would never click on an ad anyway; so nobody is losing money from all ads being blocked because anyone running adblocker, such as myself, would never click on an ad.
    For instance, in all the years I’ve been on the internet (since ’98) I’ve never once clicked an ad of any kind and never will. I now run Adblocker but nobody is losing money due to me doing so as I wouldn’t click on an ad anyway.

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    Thanks for that, good points. Thing is, sometimes ads generate money without being clicked on and I would have to disagree with you that those who run ad blockers see no value in ads. The idea is to only show/find the ads that do indeed generate value. By the way, if you don’t see value in any ad, you can turn off Acceptable Ads.

  3. Trevor Marsh · 2015-11-13 16:04 · #

    Thanks for the rely:

    “The idea is to only show/find the ads that do indeed generate value”

    But value to whom? The only person that can decide that surely is the end user? Prior to this acceptable ads initiative people installed Adblocker to do just that, block ads. Why do you believe that requirement has changed?

    Ads, for me, by definition have no value; they’re trying to sell me products that, at the time the ad is displayed, I do not want to buy. If I did want to buy a product I will be searching specifically for that item and the ad wouldn’t be necessary and so would still have no value.

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    You’re right that at the end of the day only the end-user determines value; but since ad blockers developed to block everything, Acceptable Ads tries to find value in some of the things. It’s not perfect, it won’t always be right, but …

    … like it or not, ads fund the free Internet. Again, if you dislike it, you can turn off the feature, write filters and customize to your heart’s content.

  4. · 2015-11-15 13:13 · #

    World Domination

  5. dan · 2015-11-26 14:21 · #

    I do not know if you know, but you got famous. Southpark did immortalize you :

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    Hey Dan, thanks for your comment. We’ve really enjoyed the episode! Best, Ben

  6. Sajeebbarman · 2015-12-01 14:56 · #

    This event is so helpful.I think this group (Advertisers,Adtech companies,Content creators/journalists,Publishers,
    Consumer groups andUser agents browsers, adblockers, extensions) are getting their destination if they work properly.

    Go ahed.

    Reply from Ben Williams:

    That’s awesome! Thanks for the encouragement!

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