An Awful Thing Came To Pass....Almost

by Bryan Chaffin
December 4th, 1998

There was a disturbing thing that almost happened this week. It involves the way the web works today and would have effected the way the web works tomorrow.

ClearWay Technologies had planned and announced a new product called AdScreen that would strip away banner ads from web pages when used by an end user. In its place, the new product would leave a text-based message and the original link the banner supported.

At first glance, this may sound like a good idea to many users. Banner ads are intrusive and add to the download and rendering times of web page. For many users, especially those on slower connections, this can be particularly annoying. One thing that is often forgotten is that banner ads make web sites like Webintosh and any other site you may have picked up this link from, possible.

News sites such as the many Mac oriented network of web sites (Macsurfer’s, MacTimes, MacInTouch, O’Grady’s Power Page, and MacOPINION to name a few) are very resource intensive to produce. At Webintosh, our team puts in an average of 170 hours per week producing the site. This does not include hosting and co-location services, our computers, and the Internet connectivity that we use in the process of making the site. All these resources have to be paid for by someone and that someone is either our advertisers or our readers.

If banner advertising were to cease being profitable to such companies as MacTell which alone purchases over 1 million impressions each month (MacTell has been a major supporter of online content from their inception and is a current advertiser with Webintosh. Their advertising helps pay the costs of many, many web sites.) would no longer have any reason to do so.

Eliminating, hiding, blocking, or even pretending to show banners while not doing so would all lead to a complete devaluation of internet based advertising as we know it. Such a breakdown would result in one of three things; a new advertising based model, the complete dissolution of most free web sites, or the implementation of fee based viewing of these web sites. It my opinion that parts of all these options could come to pass. Most web sites would shut down, some would be able to convert to a subscription based service, and the market would eventually come up with a new advertising paradigm.

That is why Apple's implementation of Sherlock, where each link Sherlock shows includes the accompanying banner from the original search engine, is vitally important and Apple deserves a huge commendation for doing so. Sherlock maintains the integrity of the current system while offering a tremendous service to users.

It is probable that the next 12 to 18 months will see some form of change in the advertising Internet world. New technologies are coming to market even now that offer such things as full screen adverts while a web page is loading behind it. The market is bringing about these changes and they will likely accelerate, but efforts such as AdScreen circumvent that market process before there is something to take its place. This is the single greatest danger to free web sites today.

This brings me back to my purpose for writing this Editorial. When the company announced AdScreen, they were met by a firestorm of protest from many of the web sites they has sent their press release too. Jason O’Grady, publisher of the very popular O’Grady’s Power Page offered a very succinct summation in a letter sent to webmasters and to ClearWay when he said "We do not respect products or companies that attempt to destroy our income stream."

ClearWay then announced that they were canceling the new product upon further reflection. The press release states:

"Upon reflection, ClearWay has recognized the long-term harm that software like AdScreen can do to the on-line community of independent, advertiser-supported Web sites that are open and free to all visitors. ClearWay has removed the software from their Web site, and has terminated the product."

An open letter from ClearWay president Mark Kriegsman to all Web surfers and Webmasters has been posted is a tribute to the company's commitment to the web community. I strongly recommend reading the letter.

There are many companies in the world that would not have changed course when presented with a compelling argument. These companies would have pursued the short term dollar at the expense of those better than they. ClearWay showed us that their principals are made of firmer stuff and I personally salute the company and its president.

Your comments are welcomed!

ClearWay Technologies