inessential by Brent Simmons

Ads in Your Face

We all know, I think, that advertising has to grow more frequent and obtrusive to remain effective.

In the early days, websites would just put a banner at the top of the page. Then people started mentally filtering-out the top of a page. So ads moved also to the sides, to popup windows, and inside the block previously reserved for just article text. And then there were full-page ads that last for 30 seconds (or whatever), and ads that actually obscure the article.

And ads multiplied. (The average web page is now about 1MB. Crazy.)

So we get better at not-seeing the ads, and at hitting the back button as soon as we see an ad that won’t let us continue (after all, there are plenty of other things to read; there’s no scarcity on the web).


This makes me think about Facebook. It’s an advertising company — its money comes from ads.

Here’s my question: how can any company survive long-term as an advertising company, knowing that the price of ads goes down as their effectiveness goes down? I think they’ll have to show more and more ads and make them more and more obtrusive — and eventually people will get sick of the ads.

Facebook already counts a significant fraction of the human race as members. It could double or maybe triple its number of users — but what then?

I don’t think a Facebook phone is any kind of answer. It will have to be super-cheap to compete. After all, why buy a cow (a Facebook phone) when you can get milk (a Facebook app) for free? A Facebook phone looks like an expensive distraction, a war of choice.


Maybe the thinking is that the Facebook database will reach some magical tipping point where the data becomes immensely valuable to advertisers, and the price of ads will reverse its trend, will go up instead of continuing to go down.

But I think that’s recklessly optimistic. Faith that the data will be valuable is the opium of the executive class.

Why I’m a jerk

P.S. I quit Facebook when I couldn’t open a link a friend had shared without my also adding some social reader app. That was my last straw, and maybe my tolerance is low. But everybody has a limit somewhere.