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The Ads War, the Origin, the Deaths That Are Shaping the Modern Web

November 06, 2019

The first browser Ads didn’t have the same aspect of the modern ones. You probably didn’t consider them as Ads, but they were all trying to force you to click and use them.

They were the browser’s toolbars.

They were all layered one on top of each other. They wanted you to use them to get search results from them. They were also tracking you and trying to show you results with more ads in the links.

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Almost every time when you installed an application or a tool on your PC, the installer automatically added a custom toolbar to the ones already installed in your preferred and more used browser “Internet Explorer”!

Trying to remove Toolbars was hard and never 100% secure Trying to remove Toolbars was hard and never 100% secure

Removing them was hard, you couldn’t right click and remove them right from the main browser screen, you had to go in a separate page and remove them from there.

Some of them had to be removed from the system cause they would reinstall them automatically using a side app hidden in the file system, it was hard and they were slowing down the computers.

The Rise of a New Hope!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_web_browsers[](https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/800/0*EJviK9g918kaSKuK.png) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_web_browsers

The monopoly of Internet Explorer or IE continued until the middle of 2012, just 1 year after the first release of the Chrome Store, the store for all your browser extensions, to find everything you needed.

Google Chrome Extension and Apps Google Chrome Extension and Apps

With the Chrome Store you could find all the toolbars or apps you needed in a single place, with reviews and other features to help you work with your browser and most importantly you were able to remove every single app or extension just with a right-click.

At the same time one of the most unique and most relevant extensions, AdBlock was being created for Chrome in 2009 but we need to go back before going forward.

The Faces of the AdBlock Era

3 faces, 3 products, 3 stories 3 faces, 3 products, 3 stories

How it all started…

We have to go back to 2012, almost 10 years.

The original version of Adblock was developed by Henrik Aasted Sorensen in 2002 for Firefox. It was a small nifty extension that would block ads (only images) according to the filters you defined.

Henrik developed the extension to distract himself from his university work.

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You could already right-click on an image and choose “Adblock” from the context menu. Everything else was also pretty similar to Adblock as we know it now. Last Adblock version maintained by Henrik Aasted Sorensen was Adblock 0.3 in 2003.

This version had one major flaw: it was allowing the ads to load and only when page loading was completed would it hide them. This limited the usefulness of this extension.

You could clearly see this official Mozzila supported AdBlock listed as one of the most popular addons on the Firefox Store from 2003 to 2005.

AdBlock 0.4 — Rue — 2003

Starting with Adblock 0.4 (around beginning of 2003) the official developer of AdBlock became “rue” (nobody knows his real name). You can see his nickname near the Henrik name on the member’s page of the AdBlock Developer website.

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Rue developed this version 0.4 but it was never released as a stable version.

AdBlock 0.5 — Wladimir Palant

Adblock 0.5, used content policies for ad-blocking which prevented the ads from being downloaded instead of simply hiding them. Background images, scripts and stylesheets could be blocked through this approach as well.

These updates were implemented by rue with the help of Wladimir Palant, we will come back to him in the future…

AdBlock Plus 0.5 — Michael McDonald

Sometime after Adblock 0.5’s release the development of the project stalled. Development stagnated beginning in 2004 and entirely stopped in early 2005.

That’s when Michael McDonald created a separate enhanced version of Adblock called Adblock Plus 0.5 to improve upon the original and add additional features.

Adblock Plus 0.6 — Wladimir came back

Wladimir Palant wanted to help rue with the development of Adblock 0.5 but did not continue due to development disagreements. He eventually took over development of Adblock Plus from McDonald and rewrote the entire codebase, releasing Adblock Plus 0.6 in January 2006, thus making Adblock Plus a separate extension and not simply an enhanced version of Adblock.

Wladimir Palant Wladimir Palant

The work of Wladimir continued on the extension for many years since then becoming a big company called Eyeo, responsible for managing AdBlock Plus.

What about Chrome?

When Google Chrome came along in 2009, the Adblock Plus team wasn’t immediately interested in supporting the new browser. 
Michael Gundlach stepped in building an ad-blocking extension he called, naturally enough, AdBlock for Chrome!

Michael Gundlach — [https://www.nytimes.com](https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/04/business/media/04link.html) 0 CJ2IEeDwJnG zBFX Michael Gundlach — https://www.nytimes.com

It went on to become the most popular Chrome extension. His extension hit №8 in popularity in the recently released Chrome Store with an incredible amount of users.

Following this trend the Adblock Plus team decided to support Chrome too after all. Over time, both AdBlock and AdBlockPlus added support for additional browsers and platforms in the following years.

They will show you ads for Money

Henrik Sorensen says he has never made any money from his original Adblock code. The same can’t be said to Ad Blockers companies based on their actions.

Adblock Plus, owned by Eyeo, started making millions of dollars by charging major companies such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon huge fees to get their ads white-listed, which allows some Acceptable Ads to appear to Adblock Plus users.

The same has happened in a similar way to AdBlock from Michael Gundlach.
AdBlock was sold to an anonymous buyer in 2015 and on October 15, 2015 Gundlach’s name was taken down from the site.
In the terms of the deal, the original developer Michael Gundlach left operations to Adblock’s continuing director, Gabriel Cubbage, and as of October 2, 2015, AdBlock began participating in the Acceptable Ads program like AdBlock Plus.

Henrik Sorensen thinks that Adblock Plus and other ad blockers currently employing “Acceptable Ads” have “a fine line to walk.

“ It won’t require much more than a tiny misstep before the endeavor is labeled as simple extortion. Had I still been involved, I would not have chosen that direction … earning money from Adblock never really entered into the equation for me while I was involved. ”

Henrik Sorensen to Businessinsider in 2015.

The power to change the shape of the Web.

Ad Blockers have the power to whitelist their preferred Ads.
They are able to remove every content they want on each website or to alter the content in your pages.
This great power has started making Google and other companies more aware that browser extension has to be limited in their power.
Google launched a built-in Adblocker inside Chrome to help users without having to install 3rd parties AdBlockers.

More on that just recently Google removed a few Ad Blockers on the Chrome Store since they were injecting cookies and referral links to products and referrals to earn money to the creators without the consent of the user.

a short list of some of the Ad Blockers on Chrome a short list of some of the Ad Blockers on Chrome

Also being able to download the source code of AdBlock Plus or other Ad Blockers is helping random developers to create spin-offs of the same code base adding those spammy and fishy behaviors in them and it’s increasing the number of AdBlockers listed in the different browser store, decreasing the end-user safety.

The Deaths

Mozilla did research in 2018 finding out that installing Ad Blocking extensions substantially increases both active time spent in the browser and the number of pages viewed. They concluded(page 8) saying that it won’t decrease the user engagement with a specific website.

This was brought up cause other researches like one from PageFair: “The Hidden Cost of AdBlock” done in 2017 showed that(page 1) Ad Blockers increased traffic in the short term on the specific website but in the long term decreased user engagement on them. Mozilla said that users spent more time in the browser but not especially in that specific website.

I tend to agree with another statement done by PageFair (page 4) where they stated that the decrease of the usage of a specific website as long term effect occurred because sites couldn’t no longer sustain their investment in the creative content.

The Real impact

As stated previously big companies owning Ad Blockers are earning by showing custom or preferred Ads to their users, Google and other companies like Apple are launching their personal Ad Blockers to prevent the growing popularity of bad Ad Blockers that are changing the web pages as they wish.

Finally the huge use of Ad Blockers on small-medium sites is increasing the likeliness of the death of those companies that won’t be able to sustain themself just by showing ads on their websites.
The same is happening on big sites like Youtube where Youtubers are losing hundreds or thousands of dollars each month because of AdBlockers.

The need for a Change

I felt too much guilt after more than 15 years of Ad Wars.

I started thinking about how much I took from Youtubers without giving them back anything, the same for many other websites running purely on Ads. The only real impact I could have was by trying to change my usage of AdBlockers.

Giving back

I choose to make a bold action, I disabled my Ad Blockers from all the Youtube domains and then it happened. I started getting again many ads before or during the playback of a video but I felt good.

It was clear that even if the ads weren’t 100% relevant to me or interesting I started clicking on many of them checking out the landing page where they brought me.

A small action from me was going to help the Creator of that video!

I was probably giving him just a few extra cents or bucks but it felt great!
I started making the same for others website, disabling Ad Blockers on those domains and step by step I ended up removing them entirely from my browser.

Matt Jones Matt Jones — https://unsplash.com/photos/oxjo1IQBK7M

I started giving back after years of nothingness and it felt awesome! — Riccardo

I didn’t also remove Pop Up blockers or the built-in Ad Blocker in Chrome cause I don’t want to get Spam Popups or Ads that try to redirect me to a random website but I want to be able to see all kinds of good ads without any intermediary like AdBlock Plus or AdBlock big corporations.

My challenge for You

I’m challenging you to do the same, you won’t have to disable your AdBlockers entirely if you use them. Simply start by disabling them on one (1) single website you like or enjoy the most and you will start to give back to the makers of creators of those service, then slowly start disabling more websites as you prefer.

I hope I challenged your fears cause if we all try to watch a small ad we can all try help out each others! — Riccardo

Thank you to the Wayback Machine, without this library of old websites this article dossier wouldn’t have been possible, if you want you can help them preserving the web by donating any amount of money to them here.

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