A big problem here is that advertising — particularly advertising on the internet (by which I mean both web advertising and email advertising) — has already poisoned the well. The ideas you propose about vetting ads, about keeping up quality standards for types of ads, and about trying to ensure appropriate targeting are old ideas and already widely adopted — but each of them, over time, has been subverted and worn down, because advertising (since its effectiveness per impression is exceedingly low in the best of cases and almost nil in the average case) almost always becomes a race to the bottom.

Google’s entire core business model is the automatic targeting of ads along with strong quality restrictions; adsense is the biggest web ad provider in the world, and doesn’t allow advertising with any of the qualities you mentioned under a metric for bad ads. Nevertheless, outside of AdBlockPlus having an option to avoid blocking only google-hosted plain-text ads, most ad blockers still block everything coming out of adsense.

The suggestion that users will interact with a piece of advertising to indicate its quality and relevance is also pretty questionable. After all, all adsense-served ads have a button for reporting low-quality or non-relevant ads. But, years of dealing with ads that claim to have such buttons but who actually use them to steal metrics and redirect users to different ads have trained users not to trust anything put onto a page by a third party.

Even if large advertising organizations were to sign on for the kinds of restrictions you propose (and recall that Google already essentially implements all of them), that won’t really discourage ad blocking. Well-behaved ads aren’t a problem, and people who host ill-behaved ads are doing so knowingly and intentionally, because they don’t care about user experience. You can’t police them, because they’re already too shady to care about what you think and aren’t afraid to ruin advertising for everyone; they are the people hosting fake versions of the facebook login page and redirecting you to twelve different ‘around the web’ links in frames whenever you click ‘sign in’. They’re the people who are buying zero days from the russian mafia and selling them to the NSA at a 700% markup. They’re the reason that you can’t use just one ad blocker; in order to block enough ads to matter, you need to run three different ones plus an anti-tracking extension, and maintain separate whitelists for each. When advertising as a revenue model is dead, they won’t care because they will have moved on to killing kittens and selling their pelts as synthetic wool.

The biggest issue with this article is not the argument that advertising can be saved; after all, a lot of smart people have thought that in the past, and the things you propose to save it have been proposed and implemented at scale by people who knew what they were doing. Instead, the biggest issue is the false dichotomy between advertising and paywalls. Paywalls are one of maybe ten or twelve different alternative monetization strategies, and they have a bad reputation for a good reason. I recommend you do a little bit of research into the variety of alternatives. Ad hosting and paywalls are old models and remain dominant because of inertia, but they are poor solutions in terms of effectiveness, returns, and increasing customer confidence.

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Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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