Thursday, September 17, 2015

"Welcome to hell: Apple vs Google vs Facebook and the slow death of the web" (AAPL; GOOG; FB)

From The Verge:
So let's talk about ad blocking.

You might think the conversation about ad blocking is about the user experience of news, but what we're really talking about is money and power in Silicon Valley. And titanic battles between large companies with lots of money and power tend to have a lot of collateral damage.

iOS 9 came out yesterday (in fits and starts) and with it, support for content blockers in iOS 9. There is already a little cottage industry of ad blockers available, and you should definitely try one or two — they will radically improve your mobile web experience, because they will... block huge chunks of the web from loading.
Those huge chunks — the ads! — are almost certainly the part you don't want. What you want is the content, hot sticky content, snaking its way around your body and mainlining itself directly into your brain. Plug that RSS firehose straight into your optic nerve and surf surf surf 'til you die.

Unfortunately, the ads pay for all that content, an uneasy compromise between the real cost of media production and the prices consumers are willing to pay that has existed since the first human scratched the first antelope on a wall somewhere. Media has always compromised user experience for advertising: that's why magazine stories are abruptly continued on page 96, and why 30-minute sitcoms are really just 22 minutes long. Media companies put advertising in the path of your attention, and those interruptions are a valuable product. Your attention is a valuable product.

Now, here's the thing about the web, and in particular web ads: the biggest provider of ads on the web is Google. In particular, Google runs an ad server called DoubleClick for Publishers, or DFP. DFP is huge, and it serves ads for basically every major publisher: Vox Media and The Verge use DFP. BuzzFeed uses DFP. ESPN uses DFP. If you are seeing advertising on the web, there is a real chance it's being served to you by DFP. Even native advertising is served by DFP; that's how the native ad slots on The Verge's home page are managed independently of editorial. 
Then, in addition to DFP, Google runs the web's largest ad exchange, AdX. DFP lets publishers serve their own ads, while AdX is responsible for those programmatic ads that follow you around the web. Those are the three biggest categories of web advertising revenue — premium display, native, and programmatic — and Google has a huge stake in all of them.

In fact, there's no other company that's managed to monetize the web quite like Google has through the power of DFP and AdX. The web has always been Google's native platform, and DFP means that the web is also Google's revenue platform — users search for things using Google, see Google search ads, and then land on content that is further monetized by Google DFP and its ad exchange. This is basically the foundation of Google's entire business: Google makes the lion's share of its money on search, and Google search doesn't work if the web isn't searchable, so Google has a huge interest in making the web profitable for media companies, so they can search all that content.

But what's happening now is that attention is shifting fast from desktop browsers — where Google's Chrome is dominant (and supports ad blocking!) — to mobile browsers. In particular, to Apple's Mobile Safari, which dominates usage statistics on mobile. There is no alternative web rendering engine on the iPhone; there's just WebKit, which Apple controls. The dominance of the iPhone and Mobile Safari give Apple "veto power" over the web, as John Gruber put it — a veto power which means Google's revenue platform is increasingly under the control of a major rival....MORE