LEAN and User Experience: My Meeting with AdBlock Plus.

“They are who we thought they were.” – Dennis Green.

One year ago I met with Till Faida, CEO of Eyeo, the company that developed AdBlock Plus (ABP), in a behind the scenes conversation in Cologne, Germany. Yes, this is probably surprising to some given the snarky headlines out there over the last year.  This was on the heels of the anti-ad blocking vendor summit hosted by the IAB in August. What struck me was how they were a small, venture capital backed startup, similar to the the Anti-Ad Blocking vendors, and how they would probably end up in the same place. This story in Wall Street Journal  describes this outcome, that of a company “representing” advertising supply for sale. ABP/Eyeo is driven by YOY growth leveraging an open source list, not consumer experience as they sell it. And we should be OK with that now that we know they are who we thought they were.   Except, they still “sell” inventory that modifies the publishers content without publisher consent to modify.  What’s the the value proposition for the publisher?  “Come get access to new inventory on your site with your audience?”  Sorry, the market will react accordingly as we see it playing out.  And this is a win for small publishing businesses.

The folks at ABP described “acceptable ads” to me and said they did not believe standards should be made by advertisers. I agreed.  It showed how small and green they were as the IAB is not advertiser driven in membership and is rather a historically publisher focused trade association of sellers. In fact, the IAB Tech Lab was built as a separate 501(c)6 not for profit enabling the the technical development and controls structures of all-inclusive standards.

I also firmly believe standards needed to be inclusive because the IAB Tech Lab and its members at the time just finished an exhaustive cycle replacing an existing de facto market standard called (drum roll)…Adobe’s Flash.

De facto market driven standards are a result of a company’s success.  Any private sector “acceptable ad” or other premium unit is a product of that company. And that is OK too, but it is not an industry standard.

Was their argument about user experience valid, even if shallow optically?  Yes.

While the debate over intermediaries disrupting the supply chain in the name of efficiency and the end consumer will always exist, and the market will address those in positive and negative ways, we, as publishers, did abuse end user’s experience.  Any publisher’s technical team looking at delivery metrics and user experience data knew this. I did running a division of technology for 70m unique users, 20K HTML templates, on 800 digital products.  This was reflected in “We Messed Up” and announcing the LEAN principles.

The IAB Tech Lab staff, well before LEAN was announced, discussed how to build user experience into every technical working group. Publishers started to have these conversations as well. The LEAN acronym was a reflection of everything we were already just beginning to redo and work to make better.

Publishers should continue to focus on LEAN, support the algorithm the IAB Tech Lab is building, but also practice DEAL.  These solutions work, but unless a publisher is testing its elasticity of consumer tolerance with direct engagement the publisher will have fewer customers and clearly less monetization opportunities.  Many vendors are now offering a suite of solutions to engage users, making choice a sign of respect including LEANer ad products in the DEAL.

A trade press reporter asked me if it was OK if ABP, or anti-ad blocking vendors, used the LEAN principles or ads in the future as opposed to “acceptable ads”. My response was anyone can use open standards. That’s the point of “open” and the market will decide if their business is “acceptable”.

~ SC