According to Business Insider, ad blocking is now “approaching 200 million.”

Calling it a boycott is my wife’s idea. I say she’s right. Look at the definitions:

Merriam-Webster: “to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (as a person, store, or organization) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions.”

Wikipedia: “an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for social or political reasons. Sometimes, it can be a form of consumer activism.”

Free Dictionary: “To abstain from or act together in abstaining from using, buying, dealing with, or participating in as an expression of protest or disfavor or as a means ofcoercion.”

Close enough.

Ad blocking didn’t happen in a vacuum. It had causes. We start to see those when we look at how interest hockey-sticked in 2012. That was when ad-supported commercial websites, en masse, declined to respect Do Not Track messages from users:


As we see, interest in Do Not Track fell, while interest in ad blocking rose. (As did ad blocking itself.)

Leading up to this, from 2007 to 2011, advertisers and publishers cranked up tracking-fed advertising, aka adtech. One of the most annoying adtech practices is retargeting, which tracks you from site to site, serving you the same ads, over and over again. As retargeting started to rise, so did searches for “how to block ads”:

block-retargetubg(Original source: Don Marti)

Now check out nine other pieces of adtech arcana, none of which were in use before 2007:


other4trendsNow here’s adblock war, by itself:


Google says data for September, at the right edge of that last chart, is partial. Given the media coverage going to adblock + war (and Apple’s support for “Content Blocking” in IOS 9), betcha it’ll go a lot higher when the month is complete.

If we look at this war through the lens of GandhiCon

  1. First they ignore you.
  2. Then they laugh at you.
  3. Then they fight you.
  4. Then you win.

…we’re at GandhiCon 3.

It is typical of business, even on the Internet (where everybody has power, and not just the big institutions), to think that ad blocking is a problem that affects only them, and that it’s up to them to fix it. (A new example: Secret Media.)

Actually, it’s up to us. Because we’ll win. Then we’ll find ourselves saying again what Cluetrain first said for us sixteen years ago:

we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

Deal is the operative verb here. Publishers and companies that advertise have power too, and we need to engage it, not just fight it. (In his speech at the UN today, President Obama had a good one-liner that applies here: “We all have a stake in each other’s success.”)

I describe one path toward engagement in A Way to Peace in the Adblock War, over on the ProjectVRM blog:

The only way engagement will work is through tools that are ours, and we control: tools that give us scale — like a handshake gives us scale. What engages us with the Washington Post should also engage us with Verge and Huffpo. What engages us with Mercedes should also engage us with a Ford dealer or a shoe store.

That path leads to a pair of related outcomes.

One is that ad blockers will evolve to valving systems for accepting advertising’s wheat while rejecting its chaff. (I explain the difference in the first post in this series. Also, sez AdExchanger, 71% of Ad-Block Users Would Consider Whitelisting Sites That Don’t Suck.)

The other is that we’ll help marketers think past abuse and coercion as ways to get what they want out of customers. After that happens, they’ll realize that —

  1. Free customers are more valuable than captive ones
  2. Genuine relationships are worth more than coerced ones
  3. Volunteered (and truly relevant) personal data is worth more than the kind that is involuntarily fracked
  4. Expressions of real intent by customers are worth more than guesswork fed by fracked data

And we’ll prove it to them. Because we’ll have the power to do that, whether they like it or not.

I’ll lay out paths to both outcomes in my next post.






trainor-biz-cardThis is about visiting my great-great grandfather, Thomas Trainor, dead since 1876 and reposing in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York. Thomas and a friend bought the Trainor family plot, two graves wide, in 1852. It now lies roughly in the center of what’s called “Old Calvary.”

Today Calvary is the largest cemetery in the country, with more than three million occupants, and familiar to New York drivers as a vast forest of monuments and headstones flanking the intersection of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (I-278) and the Long Island (I-495) Expressway.

Thomas was himself one of seven children. His parents were Thomas (or John) and Hanna (née Hockey) Trainor, said to be of Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland. He was born in 1804 and sailed to Boston at the height of the 1819 typhus epidemic at age 15, accompanied by his uncle, also a Trainor. By one account the uncle died soon after arriving, but by another he lived long enough to marry and widow the old aunt Thomas buried first in the family plot.

There is a gap in the record between the time Thomas arrived as a teen and when he came to own land in New York (around Poughkeepsie), meet Mary Ann, and establish the saddle and carriage-building business described on his business card above. The family home, we know, was at 228 East 122nd Street in Harlem, at a time when most of the city’s roads were still dirt. (Here’s the Streetview today.) His business, at 124 West Broadway, was at the corner of Duane on the east edge of what is now Tribeca. Mary Ann (née McLaughlin), did the carriage interiors, when she not also producing children.

What I found at Calgary, after a long search (having been given bad instructions at first by an otherwise helpful guy at the cemetery office), was this headstone:

trainor-headstoneClearly this is the Trainor plot: Section 1W, Range 6, Plot U. (Nice of some stones to have that engraving. Most don’t.) And I know Margaret Mayer was Thomas’s youngest daughter, known to us kids growing up as Grandma Searls’ “Aunt Mag.” Here she is:

auntmagGrandma Searls was the third of five children, all daughters, of Henry Roman Englert and Catherine “Kitty” Trainor, the fourth of Thomas and Mary Ann’s seven kids. Henry was the head of New York’s Steel and Copperplate Engravers Union, and the family home was in the South Bronx at 742 East 142nd Street. When Kitty died at age 39, Aunt Mag became a second mom to Kitty’s four surviving daughters.

But who was Grace F. Adams? And why are there no dates, or names other than those two, neither of whom died with the Trainor surname?

Some answers came when I got home and looked through the typed records of Catherine Burns, daughter of Florence, Grandma Searls’ younger sister. These were scanned by Catherine’s son Martin (my second cousin), and shared along with many other pictures I’ve put up on the Web.

There I discovered that Grace Adams is the granddaughter of Aunt Mag, who was born in 1855, two years before her mother died, and lived for another 89 years. She married Joseph Mayer in 1881, the year before Grandma Searls (née Ethel F. Englert) was born. (Joseph, who died in 1927, is buried elsewhere at Calgary.) Mag and Joseph’s daughter Frances, born in 1888, married George Shannon. (After Geroge died in 1923, she married John Heslin, who also predeceased her without fathering more children.) Frances and George produced Gertrude Doris Shannon and Grace Shannon. Gertrude, born in 1918, married Thomas Doonan in 1937, and had four kids: Thomas Jr., Margaret, Rosemary and John. They and their descendants are third, fourth and fifth cousins of mine.

But the connection to the headstone is Grace Shannon, born in 1919. She married an Adams (first name unknown), and produced two daughters, Candice and Denise, born respectively in 1953 and 1957. They are third cousins of mine (sharing great-great grandparents). Candice married Joseph Flasch and produced two known children, Joseph and Shannon Marie.

So Grace Shannon is the Grace F. Adams on the headstone. Since died in 1966 at just 45 years old, and the headstone (or monument, in the parlance of the cemetery business) is clearly of relatively recent vintage, I am guessing it was was placed by one or both of Grace F. Adams’ daughters. I am also guessing that they knew this was a Trainor plot, with lots of Trainors in it, but didn’t want to go into the details, especially since some of them are hazy. Hence the names of the two ancestors they knew and cared most about, under the Trainor heading.

I’m saying all this in hope that one or more of them will find this post and fill us in.

What the only headstone at the Trainor plot understates is that bodies of nine family members (and perhaps one other) are stacked in just two graves:

all-the-trainor-deadTheir order of burial also recalls a series of tragedies. First in the ground was an elderly aunt, the widow of the uncle who came over with Thomas from Ireland. Next was Thomas’s wife, Mary Ann, age 36. Then went three of their seven children: 1 year old Thomas Jr., 16 year old Charles, and then 31 year old Hannah Crowley. Not included is an infant daughter, Ella, buried elsewhere.

The story of Charles is family legend, but accounts differ. They agree that he ran away at 16, twice, to fight in the Civil War. One report says he was killed carrying a flag. Another says he was wounded and died in an army hospital. By that story he was visited by his father after a search made long and difficult by Charles’s decision to register under an assumed name that only he and the Union Army knew. When Thomas found Charles, the boy was almost unrecognizable behind a full red beard. According to that story (the one in which Charles wasn’t killed in battle), the doctors promised Thomas that his boy would be home by Christmas. There seems to be agreement that Charles died on Thanksgiving Day, and arrived home in a box. Grandma Searls (a niece of Charles through his sister Catherine) said Charles arrived home on Christmas Day.

All family accounts agree that Charles was planted in the Trainor plot at Calvary. The Cemetery records do not agree. Instead it lists Hannah Kennedy as an occupant of the Trainor plot. According to that listing, she was Charles’ age when she died the same year. So there are three possibilities here. The first is that Hannah was a family acquaintance who just happened to die at the same age as Charles and in the same year. The second is that the cemetery made a mistake in recording the burial. The third is that both are buried there, and only Hannah’s burial is recorded. I favor the second possibility because it’s the most plausible. Today we’d call it a data entry error.

When I asked the guy at the Calvary office how burying stacked bodies in a single grave worked in an age when they didn’t use vaults, he said something like, “They just dig down until they find the top of the coffin below. Or they stop when they find remains or what they suspect are remains, and set the next coffin on top.”

What they find, if a coffin is absent, would depend on the soil. In the red-dirt South, where there is a lot of acid in the soil, I am told there tends to be nothing left after a few years but buttons and shoelace grommets. But in other soils, such as in France, where they relocated all the remains in all of Paris’s cemeteries into quarries under the city (now called the catacombs) from the late 1700s to mid 1800s, all the bones stay in perfect shape. (I visited there in ’10. Amazing place.)

When I was in Letterkenny a few years ago, I thought I would try to find some trace of the Trainors who stayed behind. Turns out Trainor is a fairly common name that roughly means laborer, or strong man, in the original Gaelic Thréinfhir. There are also many variants, including Armstrong. So I took my curiosity to the Parochial House across from St. Eunan’s Cathedral in Letterkenny, and was rebuked by one of the priests there. Didn’t I know the Irish Catholic Church was underground in the early 1800s, while all of Ireland was under England’s thumb and enduring one famine and plague after another? In other words, “Don’t bother askin’.”

He did at least point me to a graveyard near Old Town, across the River Swilly. It was in use two centuries ago, when Great-great Grandpa Thomas was growing up there, and might contain some Trainors or Hockeys, he said. When we went by, however, it was raining heavily, and there was a funeral underway — one of the first there in a long time, we were told by one of those attending. So we gave up.

For what it’s worth, I’ve looked a bit into Donegal genealogy records for evidence of Trainors, or Thréinfirs, and found nothing. But the Trainors may not have been from Letterkenny, or Donegal. I’ve heard variously that they were from County Monaghan, or Cork. A search here brings up 85,651 birth records for Thomas Trainor in Monaghan. Seems mighty high, but maybe I’m doing it wrong.

Last year I took my wife on what she called “a really bad idea for a date” (as was the Letterkenny side trip): visiting the graves of other relatives on Grandma’s father’s side:

    1. Christian Englert (my great-great grandfather, same generation as Thomas Trainor), his wife Jacobina (née Rung) Englert, and five others in the next generation, including four who died young (aged 33, 29, 1 and 10 months). Only three of those are marked on the headstone. Here they are in roughly 1869.
    2. Christian’s son, Henry Roman Englert, his wife Kitty Trainor (one of the sibs not buried in Calvary), Henry’s second wife (Teresa Antonelli), and three from the next generation, all of whom died young and are stacked into three graves in one plot below a small wedge-shaped headstone that identifies Henry alone.

I couldn’t find a third grave site, possibly not marked, containing Henry’s brother Andrew and (stacked atop him) a daughter or niece, Annie Englert. This one may not be marked.

Martin tells me that the four Englert sisters and others of their generation would often visit the graves of their mother and siblings, even before their father, Henry, died in 1943. I am sure that none of those graves would have been marked. It also seems strange to me that they (or somebody) only marked Henry’s after he died, without mention of the five others below.

Anyway, I’ve shared documents and pictures of Trainors here, Englerts here, and Dwyers (Martin’s family) here.

All of this inquiry also has me thinking about what cemeteries are for. Clearly the idea of organizing the dead under plaques, stones and monuments is to honor and host those who miss them, or who wish at least to respect them, as I did for all those piled-up Trainors last Saturday.

I suppose the original purpose of burial was to hold the stink down, or to recycle nutrients where the process can’t be seen. (Beats watching vultures and less grand creatures do the job.) Whatever it was, it seems kind of wasteful and obsolete at this point.

Over dinner a few years ago, Kevin Kelly told me that nobody we know, including ourselves, will be remembered in a thousand years — or even a hundred or two. Each of us at most is an Ozymandias, or a Shelley, who wrote his famous sonnett before drowning at 29. Here it is:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

I was the traveler on Saturday. New York was, for that day, my antique land. Around the Trainor graves Calvary seemed boundless, though hardly bare, covered by ranks of headstones, statues and thick granite houses for the above-ground dead: lifeless things, all. Lone it also seemed, since I saw not one other pedestrian (and just one other car) during the hours I wandered there, on a day that could hardly have been more sunny, mild and welcoming.

All of it seemed to certify, as does the hand of Ozymandias’ sculptor, the full depth of departure: that all will be forgotten, and only stone pedestals for absent memories will remain.

The job of the living, I believe, is to leave the world better than we found it. That’s all. Whether we do that job or not, we are still obliged to leave. That’s a lesson I learned from my mother, after she died:

So many times I think about something I’d love to share with Mom or Pop, then remember they’re gone. Often I hear Mom’s voice: firm, instructive and loving as ever. Give to the living, she says. That’s what love is for. Her lesson: Death makes us give love to the living. She was a teacher. Still is.

And so are they all, even if now we know next to nothing about them.


no-ads-trackingHere is a list of pieces I’ve written in the last two months on what has come to be known as the “adblock wars”:

  1. Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff (12 August 2015)
  2. Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech (26 August 2015)
  3. Will content blocking push Apple into advertising’s wheat business? (29 August 2015)
  4. If marketing listened to markets, they’d hear what ad blocking is telling them (8 September 2015)
  5. Debugging adtext assumptions (18 September 2015)
  6. How adtech, not ad blocking, breaks the social contract (23 September 2015)
  7. A way to peace in the adblock war (21 September 2015, on the ProjectVRM blog)
  8. Beyond ad blocking — the biggest boycott in human history (28 Septemper 2015)
  9. Dealing with Boundary Issues (1 October 2015 in Linux Journal)

And here are some posts from the past that dealt with the same issue, before its time.

  1. The Data Bubble (31 July 2010)
  2. After the advertising bubble bursts (23 March 2009)
  3. An olive branch to advertising (12 September 2012, on the ProjectVRM blog)
  4. What could/should advertising look like in 2020, and what do we need to do now for this future? (Wharton’s Future of Advertising project, 13 November 2012)
  5. Earth to Mozilla: Come back home (12 April 2014)
  6. On marketing’s terminal addiction to data fracking and bad guesswork (10 January 2015)
  7. Thoughts on tracking based advertising (18 February 2015)

There are lots more, but those will do for now.


ripping up a contractLet’s reset our thinking to what a user’s expectations are, when operating a browser and interacting with pages and sites.

In my browser, when I visit a page, I am requesting that page. I am not requesting stuff other than that page itself. This is what the hypertext protocol (http) provides.

(Protocols are ritualized manners, like handshakes, bows and smiles. They also scaffold the social contract.)

Likewise, when I visit a site (such as a seller) with a service on the Web, I am not requesting stuff other than what that site presents to me in text and graphics.

So, for example, when I go to, I expect the browser to display that page and its links, and nothing more. And when I go to, I expect the browser to display the index page of the site — and, if I have some kind of relationship with that site, recognition that I’m a returning visitor or customer.

In neither of those cases do I expect tracking files, other than those required to remember state, which was the original purpose of Lou Montouli’s magic cookie, way back in ’94. Now known as just “the cookie,” it is in ubiquitous use today. In  Lou’s detailed history of that creation he writes, “The goal was to create a session identifier and general ‘memory’ mechanism for websites that didn’t allow for cross site tracking.”

Now let’s look at how we read a newspaper or a magazine here in the physical world. This time I’ll use my sister as an example of a typical reader. She’s a retired Commander in the U.S. Navy, and organized in the way she interacts with what we generally call “content.”

When a newspaper arrives, she “field strips” it. If it’s the Sunday paper, she pulls out all the advertising inserts and either throws them away or sets them aside, depending on whether or not they contain coupons that might interest her. Then she strips out sections that don’t interest her. The Travel section might go on one Sunday, the Sports section on another.

Then, when she reads the paper, she ignores most of the ads. One exception might be the magazine section, which tends to contain full-page brand ads by companies like Apple and Toyota. Those she might notice and like at some level. It all depends

My point is that she consciously blocks some ads and allows some others, some of which she pays attention to, but most of which she does not.

This kind of interaction is what the user expects the hypertext protocol (http) and good manners on the part of websites and services will provide. Websites that spy on users outside of their own domains (or use third parties to do the same) break the social contract when they do that. It’s that simple.

Yes, cases can be made for innocent forms of tracking, such as anonymized data gathering for analytics that improve what websites do. But they should be opt-in for users, not opt-out. Alas, that kind of tracking is a baby in the blocking bathwater. (The EFF’s Privacy Badger blocks many of these by default, and provides sliders for degrees of opting in or out of them.)

How did we get from the online world Lou Montouli sought to improve in ’94 and the one we have today? Check the metaphors for what we had and what we’ve lost.

Back in the mid-’90s we called the browser our car on the “information superhighway.” Cars, like clothing and shelter, are privacy technologies. They give us ways of operating in the world that conceal our most private spaces — ones where others are not welcome, except by invititation.

But, thanks to Zuboff’s Laws, our browsers became infected with spyware. Here is what those laws say:

  1. Everything that can be automated will be automated.
  2. Everything that can be informated will be informated.
  3. Every digital application that can be used for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control.

Sure, some of adtech’s surveillance is meant to give us a “better advertising experience” or whatever. Buy that’s beside the main point: it breaks the social contract in both the letter and the spirit of hypertext protocol. It gives us what none of us asked for and what most of us don’t want.

A few years ago, we tried to send a message to publishers and advertisers with Do Not Track, but it was fought, mocked and ignored by those to whom it spoke.

Fortunately, browsers support add-ons and extensions, so we took actions that can’t be ignored, by installing ad and tracking blockers. In doing so we acted as free and independent agents, just as we do in the everyday world with our clothing, our shelter and our cars.

What we need next are ways for us to engage constructively with publishers, in alignment with well-understood social contracts long established in the everyday world, and embodied in the hypertext protocol.

Engagement will also give us scale. As I explain in A Way to Peace in the Adblock War,

Some on the advertising side want to engage, and not to fight. In Dear Adblocking community, we need to talk, Chris Pedigo of Digital Content Next recognizes the legitimacy of ad blocking in response to bad acting by his industry, and outlines some good stuff they can do.

But they also need to see that it’s no longer up to just them. It’s up to us: the individual targets of advertising.

The only way engagement will work is through tools that are ours, and we control: tools that give us scale — like a handshake gives us scale. What engages us with the Washington Post should also engage us with Verge and Huffpo. What engages us with Mercedes should also engage us with a Ford dealer or a shoe store.

If we leave fixing things up to publishers and the adtech industry, all of us will be given different prosthetic hands, each of which will interact in different ways that are not of our choosing and give us no scale. In fact that is what we already get with the DAA’s Ad Choices and Ghostery’s massive opt-out list. We see how well that worked.

The road to personal independence and engagement scale is a long one.

In The Cluetrain Manifesto, we said,

we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

Except in 1999, when we wrote that, we didn’t yet have the reach. We just knew we would, sooner or later, as a native entitlement of the Net.

In The Data Bubble, I said,

The tide turned today. Mark it: 31 July 2010.

That’s when The Wall Street Journal published The Web’s Gold Mine: Your Secrets, subtitled A Journal investigation finds that one of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet is the business of spying on consumers. First in a series. It has ten links to other sections of today’s report.

In fact it the tide didn’t turn, because we didn’t yet have the tools to turn it. The Journal’s series, titled “What They Know,” is still at The last entry is in 2013. They should fire it up again.

Because now, in late 2015, we have the first of those tools, with ad and tracking blockers.

But we have to do better. And by “we” I mean us human beings — and the developers working on our side for the good of everybody.

Note: This is the sixth post in a series covering online advertising, starting on 12 August. Here are the first five:

  1. Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff
  2. Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech
  3. Will content blocking push Apple into advertising’s wheat business?
  4. If marketing listened to markets, they’d hear what ad blocking is telling them
  5. Debugging adtext assumptions


One of the things that fascinates me about Prague are the skewers atop the spires of its many iconic buildings, each of which pierces a shiny ball. It’s a great look.

I am sure there’s a reason for those things, other than the look itself.

I am also sure there is a word for the ball. The skewer too.

I know it’s not spire, because that labels any conical or tapered point on the roof of a building. Prague is said to be the city of a hundred, or a thousand, spires. Most of those have these balls too, and I’ve become obsessed, while I’m here, with finding out what the hell they’re called.

I’m sure more than a few people out there on the lazyweb know. So tell me.

Thank you.


This is the fifth installment in a series of posts about advertising on the Net. Here are the first four:

  1. Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff
  2. Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech
  3. Will content blocking push Apple into advertising’s wheat business?
  4. If marketing listened to markets, they’d hear what ad blocking is telling them

This time I’m responding to assertions made in a pair of pro-adtech pieces: Advertiser’s Mandate In The Age Of Ad Blocking: Blend In, by Pat LaPointe in MediaPost; and Welcome to hell: Apple vs Google vs Facebook and the slow death of the web, by Nilay Patel in The Verge.

First, Pat LaPointe—

Consumers are increasingly constructing their own digital “content cocoons.”

“Cocoon” is a vivid metaphor, and makes sense from the adtech point of view. It also doesn’t position self-protecting people and their tech as enemies that need to be fought, which is good. But it’s not what people think they are doing when they control their lives, online or off. So let’s be clear here. People only want two things when they block ads and tracking:

  1. Freedom from annoyance, and
  2. Privacy.

In the physical world they get those from the technologies we call clothing and shelter. There are no equivalents yet online. But ad and tracking blocking point in a civilized direction. More about this under the next item.

From their Facebook network to apps for their favorite stores, consumers exert more control over the content and messages they are exposed to than any time in history.

First, we aren’t just “consumers,” which Jerry Michalski calls “gullets with wallets and eyeballs.” Nearly everything that makes us human is not reducible to an appetite for “content.” And our gullets (which yes, we do have) are gagging on advertising we already hated and are being forced by adtech to hate even more.

Second, people don’t exert control over content and messages with their “Facebook network” (whatever that is) or their “favorite stores” (which, even if they have them, are little more than one app among many on their phones). They exert control with technologies that are theirs, even if they only rent them — and that control is indeed increasing. Here’s how:

In the physical world we exert control our ourselves and our interactions with others through many technologies for both selective disclosure (clothing, shelter) and engagement (wallets, purses, cars).

In the online world the equivalent to these are browsers, email clients, computers, mobile devices and the apps that run on them. The fact that all those things are infected with spyware and controlled to a high degree by giant companies (notably Apple and Google) does not mean they are not under personal control. It means they are compromised. This is why people want to cure the infections in their mobile devices and increase their control.

What we want most as free and independent human beings is agency: the ability to act with full effect. We know what this feels like in the physical world, and we are learning what this feels like in the virtual one, starting with ad and tracking blocking, which adds a higher degree of privacy to our browsers . (Apple is also on this case as well, by the way. Read more here.)

Now consumers are curating their advertising experiences, as well with ad blocking.

“Curating” is a strange word for what ad blocking does, which is actually prophylaxis.

As a result, there is a battle between advertisers that try desperately to get their message in front of the right consumers, and the consumers who work hard to not be exposed to things they’re not interested in.

That’s half-right. The battle is definitely going on, but what people are mostly not interested in — and hate at this point — are advertising and spying.

Apple will offer an ad blocker in its newest OS.

Actually, it’s called Content Blocking, and it’s only for supporting developments of apps that add selective forms of blocking to the Safari browser on iOS 9. Still, it’s one form of chemo for the cancer of adtech. (Bonus link on 18 September. Evidence of what I said here.)

Ad blocking will hardly kill advertising; it’s what drives the Internet.

Two errors here:

First, ad blocking doesn’t kill advertising. It does for advertising what bug repellent does for bugs.

Second, nothing “drives” the Net, which is an agreement among network operators about how data gets passed between end points. True, at this moment in time there are a lot of ad-supported sites on the Web, but that’s neither the Net nor any more permanent than a sand dune.

Yet, it is a growing threat to the way marketers have traditionally approached marketing – to push mass messages out through standard channels and hope that the right audience is exposed to enough to drive revenue.


The rise in ad blocking is a sign that advertisers need to re-engineer their dialogue with consumers to be a relevant part of consumers’ “content cocoons.”

Almost none of the dialogue between companies and customers is conducted within advertising, which has been engineered from the start as a one-way thing. Even direct response marketing, the direct ancestor of adtech, was never about “dialogue.” That job belonged to other corporate functions, especially sales and service.

Consumers Assume You Know What They Want.

No they don’t. They assume you know shit, want to spy on them, and tospam them with ads that are unwanted 100% of the time, irrelevant 99.x% of the time, and creepy the .x% of the time they’re on target.

Consumers have been leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs online for years — from searches and shopping info to social media comments to survey responses.

True. But that is not an invitation to spy on them, or to intrude into their lives with presumptuous and unwelcome messages.

I also suspect that much of what adtech sees as a crumb trail is really what they harvest by surveillance tech.

Many marketers have collected the information, but have done a less-than-stellar job of putting the picture together.

“Collected” makes it sound like marketers just follow people around the digital world, collecting leftover debris (which they do), rather than spying on them constantly with tracking files, beacons and other invasive tech that no person asked for and few welcome.

As for “less than stellar,” yeah.

With the rise of content cocoons, it is vital that marketers work to assemble better pictures of their consumers…

Do customers want marketers to have “better pictures” of them? Really? Most customers want the companies that serve them to have the information necessary for that service, but not much if anything more.

(An aside: most marketers are not involved in adtech and have a respectful regard for people and what they want out of relationships with the companies that serve them. I’m debating here with the breed of marketers whose main interest is tracking people and personalizing advertising for them, whether they like it or not.)

…or risk losing consumer contact completely.

This is delusional marketing vanity.

There are a zillion ways for a company to connect with customers, starting with sales and service people and systems. If marketing loses “contact” based on spying, it’s little if any loss (and mostly a relief) for the individuals being spied on, and possibly no loss at all for the company doing the marketing, given better ways to actually connect with customers.

As consumers exert more control over their digital experiences, they actually expect relevance, particularly on mobile.

No they don’t. At least not from advertising, which is irrelevant or off-base most of the time.

We also got along fine without advertising on phones from 1876 to 2008, and as we get more control over our mobile devices, expect advertising to be the first thing we’ll wipe off them.

This means doing more than simply retargeting shopping or search behaviors. As consumers continue to wield more control over their experiences, the imperative to meet their expectations rises considerably.

It is insane (meaning disconnected from reality) to assume that more than a small minority of people will want ads of any kind of their phones, much less more relevant ones.

Even Google Maps’ ads in the results of a search for “coffee shops” are rarely more helpful than the tiny red dots that mean “look at this one too.”

Consumers expect that marketers are up to date. (e.g. don’t market that shirt to me, I just bought it!)

No they don’t. They expect to see retargeted ads for what they just bought, up to months or years after they bought it. Unless they use an ad or tracking blocker.

Consumers expect that marketers know why they are behaving in a certain way. (e.g. I bought a Honda because it is reliable, not because it’s cool.)

No, they expect marketers to know nothing other than how to push crap at them constantly, based on scant, inaccurate, irrelevant and abundant data that’s harvested by unwelcome surveillance.

Consumers expect that marketers know who they are intrinsically. (e.g. I am interested in innovative and unique electronics, not deals on last-years’ models.

No, they expect marketers to want to know all kinds of crap about people, by every means possible, regardless of the manners (or even the legality) involved, and to assume what Nixon’s team of creeps (way back when) called “plausible deniability” when asked if they know a person’s actual identity.

How can marketers meet these demands?

Demands? Please.

By understanding what drives a consumer to create their content cocoon…

It’s simple. They want you to go away. Please. Go away.

…and blending in.

You mean camouflage? When hiding already isn’t working?

First, marketers need to take a more deliberate targeted approach.

Or maybe a less targeted one. See Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.

Ad blocking happens both because of irrelevant generic messages but also because of creepy or badly targeted messages.

No, it happens because millions of people don’t like being tracked and targeted — or any advertising at all.

Marketers that go the extra mile will find a few distinct audiences more likely to find the message relevant, and may decide to leave one or more groups out rather than risk alienating them.

Maybe. Good luck with that.

For this shift to happen, the metrics of success have to change from generating “impressions” to building “engagement” in the form of access, sharing, or exploration.

Actually, generated impressions have built brands from the beginning. Heard of Coke? McDonalds? Kodak? (Well, at least the branding worked.) The thing is, those impressions did not carry the burden of “engagement,” and that was their charm. They just impressed viewers, listeners and readers. Simple, and effective.

You want engagement? Try doing brand ads that are so good they go viral and the market talks to itself about them without additional help from marketing dweebs. Example: Volkswagen of America’s TV ads with the old ladies.

Marketers can look at how much consumers opt in, use apps, read email, shop, or how they search for key topics.

This is the sound of marketing smoking its own exhaust.

People don’t want to be looked at, unless they have a damn good reason to trust who or what is looking.

Next, marketers need to match their tempo to a consumer’s activity levels.

This tells me something is for sale. Being a curious type, I see Pat LaPointe is the Chief Growth Officer for Resonate, which “makes marketing more relevant by uncovering why people do what they do.” I’d rather stay covered, thank you. So would everybody else who would like to block whatever it is Resonate does to uncover them.

Consumers don’t care if email, advertising or mobile coupons came from three different divisions of a company, they see it as one brand conversation.

Wrong. If people have a real relationship with a company, they want it to be with sales or service. That’s it.

For example, I have a great relationship with the service department of East Coast Volkswagen in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. I’m on a first-name basis with the guys there, who know their shit and have earned my trust and affection by treating us honestly and well. I’ve also seen and received the dealership’s marketing materials, and couldn’t care less about them. What matters is who I get on the phone when I need them, and how I’m treated. That’s it, for approximately everybody who owns a car.

If companies took half of what they’re wasting on adtech and put it into service improvements, they would have better (and more real) conversations with customers, and earn genuine loyalty, rather than the coercive kind that comprises every “loyalty program.” (If you need a program to obtain loyalty, you’re not eligible for the real thing.)

Finally, marketers must treat each message as if it’s part of a consumer’s own curated online persona.

More smoked exhaust.

Who wants any company’s message to be part of their “curated online persona,” whatever that is?”

Marketers must improve their ability to interpret the breadcrumbs that consumers leave online to build the right picture of each consumer because the consequences of alienation are so much higher than before.

What’s causing that alienation? Hmm?

And how about giving us back the “crumbs” you’ve collected from us? Betcha we can do more with it than you can. (We did with computing, networking, and much else.)

Every layer of the cocoon makes it harder and more expensive for marketers to break-thru to engage the consumer.

That’s not a cocoon. It’s my house. Stay out of it.

Now Nilay Patel—

So let’s talk about ad blocking.

Yes, let’s.

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.

Pure misdirection: Don’t look at what people are doing to control their experience of the Web; look over here at what the big bad companies are doing.

And yes, what they’re doing is interesting. But ad blocking is what a large and growing percentage of individual human beings are doing to repel intrusive files and a Niagara of ads.

Unfortunately, the ads pay for all that content…

A lot, but not all. There are plenty of publishers and broadcasters that get along fine without advertising. HBO, Netflix, Consumer Reports and this blog, for example.

…an uneasy compromise between the real cost of media production and the prices consumers are willing to pay…

Stop. The commercial Internet is just 20 years old (dating from the end of NSFNet, the last holdout against commercial traffic within the Internet). We’ve hardly begun to experiment with all the different ways things can be funded, and ways people can signal their willingness to pay. And as long as only the sell side can do the signaling, the best we’ll get from the buy side is crude means of saying “Nyah,” such as ad blocking.

…that has existed since the first human scratched the first antelope on a wall somewhere.

Hyperbole. Advertising by that name has only been around since the 19th Century. The term “brand” has only been around since the ’30s, when Madison Avenue first became advertising’s metonym. Direct response marketing, of which tracking-based adtech is a breed, is much younger, and descended from direct mail, first called “junk mail” in 1954.

Alas, direct response marketing, which is entirely data driven and wants to get personal at nearly all times, has body-snatched Madison Avenue and the rest of advertising, so distinctions between the creepy kind based on tracking and the non-creepy kind (which just wants to be seen or heard) is all but lost. (I expand on the difference in Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff.) Thus adblocking kills both rather than just the most objectionable kind.

Media has always compromised user experience for advertising…

If we had to stick with “always,” we wouldn’t have the Net. Why do things only the old way?

And speaking of the Net, here we have the first medium where individuals have serious power and control. And they are exerting it, finally, with ad and tracking blockers, which send a clear signal — one that media like The Verge should heed.

… that’s why magazine stories are abruptly continued on page 96, and why 30-minute sitcoms are really just 22 minutes long.

Those ads were (and still are) real ads. Readers and viewers knew where they came from and what they were doing there. They also weren’t personal, or based on surveillance. On pubs such as The Verge, it’s not clear with any ad whether or not it’s based on tracking the reader, or why, exactly, why any ad is where it is, or what mechanisms placed it there. (In fact, it’s a good bet most ads on The Verge are based on surveillance, as we’ll see below.)

It’s essential to remember the differences between advertising online and off. Ari Rosenberg does a good job of that in Why Does Randall Rothenberg Still Have a Job?. A sample:

Ad blocking is not a universal media problem — it’s an online advertising problem. TV viewers give television ads a shot — just ask Geico, IBM and Direct TV. Moviegoers don’t sit outside a theater when ads are playing. Magazine readers don’t turn away from ads when they turn the page. Even radio ads get a listen. Ad blocking is an online advertising problem we created — and one we deserve.

A successful publishing formula has a pecking order. Consumer needs are paramount to those of the advertiser. When this relationship is constructed that way, consumers accept advertising as part of this arranged marriage. Instead, the IAB has promoted and supported ad policies that put advertisers on a pedestal and the needs of consumers in the servants’ quarters. Blocking ads is the consumer’s way of asking for a divorce.

Those are points @AdContrarian and @DMarti have been making for years. Good to see it coming from the inside of adtech. (I just wish Ari hadn’t wrapped his points inside a slam on IAB chief Randall Rothenberg. Randall has been in at least some degree of sympathy with what I’ve been saying here, for years, which is why he invited and paid me, twice, to give talks to IAB conferences. I didn’t pull any punches at either of them, but I also made no difference. Adtech is a mania, and you can’t talk a mania down. You just have to let it fail.)

Media companies put advertising in the path of your attention, and those interruptions are a valuable product.

To them. On rare occasions (fractions of 1% of the time) they are to the consumer as well.

Your attention is a valuable product.

To each of us, for sure. That’s why we care how we spend it. Clearly a lot of us would rather not spend it watching pages slowly load with tracking files and ads based on that tracking.

Speaking of which, check out Les Orchard‘s The Verge’s web sucks. He begins,

So, I’ve been a big fan of The Verge, almost since day one. It’s a gorgeous site and the content is great.

They’ve done some amazing things with longform articles like “What’s the deal with translating Seinfeld” and “Max Headroom: the definitive history of the 1980s digital icon“, and the daily news output is high quality.

But, I have to say, reading Nilay Patel‘s “The Mobile Web Sucks” felt like getting pelted by rocks thrown from a bright, shiny glass house.

And then he uses dev tools to look into what The Verge loads into your browser every time you visit. Simply put, it’s a mountain of spyware. More about that below.

taking money and attention away from the web means that the pace of web innovation will slow to a crawl. Innovation tends to follow the money, after all!

Not always. The Net, the Web, email, Linux, Wikipedia and countless open source code bases (on which we all depend) have come to the world from geeks working for needs other than money.

The rest of Nilay’s piece does a good job of laying out the current and coming battles between Google, Apple, Facebook and others. But if he really wants to talk about ad blocking (as he says at the top of his piece), how about looking at reasons The Verge gives users for using them? For example, here is what Ghostery says loads along with Nilay’s story:

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 5.26.41 PM

Ghostery provides some means for throttling some of those trackers. So do other tools, such as the EFF‘s Privacy Badger. Here’s what happens to the same page on Firefox when I activate Privacy Badger:

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 5.15.26 PM

While Privacy Badger provides ways for me to valve the trackers sent to my browser by The Verge, it would take way more time than I have to figure out what trackers do what, and then play with the sliders until The Verge and I come to some kind of compromise.

Now here’s the main thing.

When we go to a Web page, we expect to see that page. That’s what the http protocol is for: a way to ask for a page. What we get from commercial sites like The Verge, however, is a bunch of other crap we didn’t ask for. Some of it is welcome, some of it isn’t and it’s damn hard to tell the difference.

The conversation we need to have is about what’s okay and what’s not okay. Ad and tracking blockers are giving us — the users (and in paying cases, the customers) — a crude and primitive way to say “Enough! That’s not okay!” And to start asserting some small degree of agency in a world where surveillance rules, and the individual has little control, other than to just walk away.

In Be the friction – Our Response to the New Lords of the Ring, Shoshana Zuboff gives us —

Zuboff’s three laws: First, that everything that can be automated will be automated. Second, that everything that can be informated will be informated. And most important to us now, the third law: In the absence of countervailing restrictions and sanctions, every digital application that can be used for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control, irrespective of its originating intention.

Ad and tracking blocking are countervailing restrictions and sanctions — a friction supplied by the marketplace.

Marketers and publishers can learn from what we’re saying with these tools. Or they can continue to misdirect our attention to what the Big Boys are doing while lecturing us about how we’re “killing the Web” or whatever.

The problem isn’t ad blocking. It’s surveillance. That’s what the real fight is about.

(Parts of this post appeared in my Liveblog, on Fri, Sep 11, 2015.)

Bing’s image search now has a #HowOldRobot that appears when you mouse over an image in the results. Click on it, and you get an age. Here’s one of Catherine Deneuve:

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 1.11.15 PM

Interesting that most of the guesses for her are on the low side. (One, for Catherine as a mature adult, guesses she’s 14.)

Here’s one for Michelle, and one for Carl. (Chose those because they didn’t tend to bring up lots of shots of just one celeb.)

Ones for me tend to guess high. Sucks, but what the hell. If you don’t mind being judged by a machine that’s wrong most of the time, and your image is splattered around online, give it a whack.

And see if you don’t like Bing’s image search better than Google’s.

The big advantage for me is that clicked images open in another tab automatically. But there’s stuff I like in Google’s image search too, such as the “View more” gallery.

I use both, of course. Just wanted to point out this somewhat new Bing Thing.


Here is the current perimeter of the Valley Fire, according to the USGS’ GEOMAC viewer:

ValleyFire 2015-09-13 at 3.10.24 PM_a

As you see, no places are identified there. One in particular, however, is of extremely special interest to me: Harbin Hot Springs. That’s where I met my wife and made more friends than I can count. It is, or was,  one of the most lovely places on Earth, inhabited and lovingly maintained by wonderful people.

I just matched up a section of the map above with Google Maps’ Earth view, and see that Harbin and its neighborhood are in the perimeter:

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 3.12.19 PM

After seeing this picture here, which looks northwest from downtown Middletown…

COyGRRHVAAEwC4w… I suspected the worse.

And now comes news that Harbin is “pretty much destroyed.” Damn.

Other places in the perimeter — or so it appears to me (please don’t take this as gospel):

  • Outer edges of Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake communities
  • Parts of Whispering Pines, Cobb, Holbergs and Glenbrook
  • Areas adjacent to McCreary Lake and Detert Reservoir

Watch here for official information about the fire.


ice-floes-off-greenland(Cross posted from this at Facebook)

In Snow on the Water I wrote about the ‘low threshold of death” for what media folks call “content” — which always seemed to me like another word for packing material. But its common parlance now.

For example, a couple days ago I heard a guy on WEEI, my fave sports station in Boston, yell “Coming up! Twenty-five straight minutes of content!”

Still, it’s all gone like snow on the water, melting at the speed of short term memory decay. Unless it’s in a podcast. And then, even if it’s saved, it’ll still get flushed or 404’d in the fullness of time.

So I think about content death a lot.

Back around the turn of the millennium, John Perry Barlow said “I didn’t start hearing the word ‘content’ until the container business felt threatened.” Same here. But the container business now looks more like plumbing than freight forwarding. Everything flows. But to where?

My Facebook timeline, standing in the vertical, looks like a core sample of glacier ice, drilled back to 1947, the year I showed up. Memory, while it lasts, is of old stuff which in the physical world would rot, dry, disintegrate, vanish or lithify from the bottom up.

But here we are on the Web, which was designed as a way to share documents, not to save them. It presumed a directory structure, inherited from Unix (e.g. domain.something/folder/folder/file.html). Amazingly, it’s still there. Whatever longevity “content” enjoys on the Web is largely owed to that structure, I believe.

But in practice most of what we pile onto the top of the Web is packed into silos such as Facebook. What happens to everything we put there if Facebook goes away? Bear in mind that Facebook isn’t even yet a decade old. It may be huge, but it’s no more permanent than a sand dune. Nothing on the Web is.

Everything on the Web, silo’d or not, flows outward from its sources like icebergs from glaciers, melting at rates of their own.

The one exception to that rule is the Internet Archive, which catches as much as it can of all that flow. Huge thanks to Brewster Kahle and friends for giving us that.

Anyway, just wanted to share some thoughts on digital mortality this morning.

As you were. Or weren’t. Or will be. Or not.

Bonus link: Locking the Web open.

What follows is my comment (the first one!) under Confusion Reigns as Apple Puts the Spotlight on Mobile Ad Blocking, in AdAge. I’ve added some links.

Bury_your_head_in_the_sandMarketers should be looking at what the market wants, and why.

The market is customers, and they are speaking to marketers today by making ad blockers the most popular browser extensions, and by telling survey after survey that they dislike of having their privacy invaded by unwanted tracking (TRUSTe, Pew, Customer Commons) and that they are resigned to a status quo they don’t like (Wharton).

In other words, the “key link between brands and customers” that customers sever with ad blocking isn’t a link at all. It’s a pain in the customer’s ass, or they wouldn’t be severing it.

Apple knows ads and tracking are pains in the customers’ ass, because Apple is a B2C company that speaks every day to customers, on phones and on the floors of its stores. Apple sees there is a clear and obvious demand for Content Blocking, and want to be first to market with it. Serving that demand doesn’t hurt Apple outside of iAd, which accounts for a whopping 0.01% of Apple’s sales. (And what will Content Blocking add to Apple’s device sales? You can bet that Apple is running those numbers.)

Meanwhile marketing doesn’t speak to customers, because marketing lives in a B2B echo chamber where the voice of the customer (hello!) is inaudible or ignored. [Later: Iain Henderson has some excellent push-back on this characterization, plus some helpful guidance, in his comment here.]

Sure, marketers *think* they know what customers want, because they have Big Data and Big Analytics telling them, up to the second, what a customer might want to buy. Three problems with that: 1) there is no direct and conscious two-way interaction with customers; 2) most of the time customers aren’t buying a damn thing; and 3) guesswork based on all that data and analytics is wrong 99.x% of the time, thanks to #1 and #2.

Denying and fighting what customers want is doing huge damage to marketing and advertising, and it will only get worse as long as it continues.

Look at the damage already done to plain old impersonal brand advertising, which customers could appreciate because it wasn’t creepy and obviously helped pay for the magazines, newspapers, radio and TV shows they liked. (And none of which they thought of as “content,” by the way.)

Today we live in a dysfunctional marketing world where advertisers have been taught to want every ad to perform — while customers want every ad, and the tracking that aimed it, blocked. (AdAge should do a research piece on how direct marketing body-snatched advertising from Madison Avenue. If you don’t, your body has been snatched too.)

The only way to fix this is from the customers’ side.

What kind of ads would a customer opt in for? (No, don’t kid yourselves about “Ad Choices.” It’s just another ludicrous conceit that only makes sense in the echo chamber.)

Would customers accept ads that obviously aren’t personal (based on tracking), and clearly pay for the online goods they want and appreciate? Is there still hope for that baby?

Only if we can snatch it from the bathwater that customers’ ad blockers are throwing out.

Can we create standards-based ways for customers to express their friendly intentions regarding tracking, advertising, subscriptions and the rest of it, to marketing systems that can actually listen?

In fact there are developers working on those ways. Here’s one. (Check him out. He’s non-trivial.)

If you’re interested I can show you some more.

« Older entries