Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blocking Advertisements on The Web

Advertisements are annoying! For this reason, many developers have worked to provide advertisement blocking solutions. I am a Firefox user myself, and I would recommend using this browsers because it is awesome. For Firefox users, an addon titled "Adblock Plus" is a popular choice for many users.

Adblock Plus, just like most ad-blocking solutions, rely on creating "filters" (rules) to block advertisements. Any user can create a set of rules to block advertisements. However, for convenience, something called "subscriptions" emerged. Having a subscription means that you rely on other developers to make the rules for blocking advertisements, instead of making those rules yourself. Of course, any user would benefit from using ad-block subscriptions since most users don't want or need to go through the hassle of creating their own rules.

Learning how to make your own rules can come handy since the web is dynamic and websites frequently change, and new advertisement sources come and go. Subscription lists obviously do get updates, and Adblock Plus automatically updates your lists. Popular subscription lists developers have made a great job of blocking most advertisements, so it would be a very few occasions where you will actually see an advertisement. Blocking an advertisement that is missed is usually as simple as right-clicking the image and clicking "Block Image".

Subscriptions usually have specific coverage and specific purpose. Coverage is usually dependent on language. So, you will have subscriptions targeting English websites, others targeting Dutch, French, or Arabic websites. The purpose is usually dependent on the type of things being blocked. Mostly the target is advertisements both visual and textual. Other subscriptions target what is called "web-bugs" which are used to track users. And finally, some target annoyances like "Share this" and "Follow on Facebook" links.

Personally, there are three subscriptions that I use (all of which are specifically made for English language websites):
  • EasyList: Blocks advertisements. It is the most popular one, with "Fanboy Adblock List" as an equally competent alternative.
  • EasyPrivacy: Block web-bugs and tracking elements. It is the most popular one, with "Fanboy Tracking List" as an equally competent alternative.
  • Fanboy Annoyance Block List: Blocks web annoyances that are not related to advertisements or privacy. Unfortunately, the EasyList group does not provide any alternative for this purpose. This list is not recommended for everyone, since it might block too much for some people's tastes.
When choosing subscriptions three rules of thumb should be followed:
  1. Try as much as possible to not have subscriptions that overlap in purpose and coverage. Some people might think that having two subscriptions to blocking advertisements is a good idea, so they might choose to subscribe to both EasyList and Fanboy's List. That is not a good idea.
  2. Try as much as possible to stick with one group. So, if you choose EasyList to block ads, go for EasyPrivacy to block web bugs. Similarly, if you choose Fanboy Adblock List, go for Fanboy Tracking List.
  3. Keep your ad-block subscriptions number to minimum. Same as the first rule, it is not the case that the more the merrier. So, for example, don't subscribe to a Dutch list if you don't regularly visit Dutch websites, stick to what you really need. That's why they make separate subscription lists, to avoid having too many filters that you don't need, which might hurt the performance of your browser after a certain limit.

Chrome also has Adblock Plus for it. It is not as good as it's Firefox counter part, but works well nonetheless. There is lots of effort being made to improve it and make it quite on par with the Firefox version of this addon. Opera users can also benefit from an ad-blocking addon called "Opera Adblock".

Finally, we come to Internet Explorer 9. I have recently learned that IE9 comes with built-in ad-blocking feature. There have been third-party ad-blocking solutions for older version of IE, but they were incompetent. Most of them did not even have the option to choose a subscription of your choice, but rather came with their own lists, which were not as good as those lists available for Adblock Plus. But now things have changed. However, the ad-block solution provided by Microsoft is not as good as that for Firefox or even Chrome. But at least now there is support to participate in decent subscriptions like EasyList or Fanboy's List.

At this moment, EasyList support for IE9 ad-blocking feature is unofficial, for this reason, I recommend Fanboy's List since they officially support IE9. Simply, go to the link provided, and click "Add TPL". TPL stands for Tracking Protection List, which is the name of the ad-block feature in IE9. A dialog should come up asking you to confirm your decision to add that particular subscription.

Going back to Firefox, for those serious about making webpages look as closely as possible to what they care for, without all the extra things that are distracting, check also Element Hiding Helper which makes it easy to create your own filters when something is not being blocked by a subscription that you want to be blocked. This addon is not for complete novices, it is better used by someone with ability to go through the options and fix things if they accidentally screw things up. The most common problem you might face (occasionally, not that often at all) is to block "too much", which can be easily remedied by removing the last filter created.

As a final note, which has nothing to do ad-blocking, for YouTube users I recommend a Firefox addon called Greasemonkey along with a very popular script that showcases why Greasemonkey is such a great addon, called YousableTubeFix. That script is also available for Chrome and Opera (without the need for Greasemonkey or similar addons). Highly recommended. Make sure you test the different options for this script from the Greasemonkey menu (you have to be on YouTube website to configure the script).

1 comment:

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