Ad wars a-comin’

Freethoughtblogs is a small content provider on the web: we openly and unabashedly serve a tiny niche of the available market (if you think atheism in general is a big thing, you need to get some perspective. Religious sects get a bigger slice of the pie, and heck, automotive makers are YUUUUUGE. There are many niches that totally dwarf us). And yet even us little people have infrastructure needs — gone are the days when I could just plug in some CMS widgets on my lab computer and have my site run in the background. We had to buy a dedicated server and have it hosted, with monthly fees, and with a tech person who has to keep it all running reliably, deal with those DOS attacks, etc. It all costs money, real cash.

So we’re dependent on some kind of revenue stream, and that comes from…ads. I hate the ads. You hate the ads. I would love to have some alternative means of covering our maintenance costs, but I haven’t seen a good strategy yet. I suppose we could go the route of public broadcasting, and yell at you every month to pledge to your local freethought blog network, but I think that would be about as unpleasant as the ads, and would also require us to work at fundraising. Most of us aren’t here for the money, you know, and playing pitchman is deeply uninteresting.

So this story fills me with trepidation: the big guns — Apple, Google, and Facebook — are warring over ads and adblocking, and guess who’ll be collateral damage?

But 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! And asking most small- to medium-sized sites to weather that change without dramatic consequences is utterly foolish. Just look at the number of small sites that have shut down this year: GigaOm. The Dissolve. Casey Johnston wrote a great piece for The Awl about ad blockers, in which The Awl’s publisher noted that “seventy-five to eighty-five percent” of the site’s ads could be blocked. What happens to a small company when you take away 75 to 85 percent of its revenue opportunities in the name of user experience? Who’s going to make all that content we love so much, and what will it look like if it only makes money on proprietary platforms?

There are other things that aren’t discussed. Google is the master dominator of ads on the web — most of our ads are served up by Google. And Google isn’t the benign impartial deliverer of ad content that you might think. They have RULES. Show a hint of nudity in a photo on one of our pages, and someone can report it (we have no shortage of assholes looking to report such things) and Google will just shut down ads for our entire network. We’ve had long weeks with zero revenue because of bullshit like that.

Further, ad providers are not well-behaved. There is a constant competition for the people providing us with ads to inject sneaky code — it’s not enough to display your wares decorously in the space provided. They have to pop up, or pop under, or slide onto the screen, or switch on autoplay video so some shill can babble at you, and we all fucking hate that, and we turn on our adblockers. People come to a web site for the content, and if some goddamn cable company uses that as an excuse to dominate the screen with a dancing floating singing window, it defeats the purpose of going to the site. This whole ad-blocking conflict is an example of the tragedy of commons.

And we’re mostly helpless. We sign a contract, we dedicate a chunk of our page real estate to the ads, and our ad host gives us a little piece of code that fetches ads from some servers somewhere else, and we willingly place that parasitic sucker on our site, for the money. The money that we need to have a site at all.

The near future isn’t going to be fun.


  1. Jake Harban says

    I’m not at all technical, but how hard would it be to devise an ad blocker that contacts the ad server but never displays the ad it serves up? That way, pages look nice and clean and ad-free but the ad network still registers a “hit” and so the site still gets its revenue.

  2. OptimalCynic says

    “Show a hint of nudity in a photo on one of our pages, and someone can report it”

    Thank you, American prudery.

  3. numerobis says

    PZ: you might want to link to your mechanism for getting the site ad-free by just paying you guys directly!

  4. Ryan Cunningham says

    Further, ad providers are not well-behaved. There is a constant competition for the people providing us with ads to inject sneaky code — it’s not enough to display your wares decorously in the space provided. They have to pop up, or pop under, or slide onto the screen, or switch on autoplay video so some shill can babble at you, and we all fucking hate that, and we turn on our adblockers.

    You forgot “open the fucking god damn son of a bitch app store on iOS,” which happens on FTB regularly. Browsing this very blog regularly on iOS is why I totally understood why Apple is allowing content blocking. I’m convinced advertisers won’t be satisfied until they can go full Clockwork Orange on viewers.

  5. sqlrob says

    @Jake Harban:

    That’s already an option in most, if not all, of the ad blockers.

    From a practical point of view, that may not do as much as you think, since you don’t want to run javascript from the ad servers, but the running is what may register the hit.

  6. barbaz says

    The problem for me aren’t the ads, it’s the privacy.

    I use the Ghostery plugin, which blocks all requests to websites that have no business knowing which sites I frequent, and effectively works as an ad-blocker. For example, if you use Google and Facebook ads on your site, just like everyone does, Google and Facebook know exactly which sites I am visiting. They can create a full profile of my interests even if I never deliberately used any of their services.

    I just allowed ad-related content on FTB and Ghostery tells me that over 60 (!) external sites have been notified that I am reading currently pharyngula.

    I’ll leave ads on because I want to support FTB, but I don’t find that situation acceptable.

  7. themadtapper says

    I’m not at all technical, but how hard would it be to devise an ad blocker that contacts the ad server but never displays the ad it serves up? That way, pages look nice and clean and ad-free but the ad network still registers a “hit” and so the site still gets its revenue.

    Conceivable, but I’d imagine if a big player discovered someone doing that they’d probably bring out the lawyers and accuse the plugin maker of fraud (or worse accuse the site host of fraud). Not saying they’d win, I honestly don’t know if they’d have a leg to stand on, but it would be expensive to fight them. They’d sue just to try to shut it down with legal costs even without an actual case.

    As to how that could be done in the first place though, I doubt a plugin alone would suffice. Would probably take an addition to the browser’s base functionality. I’m picturing a scenario where the browser parses and reconstructs the page’s code before displaying it, and effectively quarantines the ads’ i-frames into a second, invisible browser window that the user never sees even though it exists in memory. That way the computer is technically hitting the ad, but the user never sees or hears anything.

  8. Dunc says

    This is the ugly secret of the web: most of it has no business model. It’s mostly running on some combination of hope and hype, and ultimately has no future – at least, not as long as money remains the be-all and end-all. Eventually, I expect even the bulk of the advertising money will dry up, as returns become increasingly marginal.

    I run an ad blocker, but I’m willing to pay to subscribe to sites that are actually worth it (FTB is one such). In the end, that’s going to be the only way most sites will survive. Any that can’t manage that transition will simply die.

  9. sqlrob says


    I don’t think so (IANAL). The way the HTML standard is defined, it’s completely up to the client how they want to display the content. Don’t like the HTML standard? Well, don’t use HTML (e.g. Flash / Silverlight)

    Now, hitting the ad server repeatedly with a script, yeah, that’s probably fraud.

  10. Dunc says

    As to how that could be done in the first place though, I doubt a plugin alone would suffice. Would probably take an addition to the browser’s base functionality. I’m picturing a scenario where the browser parses and reconstructs the page’s code before displaying it, and effectively quarantines the ads’ i-frames into a second, invisible browser window that the user never sees even though it exists in memory. That way the computer is technically hitting the ad, but the user never sees or hears anything.

    Nonsense. You’d just use any of the readily-available AJAX frameworks to make the HTTP request, but don’t do anything with the response. That bit’s actually far easier than identifying what you want to block in the first place.

  11. says

    PZ, you could do a FTB-wide Patreon, and set a milestone goal that triggers turning off the ads. One of the people I contribute to has a total patronage of $4500/month, with 351 patrons. Seriously, it’s a thing these days.

  12. barbaz says

    Unless that has been decided in court, I wouldn’t trust that you’re allowed to render HTML however you want.

    @PZ, do you know if FTB gets paid per ad view or per ad click?

    Also, I enabled some more ad providers, and it’s now up to 73.

  13. Peter Landers says

    I too run Ghostery; it’s telling me right now that it’s blocking 13 different trackers on this particular page. Without it on, this is one of the only places I visit regularly that serves popup ads, tech support scams, ads that hijack and redirect the page I’m actually trying to look at, and so on. So at least one of your contracted ad providers is not a Good Guy.

    I understand the dilemma for a small operation like this, but it’s a matter of evaluating the partners you use and rejecting them if they abuse your readers. I happily whitelist sites I use frequently that keep the trackers under control, because I *want* the sites I enjoy to be able to support themselves.

    Incidentally, I was previously a ‘no ads’ subscriber and intend to sign up again soon, now that I’ve got some extra money around for that kind of thing. But the site is also very bad for logging me out of my account and thus going back to heavy ad mode. This despite my having checked the ‘keep me signed in’ option.

  14. Peter Landers says

    As to the fraud thing with ‘pretending’ to show ads but not actually doing so: pretty sure that kind of thing will be specifically ruled out by the contracts FTB has to enter into with the various ad/tracker networks. Say what we will about those companies, they’re not idiots…

  15. Dunc says

    I wouldn’t trust that you’re allowed to render HTML however you want.

    There are text-only browsers out there. There are speech browsers. There are probably braille browsers… There is absolutely no contractual arrangement between the content provider and the end-user. What possible legal or contractual restriction could there be on how you render HTML? If I want to write a browser that just displays the raw mark-up, nobody can stop me.

  16. says

    barbaz, I’m assuming FtB gets revenue both from clicks and from just views. I run Google provided ads on my blog, and once a month or so I’ll get one cent of revenue if I have enough visitors on a certain day. I doubt anyone is buying ads from Google for one cent a click, much as they’d like to.

  17. barbaz says

    They can’t stop you, but they can sue afterwards. And if a judge/jury agrees with them, you might have a problem.

    If you are building a browser that uses a special representation technique, eg text-only or speech, and ads cannot be rendered in that context, that may be ok. If you are deliberately faking ad views, that’s fraud.

    You might as well argue that you’re just sending 0s and 1s over the wire, and how is it your fault if the other party’s server breaks or reveals confidential data in return. It’s not that simple.

  18. themadtapper says

    @barbaz: sue for what? Can the TV network can sue you for leaving the room during ad breaks?

    Ad companies pay out per hit. If someone is faking hits (or generating hits in a way that doesn’t actually show the ad), then the company is paying out for something that is not being delivered (site hits from consumers). They would try to argue, possibly successfully, that either the plugin creator, plugin user, or site host is committing fraud by generating false hits to the ad servers. Whether or not that would hold up in court is another matter (if the site host was doing it knowingly, i guarantee you it would, end users is a grayer area), but it’s not comparable at all to viewers avoiding TV commercials.

  19. microraptor says

    You know, if companies like Google make money selling ads it would really be nice if they’d also act more responsibly regarding those ads and actually take steps to restrict what could be put in them, because all the bandwidth-hogging autoplay videos and scammy popups that act like they’re trying to give your computer herpes make it almost impossible to function online without running some form of adblocker.

    And I’ll second the idea of starting a Paetron fund for FTB.

  20. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’ve had trouble accessing FTB with my iPad when my subscription cookie times out. Getting to the login page to turn off the ads can be difficult, as the ads block access. The floaters with the close button off screen are extremely annoying.
    So I can see why Apple would want to block some ads. If Google would filter the ads they supply, so they play nice with small screens, there wouldn’t be the need to block ads.

  21. barbaz says

    Why would you need to involve Patreon when you already can pay to have FTB ad free?

    I’d second the idea of FTB hosting the ads, although I don’t know how they could get paid per view then.

  22. Dunc says

    @20: Everybody in the industry already knows that hits are an unreliable metric, and the fact that you’ve got a hit doesn’t actually guarantee that anything’s been rendered. That’s why hits are cheap. The web is full of spiders, crawlers, and bots, requesting stuff all over the place, and never rendering it. Anybody who’s ever looked at a server log knows this.

    Now, if somebody was using sneaky techniques to generate large numbers of hits that they were getting revenue from – say, if a host was manipulating their pages so that users were unwittingly making multiple requests for ads, or faking click-throughs or something – then sure, you could totally make a case for fraud. But a big part of that is that the host actually has a contractual relationship with the ad vendor, which will explicitly cover dirty tricks like that. The end-user, on the other hand, is under no legal obligation to anybody.

  23. brett says


    And I’ll second the idea of starting a Paetron fund for FTB.

    I’ll third that as well. I’ll bet you could offset most or all of the costs of hosting FTB with a site-wide Patreon. I’d definitely contribute a couple of bucks a month towards it, which is more than you’re getting off me in terms of advertising hits.

  24. Dark Jaguar says

    If you’re getting your ads through google, that doesn’t explain why I can click on EMPTY parts of page (like when I attempt to select text) and suddenly have a full page splash ad pop up. Now, I assume it’s an ad, because it’s in flash and I have flash blocked (I don’t block ads, but I do block plugins, I won’t take responsibility if some ad makers insist on using a plugin to deliver their ad).

    Google ads simply don’t do that, because as you say, they have rules. Where else are ads coming from?

  25. Usernames! (╯°□°)╯︵ ʎuʎbosıɯ says

    I’m not at all technical, but how hard would it be to devise an ad blocker that contacts the ad server but never displays the ad it serves up?
    — Jake Harban (#1)

    Not hard, but it wouldn’t work. (source: I’ve written ad display code for a major news site)
    What would end up happening is FTB’s CPM count would drop and they’d lose money.

    HOWEVER if enough people start faking the ad server on FTB, then you better believe someone on the back end will notice, and will shut down FTB’s account. Since they use Google Adsense, they would be thoroughly and truly fucked, because that is one of the biggest games in town.

    Instead of using ghostery, try Blur. You can set it to still display the ads, but not store any cookies. This will prevent ads from tracking you across different sites.

  26. robertmatthews says

    @Dunc: Can the TV network can sue you for leaving the room during ad breaks?

    Jamie Kellner used to think so, and maybe he still does. He was the chair of Turner Broadcasting, and he thought that even walking away from the TV to pee while the commercials were on constituted theft of services. I wish I were making that up.

    I use an ad blocker and I’m sorry I have to, but when there’s something blinking or flickering or pulsing on the screen, it’s literally all I can look at. It sucks up all of my attention. If ads just politely arranged themselves motionless down the side of the page or underneath the main content, I’d be more or less okay with that, but they don’t, because Internet advertisers are in an arms race, and the only way for users to win is to not allow them to play on our screens. Without an ad blocker, I just wouldn’t be able to use the Internet at all.

  27. says

    There isn’t an ad blocker for my tablet*, so I get the full effect. Sometimes it’s so bad I have to give up reading here and go away for a while. The only thing that makes the ads tolerable at all is that I keep the sound turned off.

    I know FTB needs the funds. I just wish there was some way to moderate the ads a bit, so they wouldn’t clog up my screen, or scare me with threats that the table might have a virus, or annoy me with snake oil “medicine” ads, or ads for Liberty University.

    *Or at least, one that doesn’t require going into the roots of the operating system.

  28. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    Project Wonderful, a better ad company. Love ’em, see it mostly on comics like Patron and I haven’t used them personally, but everything I see, hear, and experience as a viewer has been great.

    I do disable ad block for sites I want to support. Unless the ads make it impossible. Like FTB’s. Sorry, but if it makes you feel any better, I haven’t been here much, lol.

  29. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    too bad PBS won’t get more involved in providing a Public Internet Service, to be the equivalent of PBS TV. They have experience refusing commercial ads, in favor of isolated opening minutes and annual pleas for donations. Too bad suggesting migrating those skills to internet story providers (lookin at Gizmodo and Kinja conglomerate, and BoingBoing, etc. Facebook can go all commercial (for all I care)), is looked at as unrational theeeery impossible to implement, etc. However, I agree, it is unreasonable to suggest. CPB is currently overburdened by maintaining PBS, to throw P.I.S. onto their backs could break also the TV bit. so this is all a hypo-hypothetical

  30. PDX_Greg says

    Hmmm, my subscription to ad-free FTB was set to expire tomorrow, and this shockingly-timed post shows up on the blog. What to make of this? Could it be mere coincidence? Could this really be a real blog post, complete with a real-looking, organically growing list of comments? Or is it an amazingly clever bot that generates the content, comments and all, in a not-so-subtle reminder that it is time to renew my subscription for another year? Is this comment itself being generated by a bot and implanting itself in my memory? I’m scared, and I want to make this all go away. Subscription renewed. Very clever, PZ.

    In case this blog post is real and the coincidence is actually, well, a coincidence, I appreciate that the subscription option is not practical for all who read FTB, especially those who are struggling with the economics of getting educated, dealing with un- or under-employment, and/or are seeking to stretch resources as far as they can for whatever reason. I do strongly recommend the subscription for regulars who are comfortable with spending the amount, as it does remove the ad frustration with the site and hopefully helps with the FTB maintenance funding issue in some small way. Long live FTB!

  31. karellen says

    One other possible funding method you could consider, is that used by (subscription info). All their articles are put into one of the following categories – “Current News” and “Featured Content”.

    “Current News” is for links to external news articles with a small amount of commentary. These articles are free for anyone to read from the moment they’re posted.

    “Featured content” is for longer-form original articles written by the site’s writers. These are available only to subscribers for the first week of publication, although non-subscribers can see the title and opening paragraph. After a week, they become open and visible to everyone for free from then on.

    The exception they have to this is that subscribers can post a “subscriber link” to a Featured Content article in its “paid for” period, like to the “Python and crypto-strength random numbers by default” article, which allows subscribers to share stories with non-subscriber friends and discuss them in another forum, without having to remember to do it in a week’s time when those friends can actually read the article. So far, this feature appears not to have been abused enough for the maintainers to have removed it.

    It seems to work well for them, and it’s the only online news site I pay money for. I do so because I read the site for a few years before subscribing, and was consistently impressed by their knowledgable and in-depth reporting on whatever they chose to cover. After a while, I decided I was happy to pay for a subscription, because I knew what I was getting, didn’t feel like I was being guilt-tripped into it in any way, wanted to help the site to continue, and was tired of being late to the comment party for the Featured Content articles. Plus, getting subscriber flair next to my username on comments I write is a nice perk.

    Based on the writing you and some of the other FtBers have put out over many years, not just here, but before FtB existed, I don’t see why it might not be worth considering for FtB.

  32. =8)-DX says

    Just a link of what I get: here
    Shows the irony of “Show a hint of nudity in a photo on one of our pages”… Yeah I mostly see people holding their bellies, semi-naked women and piles of cash. At least it’s not penis-enlargement.

    The main problem I have with FTB ads is that they make the page download intensive, so on my phone I really need wifi to get quick loads of FTB pages and the /pharyngula page kills my phone browser every other time. Also, the mandatory first-click popup, but I’ve grown used to that.

  33. IngisKahn says

    I’ll add that the site is nearly unusable on mobile: full screen ads that push the content off and are difficult and sometimes impossible to remove, random redirects that often cause me to give up, and massive data size.

  34. robro says

    It’s shameful that our governments have again allowed a public utility, developed by tax dollars, to be taken over by those who’s primary purpose in life is to make a buck by pushing products, regardless of how it might impact the majority of individuals. It’s as if only commercial vehicles or those displaying ads are allowed to use the roads.

    It would also seem that those companies which profit considerably off the Internet…Apple, Google, Amazon, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Comcast, et al…should return some of that vast wealth to the system to make it possible for average citizens to operate outlets, like FtB, without having to push ads at their followers.

    We also need the FCC to govern in the use of ads on webpages. I didn’t install an ad blocker until I got tired of seeing a Kardashian, or the Beeb, or Taylor Swift flip by in a sidebar ad repeatedly and indefinitely trying to get me watch some TV show or read some junky celeb news outlet with even more ads.

    I also got tired of seeing MacKeeper ads pop-up, even though I had pop-up windows blocked.

    And companies like Google and Amazon should be careful using spooky, snoopy tracking technologies. I switched to DuckDuckGo after seeing ads for log sawing stands on the side of my Google search because I had looked for them once a couple of years before.

  35. says

    Anne @ 29:

    There isn’t an ad blocker for my tablet*,

    Nor mine. I have firefox for it, but no adblock.

    Sometimes it’s so bad I have to give up reading here and go away for a while.

    I can’t keep Pharyngula up on my tablet long enough to give up – crashes my browser on the Nook every. single. time.

  36. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    PZ Myers and ilk have already destroyed it by using it as an unethical propaganda machine for radical politics

    Please define “radical politics”. I went to university during the radicalization of campuses, and PZ and Pharyngula are nowhere near the policies that of the radical leftists that spouted inane slogans, like the liberturds/RWA rethugs today from the other side.

  37. carlie says

    Aww, it’s so cute when they try to be coherent.

    PewDiePie – lol. He makes more money from the internet than pretty much everyone else. He made as much last year as fully half of what Dawkins is worth altogether. Way to analogize, bro.

  38. says

    And these guys think they can take on people like Dawkins?

    No one is interested in “taking on” Dawkins. Personally, I have no interest in Dawkins at all.

  39. Nerull says

    Its far more than just annoying ads, too. Many ad networks allow ads to bring in external javascript, which can then be changed at will after the ad is approved. eBay just spent three weeks trying to infect its users via Angler Exploit Kit in its ad network, which installs wonderful software like CryptoLocker. MSN had similar issues a while back. Ads are now the single most common malware infection vector – you don’t need to worry about visiting shady porn sites anymore, the ad networks are happy to bring the exploits to you.

    Cisco estimates 40% of users exposed to Angler attacks are sucessfully infected.

    Ads aren’t just annoying, they’re dangerous.

  40. keiththompson says

    I don’t mind the ads; I know you have to pay the bills.

    What bothers me is that the ads on this particular site are far more intrusive than the ads on any other site I commonly read. I don’t use an ad blocker, and I don’t particularly want to. I’ve actually thought about installing one and configuring it to block ads *only* on this site, but that would probably hurt your revenue.

    At the moment I’m running Chromium on Linux. Just after I logged in to post this comment, an ad appeared on the left side of the window — and the entire window shifted to the right to make room for it. (There’s plenty of blank space on the left side of the window.) I had to click to close it, and the window shifted back to the left.

    I have my browser configured not to run the Flash plugin unless I tell it to. I routinely get pop-up ads on this site. The “x” to close the ad is in the upper right corner, but it’s hidden until I hover over it.

    On my Nexus 7 tablet, it’s worse. When I’m on the front page and I click on the title of an article to read it, it typically shows me an ad instead — and it somehow messes up my browser history, so I can’t even go back to the main page. I don’t remember the exact details of the behavior; if you like I can try it and write up a more detailed description.

    As I said, no other site that I visit has these problems.

  41. brucegee1962 says

    If ad blockers become ubiquitous, or even pre-installed on computers, then we’ll see a return to the early days of the web. All the content providers will retreat behind paywalls — maybe the sort of things that newspapers have, where you can read a certain number of articles per month, but then you’ll have to subscribe. Microtransaction software will finally come into its own, so you can pay a quarter to the Washington Post to read an article, or drop a dime into an author’s tip jar by pushing a button.

    I could also imagine large content domains that would be available by subscription — almost like the old AOL, but bigger, like a Netflix of text. You pay a fee per month of ten or fifteen dollars (probably tiered) and that gives you access to a wide array of material. Smaller blogs and blog networks like this one will try to find a domain to inhabit that will pay them enough to get by.

    We all need to start practicing our spiel for our kids and grandkids now: “Back in my day, just about everything on the internet was free!” And they’ll say, “Right, dad/mom — but how did the unicorns avoid being eaten by the dinosaurs that lived back then?

  42. bojac6 says

    I have to echo the sentiments that ads here are worse than just about anywhere else I go. I don’t know why, exactly, but this site is unusable on my phone. If I click any link, instead of going to the article, I get a full page ad. I often get fake “anti-virus” pop ups here. I don’t know of any other site that has it this bad.

  43. prae says

    The ad industry will die, and they totally deserve it. If they left it at a few humble banners or some text links no one would have ever cared about blocking them, but NO, they just had to crank it up to eleven, making everything blink, popup, shout at you, trying to get malware on your machine, etc.

    By now internet ads are on the same level as spam emails, and more and more people are realizing that. And of course there is no way that they would ever turn it down, because of course they need the exponential growth of revenue, and even if they did, now it’s too late. The damage has been done, they successfully turned the users against them, and “something” ought to happen now. I *hope* it will be the death of internet ads, but I think google might actually create some kind of DRM from hell which would automatically delete any kind of adblockers from your PC or stuff like that.

    Anyway, I’ve seen a presentation of Blendle once, and I think that concept might actually work. Basically it’s a pay-per-view system for text articles. They seem to focus on magazines and newspapers right now, but why shouldn’t it work for websites?

  44. unclefrogy says

    being one of those people who do not seem to be very good at making money and am forced to learn how to get by without spending any I was wondering just what the real bottom line budget is for each of the member blogs and the site as whole.
    I was forced to install add-blocker to allow me to even display the pages in a usable way, The popup auto play video adds just used all of the available resources. It felt like that the idea with those adds was to make the site almost inaccessible to those who wanted to visit without denying the access to the web to anyone.
    What me paranoid? NO! let me adjust me foil sombrero a little that is better.
    it does seem odd that the country that has had so much to do with the development of computers and the internet is having such trouble with it. Greed seems to be the motive behind all the companies who dominate. maximum profit over superior service.

    to bad sam’s attempt at humor fell so completely flat

    uncle frogy

  45. psanity says

    (Checks) — yup, time to renew the ad-free sub. PZ, could you add a higher support level to the options? I’d pay more; I know not everyone can, but some of us can. 30 bucks a year is not very much, really. And it does make tablet access much nicer (although Opera seems to reject the worst of them), and allows me to use Adblock guilt-free on the laptop.

  46. bojac6 says

    I’m trying to find where I can buy the ad free version of the site. I didn’t know that existed. All I can find is the Donate button, though, and that doesn’t seem to be it.

  47. robro says

    chigau # 49

    Who the fuck is PewDiePie?

    Something that gets off a fellow with a big hat and shit eating grin.

    Who the fuck says “lol” any more?

    Someone who thinks hit counts matter to a site like FtB.

  48. robro says

    I’ll second what bojac6 says. I would happily give FtB money to be ad free, but I’ve had difficulty finding it. I have found it before, but it isn’t real obvious. I’ve also be flummoxed that Pay Pal is the only payment method. Since Pay Pal is the closest I’ve ever come to identity theft, I’m reluctant to use it.

  49. JohnnieCanuck says

    FTB provides the worse Ad experience of any of the sites I normally use. Guess it’s the quality postings and comments that keep me coming back.

    Pop-unders are bad, those mouse overs are worse and I really dislike those eight click bait ‘Sponsored from around the Web’ things brought to us by If Google is responsible for their appearing here, then there’s serious hypocrisy going on when they punish nudish site content. Those shift everything over and then shift it all back things are also bothersome. At least MacK**per is no longer here, with its hostage taking strategy to force people to download its malware.

    “Don’t be evil.” If only it were so.

  50. blf says

    barbaz, et al., Thanks for hint about trackers — I’ve been suspecting as much observing how long it takes to load essentially any page at FtB (and some other sites), despite refusing ALL flash (and similar) content. I’ve never bothered to track down any reasons for completely abysmal FtB loading, but have suspected tracking (as one reason) for quite awhile. I have stopped visiting other sites because of the problem, and FtB is a site very high up on the list to say “feck you, I am leaving and never returning”.

  51. throwaway, butcher of tongues, mauler of metaphor says

    The donation route was the way to get the site ad-free. But you have to be logged in. So now I simply use Ad-Block guilt-free.

    Hell, it was slightly guilt-free previously due to the obnoxious obtrusiveness of the advertisements. On my phone? Forget it. Go to scroll on one page, it pulls back to the top and displays an ad where you must tap on an ‘x’ the size of a flea. Then once you’re rid of that, the screen scrolls to the side and the text slides off the screen. Wouldn’t mind that part so bad if the words didn’t disappear.

    The ads that interfere with normal functionality are artificially inflating their numbers to their clients due to misclicks. That’s an egregious enough violation where I don’t feel guilty if they are blocked without donating. Don’t do business with crooks.

  52. says

    Chigau @ 56:

    bojac6 and robro
    Up top, just under the banner is
    click there

    The easiest way to get to it is to click on your nym above the comment box. On your profile page, there is ‘suscribe’ on the sidebar. Click that, and you are able to choose how much you want to spend, and how long you’ll be ad-free. By the way, anyone using an adblocker won’t see the ‘get FTB ad-free’ under the logo.

  53. says

    throwaway @ 57:

    The donation route was the way to get the site ad-free.

    No, that’s different. See #58. You do have to be logged in, otherwise, how could you get ad-free?

  54. throwaway, butcher of tongues, mauler of metaphor says

    No, that’s different. See #58. You do have to be logged in, otherwise, how could you get ad-free?

    True, that’s how I went about doing it the first time. Now I simply use my ad-blocker. I think I’m paid up… May have to fill the coffers soon.

  55. Trebuchet says

    In case the “GoAdFree” link is too hard to find, CLICK HERE:

    I subscribed about the first day it was available. It’s cheap at twice the price. Who cares if you need to be logged in? You have to do that to comment anyway.

    In all honesty, PZ’s failure to mention the option makes me nervous. If it goes away, FTB and I are done. I mostly just read Dana Hunter anyhow any more.

    Oh, and a big SCREW YOU to Ed Brayton for stabbing FTB in the back. Patheos sucks.

  56. says

    To concur with others, the FTB ad experience can be especially horrendous on mobile.

    I’ve had, at various times:
    * full page click-grabbers that open popups rather than the link you were aiming for (damn you, hotel ads!)
    * slide-out ads that push the page content off screen (at least I haven’t had these for ages…)
    * auto redirects that take you away from the page (and do so in a way that FTB is skipped in the nav history)

    And I’ve had one really bad mobile ad experience. I’m not sure it’s the fault of ad serving from FTB, but I’m afraid I have suspicions…

    There’s a script that inserts hyperlinks on random words on the page that take you out to (dodgy) ad sites. It’s bad enough on its own, but it appears to exploit a security hole in Android Chrome, because once it’s in, it sticks around and runs cross-site, adding these links to any site you visit, even if they don’t themselves run ads.

    When I first had this issue, I assumed a malicious app; so I did a factory reset and stuck to what should have been a safe subset of apps. However, the problem returned within a few days of browsing, and I’m sorry to say that it was only FTB that had aggressive ads in that period. ‘Clear Data’ for Chrome seems to have been sufficient to purge it. Since then, I’ve only been reading Pharyngula on mobile by using the Twitter embedded browser from PZ’s links, and the problem hasn’t recurred.

    Again, not saying it was definitely from here. And the fact it hasn’t returned may just mean the culprit has been expunged from whatever ad network it came from, or the hole has been quietly patched by a Chrome update.

    I respect that content providers need ads to keep things running. But this shows that given the opportunity, unscrupulous ad marketers can not merely be annoying but outright hostile.

  57. throwaway, butcher of tongues, mauler of metaphor says

    Who cares if you need to be logged in? You have to do that to comment anyway.

    Wouldn’t be such a big deal if logins persisted on my machine. I’ve done everything I can to get the login to stay logged in, but no matter… it’s not so much about “who cares”, it’s about “what’s wrong”. That’s something I see as a pain point, so I mention it’s simply more convenient to leave ad-block on after assuaging my guilt by donating for the ad-free version. I value my time, so I care. But I guess that’s not a big enough “Who.”

  58. robro says

    Chigau & Caine: Thanks for the tips. The reason I don’t see the Get FTB Free link at the top of the page is because…ta da!…I have Ad Blocker turned on. As for the other way to get there, I never think of editing my profile so that’s invisible to me.

    So now I’ve found it, but PayPal is still the only payment method. I’ll think about it.

  59. chigau (違う) says

    Caine #58
    I never saw that on my profile page.
    Possibly because on my iPad, the sidebar link is called ‘Ads’ and is about the size of half a grain of rice.
    It is in red, so I probably should have noticed.

    I have an ad-blocker running but I see the ‘get ftb ad-free’ all the time.
    I also see the ads if I’m not logged-in.

    I don’t understand how anything in this internets stuff works.

  60. robro says

    chigau — “I don’t understand how anything in this internets stuff works.” I think the answer is “just barely.”

    latsot — I don’t actually mind the ads too much. Sometimes those that appear on FTB are hilariously ironic. However, there are a few that are very annoying, such as the pop-up or pop-under window for MacKeeper. I don’t know if that’s Pharyngula per se…perhaps it’s my computer…but if I have Ad Blocker turned off when I go to Pharyngula, I almost always get it…even if I have pop-up windows blocked.

  61. latsot says


    Ads work in more icky ways than you might think. In many cases, when you load the page, different ad providers bid in realtime for the opportunity to ad you. The high bidder will usually be the one who thinks it knows the most about you. They base this on various things including their tracking you from site to site. Creepy, isn’t it?

    That’s what I mean when I say I have nothing against ads, but much against tracking.

    I mostly read FTB via RSS feeds, which is cheating. I’ll subscribe today, I promise.

  62. Die Anyway says

    I hate to add another “me too” comment but possibly if enough of us mention specific issues, they will get addressed. I generally visit FtB using a tablet so have limited choices for ad blocking and screen controlling. I have paid for ad free partly to support a favorite web site but mostly because trying to view content was too difficult with ads enabled. Even with ‘ad free’ I get ads every once in a while as the site momentarily forgets that I’m logged in. If I click to move to the next post, it suddenly remembers again and sets me back to ‘ad free’.
    1. No other site that I regularly visit has such intrusive ads except Patheos.
    2. On a tablet, pop-unders or ads which are rendered in a non-viewable area and which command exclusive focus, lock the screen. There’s nothing you can do but close the window, start over and hope you can read a few pages before another hidden ad grabs focus away.
    3. Mobile devices don’t have the computing power of a desk-top PC. The sheer number of ads, especially video ads, can make a single page load take multiple minutes of waiting.
    4. Something in the ads randomly forces a full screen refresh. More minutes lost. I know it’s the ads because it doesn’t happen when I’m ‘ad free’.

  63. says

    Die Anyway:

    Something in the ads randomly forces a full screen refresh.

    :lightbulb: That goes some way in explaining why I can’t ever get Pharyngula to load once without an auto-attempt at refreshing, right before the whole thing crashes when I try to read from my tablet.

  64. jmosthaf says

    There are now Adblockers for Safari on iOS Devices running iOS9. For all the iPad useres this is a welcome relief :) Purify seems to be pretty good, is €3.99 and written by the developers of uBlock.
    Thanks for the subscriber link – I like to support sites I read regularly but ads are usually just too enervating.

  65. says

    I wasn’t aware of the subscribe-for-no-ads thing because AdBlock (thanks Trebuchet @61), but the PayPal button to subscribe is broken for me anyway.

    The benefit of a Patreon would be that the milestone goal would apply to the entire site. Set a goal of blah-hundred or blah-thousand dollars per month, and if that goal is met, turn off all the ads for everyone, logged in or not.

  66. says

    Y’know, every site I have seen even mention this particular “news” story is one which is notorious for being unusable because of its ads. There are plenty of sites out there which manage to have ads — even ads from Google — but which somehow fail to become unreadable. But instead of taking a stand in favor of their own readability, or their users, they whinge — and yes, I think this post counts as whinging — about how nobody wants to pay for content. Or else they make vague threats about how if the users don’t make the site unreadable by letting the ads flow, they may have to shut down.

    (And seriously, this “news” is not a new thing; adblockers have been available for years on practically every web browser except the version of Safari which ships with iOS. Now they will be present on Safari for iOS as well. For context, according to Wikipedia, tablets and cellphones make up somewhere around 45% of all web browsers in use, and according to, Safari makes up around 40% of mobile devices, so if you assume that every single iOS user who uses Safari upgrades and then installs an ad blocker, we’re still talking about less than a fifth of web browsers out there. Actual adoption rates are unlikely to be that high — otherwise the other 80% of the market would already be using adblockers and this issue would already have been discussed.)

    There’s something of a metaphor hiding here, I feel, for the Democratic Party. They have betrayed their base time and time again, and they’re losing voters (in fact, they’re driving people away from the polls entirely), but instead of cleaning up their act, the party whinges about how people aren’t loyal any more, or tries to scare everyone with references to those crazy, crazy Republicans — whose policies, where money and power are concerned, are increasingly indistinguishable from the Democrats’ own.

    Based on this metaphor, I suspect sites like Salon will start to launch polemics against any alternative sites which actually keep the ads down. Or maybe they’ll complain about Apple’s Newsstand program, which lets people pay directly for digital periodicals with a more stable, un-intrusive-ad-filled experience. Anything rather than stand up to the advertisers who are actually responsible for the mess. After all, the Democrats don’t stand up to their corporate backers, they just point fingers at the Greens for having a conscience.

  67. speed0spank says

    I felt bad after reading that so I disabled ad-blocker for FTB, as soon as I clicked into the comments I got a pop-up ad telling me how to “fix my problems with Windows 10”. I wouldn’t mind ads at all if they weren’t the noisy/intrusive ones. I’ll try and remember to donate when I have some $$ to spare.