The #1 reason why you shouldn’t include animated Flash ads on your website is because users hate them.  This is because they very rarely provide more value than they capture.  However, in this respect, the are a useful pointer to who is the customer and who is the product:

“If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”

blue_beetle on MetaFilter

It turns out, they can even be a security threat:

Trade Me virus affects thousands

(by the way, the Flash ad embedded in the middle of that article on the NZ Herald site today is ironic – hopefully APN have been more careful in vetting advertisers than Trade Me !)

What can you do?

I’ve recently (and finally!) installed a Flash blocker in my browser.  This means that Flash components in web pages only load when I explicitly click on them.  It’s not only removes an annoying distraction from many of the sites I visit regularly, and has made my web browser much more stable, it has noticeably increased page load speeds (not especially surprising given that ads are often the biggest components on a web page).  So far I’ve found very few websites which require Flash to be enabled in order to be useful.

Installing something like this is not as difficult as it might sound.  Here are some links for the most popular browsers:

Happy browsing!

7 thoughts on “Flasher”

  1. Bearing in mind the ‘blue_beetle’ quote, do you mind me asking how much you paid for your flash blocker?

    1. Touch!

      I currently use the Google Chrome browser, so didn’t pay for either the Flash blocker, or the browser that it runs in. As you correctly point out that makes me “the product”. Google are happy to subsidise the cost of developing the browser, presumably because it makes it more likely that I will use their online tools and click on the ads that fuel their business.

      For the moment my interests are aligned with theirs, but of course there is no guarantee that will continue to be true. It’s up to them to not be dumb about how they present those ads. Currently they are smart enough to avoid the distracting and annoying.

  2. I will make comments on two fronts… So bear with me in this long one!

    While Flash is annoying (being a resource hog in general), the advertising model per se is not the securty problem. The Trade Me problem was a good example of good social engineering applied to business. From the (little) information we have, someone pretending to be from some company booked ads on Trade Me.

    First, how did the sales agent at Trade Me did not check the claim of employement or relationship to this company? Was the transaction over emails? Was there any emails with the company’s domain, or always third party? It is made to look like a good show of social engineering was used there.

    Next is the attack itself. We don’t know the details. Was the malware loaded directly from the ad, or from a landing page visitors were directed to when clicking the ad? Because if it’s the second then there is also the problem with the gullible users clicking on things any website tells them to click. Not unheard of.

    Obviously the malware con artist could have a clean landing page when Trade Me checked, and only enabled the malware a few hours into the campaign, thus deceiving the watchers…

    Then there’s the possibility of other vectors – not only flash is susceptible. Any web server can be compromised and have their code changed so that every page sent out is injected with some javascript code that presents to the user a window saying “Hey look at me, click here to load an antivirus”.

    It’s all in the security thing…

    Now the next topic. Speed, and ads. I have been in a battle over speed in the last six to nine months on Geekzone. We managed to reduce the average page load time by about 3.5 seconds in the last four months. Our pages get a 90/100 grade by Google Page Speed – and we try to have our pages under a certain size to make it load fast. So fast in fact that our users shouldn’t notice an impact on page load coming from advertising.

    We started using a CDN, we use Aptimize and other tools to make it fast.

    But what do you see on other sites? Except for Trade Me, try loading any other New Zealand mainstream site and you will bloat everywhere. Pages that weight at more than 1MB each, uneeded javascript code, Analytics code that could be deferred, etc.

    Ad blocking is not just because people don’t like ads. If were not for ads I wouldn’t be running Geekzone having to pay for infrastructure. But ad blocking is a reflection of how crap is the delivery.

    Blame Fairfax, APN and the big ones on that…

  3. I actually purchase a lot of online advertising for other companies and believe flash isn’t as a big a deal as you make it out to be.

    In fact they provide much better advertising results than say plain gif’s.

    And to be honest, if we don’t deliver results, then online advertising would plummet affecting the entire medium. Even Trade Me now look towards it as a large revenue stream to provide continued growth.

    And with respects to Trade Me and the virus, having chatted with the reps there today, they were approached by an intermediary posing as an agency, paying cash up front as a new customer.

    Based on the amount paid, I don’t think they could have bought close to 0.01% of the available inventory.

    What we had was more competing media making headlines out of nothing.

    Also testing a flash SWF for malware code that has been programmed to activate based on some future date, which is then delivered to multiple websites for display via an independent adserver is going to be almost impossible to do.

    I think you will find “new” media companies will be more scrutinized in the future during the booking process.

  4. Why does Trade Me want to annoy their customers with flash ads? They’re intolerable at times, and surely they want people to stay on their site and use their services as long as possible, as opposed to the users clicking on the ads and leaving the site. I suppose it’s because they charge the advertises more for flash ads than the static images?

    1. No static and flash ads cost the same.

      Advertisers want animation so the ads are noticed…

      Plain static images tend to blend into the background of the page which usually reduces the success of the campaign.

  5. I took Rowan’s advice and installed the blocker fpr Safari. Amazing – just do it. Flash is a simple click away if you want it, but if not then pages load oh so fast and browsers stay stable.

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