diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Flash gits

A new scourge is stalking the internet. You start to load a webpage in your browser... and you wait... and you wait... and you wait... and eventually the page loads. And then you notice why you've been waiting. Somewhere on the page is a colourful animation, probably (but not necessarily) rectangular in shape. You can't miss it - it's moving around, trying gleefully to attract your attention. It might not be an advert, but it probably is. Somebody else has made you wait, and wasted your time, in an attempt to sell you something you almost certainly don't want. It's not the end of the world if it happens once. But it is bloody annoying when it happens again and again <taps fingers> and again on page after page after page.

Actually it's an old scourge. Advertisers have been trying to screw the surfing public with inappropriate methods of online promotion for years. Like those horrific pop-up ads which used to appear out of nowhere whenever you clicked on certain webpages. You'd think "hmmm, why isn't this page loading?" and then, eventually, an evil flashing box would appear. If you were lucky you just got the one, but sometimes the more you tried to shut them down the more boxes tried to appear. Thankfully the emergence of pop-up blocker browser software means this online irritation is now pretty much a plague of the past.

And then advertisers worked out that you couldn't shut down their adverts if these were embedded in the webpage itself. So adverts started appearing above, beside and even in the middle of the content you were trying to read. First there were text adverts, like the ones I sneaked into this page yesterday. These were closely followed by image-based adverts, colourful and ubiquitous. And most recently we've been assaulted by dynamic Flash-based adverts, each far more intrusive and taking far longer to download. Advertisers are taking advantage of our increasing broadband speeds and continue to deliver as much "exciting visual content" as they think our system can take. Heaven help anybody today still struggling along on dial-up.

I don't see why my surfing experience should be impaired merely for the material gain of others. Sure adverts may be an integral part of the internet, but they shouldn't be allowed to dominate or even hijack my browser time. And it's not just adverts. Many webmasters insist on including embedded videos (oh please no) or music players (why oh why) or complicated Java-based widgets (oh how much longer must I wait?) which do little more than unintentionally annoy their audience. It's either thoughtless or selfish, and it's quite possibly both.

So I just wanted to laugh and say that I've managed to banish the majority of this visual spam from my computer. Hurrah for the Firefox browser, and its repertoire of cunning add-ons. Using the Adblock extension I can block a wide range of image-based adverts so that they need never appear on my screen again. Where you see a promotion from ad.doubleclick.net or pagead2.googlesyndication.com, I see a blank space or even no space at all. I no longer suffer from image-based advertisements intruding around or within online text - I just view pages the way they used to look in the good old days. It's brilliant.

And the Flashblock extension is even better. Ever since I installed it I've had no trouble whatsoever from annoying animations trying to load before I can read a webpage. In their place appear small arrowed buttons which I can choose to press or, more likely, choose to ignore. No Flash loads on my computer without my express permission. Hurrah! I'm in charge of my browsing experience once again, and it feels good... at least until some advertiser introduces something even more intrusive which I can't block. Like those damned annoying low-tech text ads. Thank goodness hardly anybody uses those any more.

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