Not playing the game

I have not been playing the game. I have been using the internet but not paying for the privilege.

Back in 1996 a choice was made, even though most of us did not realise it at the time. The choice was between the internet and proprietary online systems such as AOL, CompuServe and MSN. It was obvious that the time was ripe for the development of a world wide computer network. It was also obvious that it would be better if we all used the same one. The problem was choosing the winner. On one hand we had the open systems internet, which at the time was mainly being used by geeks. On the other hand we had the proprietary networks. MSN was a newcomer but AOL and CompuServe were well established and offered a wide range of online services. I used both CompuServe and the internet. CompuServe had a better interface and much better content.

We chose the internet and the proprietary networks started to wither. I suspect the main reason for choosing the internet was that it had porn and the other networks did not. There was a price to pay for that choice. Because there is no central controlling authority anybody can join the network and once they are connected they can be as naughty as they like. The result is the spam, spyware and viruses that cause us so much trouble. However, if there had been some central controlling authority it is very unlikely that any proprietary network could have developed as rapidly and as excitingly as the internet.

In addition to its vulnerability to malware the internet has one other critical weakness. It does not have a way of charging for content. The proprietary networks did not have this problem. They charged subscriptions to join and they charged rents to anybody who wanted to set up shop on their networks. The French Minitel network had the excellent “kiosk” system. To create a revenue steam a network needs a trusted body to stand between information user and information provider, and collect money from the first to pay to the second.

Because there is nobody doing this on the internet the system has to be funded by advertising. People might put content on their web sites for love or money, but if they want money they can only get it from people who annoy their readers with advertisements. They have no mechanism for charging the readers small sums for content. Now people have become used to getting content for free and it will be difficult to introduce a generally accepted micro payment system, even if one could be devised.

The game we must all play, to pay for the internet, is to look at the advertisements, even if it is only out of the corner of our eyes.

But, I am not playing the game, I am not looking at the advertisements, or at least, not at many of them.

A recent survey has indicated that IE users click on advertisements four times as often as Firefox users who have lots of ways to dodge paying their dues.
I run the FlashBlock extension and this prevents those really irritating animated ads from running. I use Firefox’s pop-up blocker and this kills pretty much every one of the blighters. Cookies are allowed but automatically cleared at the end of each browsing session, so my browsing cannot be tracked for marketing purposes. JavaScript is turned on, but is not allowed to mess about with my browser window, menus, or do anything else that might gratify advertisers but annoy me.

Finally, whenever I see an advertisement on a web page I right click on it and select Block Images From. This tells me the name of the server that is providing the image. If its name suggests that it is the same server that is providing the “good” images on the site I leave it alone. Otherwise, I tell Firefox to block all images from that server. If the images has come from an adserver run by somebody like DoubleClick, then that blocking will kill advertisements on a lot of web sites.

I could go even further, and many do, and either install the AdBlock extension in Firefox, or put the WebWasher proxy between my browser and the internet.

By using tricks described above I have made browsing a much happier experience. Of course, the internet could not afford many people like me or it would go broke. I am selfish and I do not care.

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