Solid Oak, the company known
for its sometimes controversial practice of filtering for smut on the
Internet, is giving its customers a tool to screen out another enemy:
"We've had a lot of requests from our customers," Brian Milburn, president
of the company that produces the Cybersitter filtering product, said today.
Mostly, he said, he was responding to his 1.2 million customers, many of
whom use older computers with slow Internet connections that make viewing
banner ads a time-intensive task.
Although the program is not yet perfect, Milburn said Solid Oak decided it was such a compelling issue that he would release it now.
Any of Cybersitter's current customers will get an automatic update
that allows them to filter out banner ads.
He said that it will work with 80 percent to 90 percent of banners, and he first
targeted banners on search engines and free email services such as
The filters don't actually remove the ad, but instead remove the
picture--the graphical file that can be large and can slow the browsing
experience, especially for those who surf on dial-up Internet connections
from home. The effect is similar to turning off one's images while
browsing. But this filter only turns off images from banner ads, he said.
"It takes a long time to load the pages for a lot of people, since some of
these places have five banners on their page and they're animated," Milburn
said. "Someone on a 14.4 or 28.8 modem--it takes them five minutes to load
the page. It still leaves any text in there but it removes the banner so
you're not having to look at the banner and you're not having to download
these large graphics."
This is not the first time someone has introduced technology designed to
filter out banner ads.
And while one might presume that advertisers would be concerned about
the introduction of the technology to such a large customer base, Rich
LeFurgy, president of the Internet Advertising Bureau, isn't worried.
"We've seen this before, about a year ago," he said. "There
was another company whose entire claim to fame was the ability to filter
out advertising. Frankly, they've gone off the radar.
"I would expect that this feature would suffer similar fate because one of
the things that people are missing is that advertising provides value to
consumers--it always has and always will," he added.
In other words, he said, while a lot of people complain about advertising,
not everyone hates it.
Plus, he added, Web surfers have entered into an implied--and sometimes
implicit--contract with content providers that they will accept ads in
exchange for content, much in the same way television viewers accept
commercials in exchange for free programming.
If something like this did work, and surfers did filter out
advertising, "It will kill the goose that laid the golden eggs. The reason
search engines and free email are free is because of the advertising value," he said.
At the same time, LeFurgy acknowledged that some people don't like ads
because they are too large.
Advertisers are constantly trying to reach that balance between delivering
compelling ads and delivering files that are too large, he said.
Most sites, however, have policies that expressly prohibit ads that are
larger than 12K to 15K. He added that advertisers are working on technology
that would deliver ads according to the type of computer, browser, and
connection that individual surfers use.
But LeFurgy said even with so many Cybersitter customers, he wasn't
worried about the impact. "If we talk in a month and there's been a
significant amount of usage, that will be another story."
However, he added, "I think what you'll find is the hating of ads is
"If in fact we're dealing with a speed issue, that will need to be
addressed," he said. "In the big scheme of things I believe we are at the right
balance...But to selectively turn off ad graphics and not turn off total
graphics isn't really living up to implicit consumer agreement that, 'I'll
look at ads as a tradeoff for getting free content.'"