Thoughts on Content Blockers

What iOS 9 means for analytics and the web

They’re good for the user. What’s good for the user tends to win.

What’s good for ad networks, for analytics platforms, for publisher incomes – that all comes second to what’s good for the user.

That might sound strange, coming from a founder of a company in the analytics space, but we try not to lie to ourselves. We’re users of the web too.

Hold it. What are “content blockers?”

In iOS 9, the latest version of Apple’s operating system for mobile devices, a new feature has been introduced enabling developers to build apps that essentially act as Safari extensions to block specific content while you browse the web on your iPhone or iPad.

Primarily, the great advantage of enabling a content blocker on iOS 9 is that it speeds up the web by removing a lot of the cruft that sits on many websites – mostly heavy, intrusive ads. But content blockers can also block tracking codes and any other external code that sits on the website you decide to visit.

What is GoSquared’s stance on content blockers?

At GoSquared, we don’t track people around the web invasively. We don’t track people to sell more ads. And we don’t sell the data we collect to third parties. We never have and we never will.

We’ve been around for over 9 years, and we care deeply about the privacy of our customers and the privacy of their customers. We also care about the web as an ecosystem, and we want the open web to thrive. And for the web to thrive, the experience for the consumer has to be top notch. It’s pretty clear the experience of the mobile web in particular has fallen short of “top notch” in recent years.

We are building a platform to help people build better online businesses. We believe the way businesses talk with their customers currently sucks. It sucks for the business and it sucks for the user. We want to connect businesses with their users and customers in a more personal and meaningful way. That means enabling businesses to understand their users better. It means making it easier for businesses and customers to talk to one another.

There are a lot of ways we can achieve our goals, and whether content blockers become a big deal or not, I am confident we can figure out a way to achieve our goals without fighting against the user’s desire for a faster and more private web.

Concerns about the future of content blocking

Not all trackers are created equal.

There’s a very large spectrum of “trackers” and ad networks out there on the Wild West of the web.

Some trackers follow you around the web. Some are bloated and waste your mobile bandwidth. Some are there only to serve intrusive, ugly, aesthetically offensive adverts. Some, though, are there to genuinely make the experience better for you, the user.

With the content blocking debate, there’s a stronger voice than ever from consumers who demand a faster web with greater privacy. Who wouldn’t want that?

But the unfortunate side-effect of the demand to rid the web of trackers and external scripts is that some (perhaps just a handful) of these scripts are out there to provide a better overall experience to the user.

Example 1: Live chat

Where does live chat fit into the debate around content blocking? Is having a direct line to a business via live chat considered unnecessary or invasive to the user? Or is live chat the future of how customers talk to the businesses they interact with?

How do businesses innovate in reaching their users and customers on the web if consumers are in the mindset that all third party scripts are bad? As a consumer, given the choice between writing an email and being able to instantly message a company to get support, I would vote for the quicker, easier option. Does content blocking take that away from me?

Example 2: Personalisation

An increasing number of businesses use their understanding of visitors’ browsing to optimise the onboarding experience when a user signs up for a trial.

Businesses can provide more helpful advice and more tailored messaging to a new user in their first few minutes with a new service when they can understand more about what the user did in their first session. With content blocking enabled, do new signups now just get an off-the-shelf lowest-common-denominator onboarding experience? Is that better or worse for the user than personalised onboarding with helpful content and messaging that’s tailored specifically to their needs?

More education

As with any big change on the web, there is a debate to be had here.

As consumers, we all want a faster and more private web.

As businesses, there are very good reasons for wanting some external scripts on your website, that genuinely help the user.

All scripts are not created equal, and it’d be a shame if some exciting innovation is prevented by bundling all external scripts into one big bundle of “evil tracking and ads”.

I hope as a community we can figure out where the line is between privacy-invasive tracking and genuinely helpful services that aim to assist the user in the least intrusive way possible.

What does content blocking mean for me, today, as a user of GoSquared?

GoSquared still works as usual for all visitors who visit your website in a desktop or mobile browser. Any visitors who have chosen to install a content blocker for iOS 9 Safari that blocks the GoSquared tracking code from loading will not be counted in your GoSquared numbers.

Currently, the percentage of all iOS users who have updated to iOS 9 remains small, but we would expect this to grow to ~80% of the total iOS install base within a year.

The percentage of iOS 9 users who choose to download a content blocker, and subsequently enable one for their browsing while in Safari is completely unknown at this time. Perhaps 0.5% of all iOS 9 users will enable a content blocker of some sort, or perhaps 95% will. We don’t have a crystal ball, but we’d estimate somewhere between those two percentages.

It’s also worth noting that desktop ad blockers avoid blocking most good analytics scripts and so, despite their small but growing adoption, do not affect visitor numbers dramatically in most analytics tools. It’s likely the impact of iOS 9 content blockers will be similar to that of desktop ad blockers – important, but not game changing for most good analytics services.

What does the future hold?

Right now, it’s really hard to say how mainstream content blocking will become.

As consumers we want a faster and more private web free of abusive, intrusive, heavy trackers and ads.

But as a business, we believe consumers deserve a great experience that isn’t just fast, but is personal and that gets better over time. And the best way to provide a better experience to your customers is to truly understand your customers.

Not all trackers are bad. Some scripts are there to bring businesses and customers closer together and make the web a better place for everyone.

Footnote

I’ve referred to “the web” throughout this piece, rather than “the mobile web”. I believe we’re long past the days where the mobile web should be considered secondary to the desktop web. The mobile web is the web.

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