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Umbrage – The Stepmother of Invention

Posted on March 7th, 2017 by in New Materials & Applications

Ken K umbrage

If Plato’s proverb is correct stating “necessity is the mother of invention”, then what familial relationship would symbolize another powerful motivator: Revenge?  For a category of products – particularly in the software industry – the game of cat and mouse can have the positive effect of accelerating innovation. 

While reading an interesting article by Forbes entitled Ad Blocking Battle Drives Disruptive Innovation, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a personal example from my past.  Working for a software company in the early 90’s, we implemented a “tool tip” help system that flashed a brief description about an icon as the cursor passed over.  Icons were relatively new as a user interface element and users frequently complained that they couldn’t tell what they meant.  After weeks of development, we anxiously displayed the functionality to our first focus group.  The only question, “Cool, but how do I turn it off?”  Seems the flashing text was a distracting unintended consequence, so we added a profile toggle to turn it off.

The progress of ad blocker software over the years as described by Jason Bloomberg in the Forbes article is another case in point on how innovative applications can have dramatically different perceptions based on if you’re the recipient or the target.  As a content creator, I understand the deterrent ads represent to viewers, but I also understand that funding great content requires some form of monetization.

What is troubling to me is the evolution of the technology for use by content delivery networks. Mr. Bloomberg describes several technological approaches in his article. While companies like Shine and Instart Logic are both developing technology to selectively serve and override ads, their approach and business models differ. Shine serves mobile carriers, giving them the technical capability to “double-dip” – charging both publishers and consumers. Commentary in Mr. Bloomberg’s article characterizes this as “extortion” and I am inclined to agree. Instart Logic targets publishers, giving them the capability to maintain their existing advertising-based revenue streams by blocking the ad blockers. When the carrier of your phone network has the capability to override your desire, serving you ads you specifically chose to disable – or worse, serve you ads that override those on content provider websites – they can destroy revenue streams supporting the content you enjoy.

Ad blocking is certainly a complex issue with supportive arguments on both sides.  The following video from the team over at Mashable will quickly provide more context.


Ironically, while watching the YouTube video above, Google pounced upon the opportunity to serve me up an ad of their own: “Get YouTube Red – Play videos, not ads.  Try it free”

The promise of the internet is the democratization of information.  Ultimately, consumers can vote with their feet, rewarding carriers and content providers that find the right balance of desired content and interruption by profit mechanisms.  One thing is sure, we’re well beyond a profile toggle.

What conflicting requirements or consumer reactions do you need to balance in bringing your company’s products to market?  Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies.  Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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