The end of advertising?

The mobile Google Maps apps are now showing ads. Wow.

Is it just me, thinking enough is enough? Seriously, I’m getting tired of it. Read Matt Kruse’s great article on his vision for Facebook. John Gruber’s recent comment to the Google Maps announcement also speaks for itself.

Ads aren’t bad per se. Some are actually really funny and entertaining. What’s bad about ads is the overwhelming number of ads, and it’s the ever increasing intrusive delivery mechanisms. That is a pain, and there is overwhelming consensus about it. I guess some people aren’t really thinking about it, they’re just taking it as a given. But I’ve never met anybody who liked getting bombarded with ads. So something’s fundamentally broken. And the ad industry has just a simple flat – and wrong! – answer to it: More. More ads. More intrusive.

I guess ads made sense in the beginning. Before the Internet. I mean before the television and radio, before newspapers. With improvements in logistics, transport and hence distribution, it became possible to sell goods or services to a wider market. And you had to tell people about your offerings, in an effort to educate them about what’s available and where. But then mass media was invented, and the ad industry just used it as a more convenient, further reaching vehicle to distribute more ads. Fast forward, in a connected world, I can buy anything anywhere (Amazon just ships it to me, wherever I am), and I can just do some research about what to buy, and where. That means the original purpose of advertising has become void. Not just a little. I mean void, like in the sense of – well… void.

But there’s an opportunity as well. The ad industry could help me.

Like building a Wikipedia like portal, a central place where I could get useful information to start my research. Otherwise I just use Amazon. check what’s available, read the customer reviews. And then click on purchase. Or not, just go elsewhere, maybe a local store on the way back home from work. Or I just use Google to find out where I could get what I need.

What bothers me is the dependency of large scale Web companies on the ad industry. Google really invented this business model (ad sponsored “free” services). Facebook perfected it. But it is annoying. What started small, with a focus on making just enough to pay for the infrastructure, has become a multi-billion dollar business in itself. In fact, you could look at Google or Facebook as advertising resellers. Because that’s essentially what they’re doing. In the case of Facebook it’s more than obvious how much of the roadmap is driven by the needs of the ad industry. It harms the user experience. It’s just wrong. I am your customer folks – is what I’d like to tell these companies. Make them aware that they exist because of me, because of my needs. Ignoring me, or putting me/my needs below those of the advertising partners makes me feel I am not getting what I could get. It makes me feel I’m second priority. And in fact I am second priority.

Besides, I have no idea how these guys are making money. How does advertising pay for itself. I have never clicked on an advertising. And with never, I really mean never. Like in never ever. And I will not. I also never went direct to the vendor’s website, after seeing an intrusive ad from them.

Offering me the option to pay for Google, or Facebook for an ads free version could be a first step. I think I’d pay for it. I’m actually pretty sure I would. But it would just be that, a first step. What’s more important is that they also start putting me and my needs on top of their roadmap. How hard is it to figure out a business plan that makes sense. One where you create a product or service that’s worth in itself. I mean worth that I pay for it. A free service might be a good thing for a startup, to build momentum (another word for a lot of users in a short period of time). But as things need to scale, it’s either worth paying, or not. And if it’s not, it has no right to survive.

Many years ago, during a winter vacation with my wife, we ended up in an abbey in the French alps. There was snow. And there was silence. And prayers. Nothing else. After a week or so, when we returned and passed through the first village I suddenly realized how colorful and distracting everything was. Banners, billboards all over the place. In a freakin’ little village in the middle of nowhere! And that was maybe about 25 years ago! You know how I’m feeling when I’m in a big city? No wonder we never get rest. This decoration of our cities, of the content in our web browsers, this noise on TV and the radio is a pain. And it’s so not needed. Not in a world where information about what and where to buy is just a click away.

It’s time for a fundamental shift. A very fundamental.