Random Thoughts

Banning Opera, part II

After my previous article about banning Opera from sites, I have been thinking more, and have got a bit more information from the man behind the protest site, Kenneth Barbalace. First of all, what is the problem that has made him take the step of banning Opera?

The problem

The problem isn’t that Opera shows ads in itself, but the targeted ads. These works by letting Google read the visited pages, analyse them, and serve ads that are relevant for the content the user is viewing.

For a commercial site, these relevant ads may very well be a direct competitor. Whether this is a small or big problem, or maybe even not a problem at all, may not be the point. The fact that there is a potential problem, in that potential customers can visit a competitors site by clicking an ad when viewing your own site, is the point. While you don’t want to prevent potential customers to visit your competitors, you don’t want to advertise for them, either – but if your content is used to serve ads for competitors, this is basically what you do.

If you use Google Adsense, the ads served by Opera may be in direct competition and even identical to the ones on your pages. Unlike Google Adsense however, you don’t have the option to not showing competitors’ ads.

That’s the problem. If it is big, small or non-existent now isn’t important, the principle is. It’s a case of not wanting to “give the devil the little finger” out of concern for what the future will bring if you do.

A solution?

Since it’s the targeting that is the problem, a solution could be to opt out of the targeting by way of a meta-tag or something like that. Initially it looks like a good idea. Maybe it is, maybe not. Technically, both Google and Opera could do this. Opera could implement it for the browser, Google could do it for everyone who use targeted ads just the same way.

Google however has a contract with Opera, and can’t just change the product they’re serving, so the ball is with the Opera guys. From their point of view, is it a wise move to allow opt out from targeted ads?

Two reasons why Google ads are popular: First, they’re unobtrusive, and don’t annoy with flashy graphics, sound, pop-ups and all that stuff that makes ad blockers a good idea. Secondly, they’re targeted. What would happen if site owners could opt out of the targeting?

Probably not much. But then again – what if this is another “give the devil the little finger” – what if everyone opted out of it? The consequences of that would be – well, who knows. Bit this isn’t just about Opera – targeted ads are being served visitors outside of content writers’ control in several ways. In browsers, browser shells and extensions, desktop applications, mail programs…

If targeted ads were replaced by generic, random ones, I’m sure they would lose popularity with users, and it wouldn’t be as popular scheme with the advertisers either. That’s my guess. Could it be raising trouble for oneself? But I’m just speculating.

Gridlocked

As it is now, there seems to be a gridlock, or a trench warfare. It’s possible to ban Opera by checking the UA string, by checking for unique features in Opera by Javascript, it’s even possible to block Opera users if they come back with a changed UA string (or even a different browser…) On the other side Opera users can try editing the UA.ini-file, adding one line to pose as a different browser on that one site, they can use userjs to hide the unique features of Opera, use Proxomitron…

The question is of course who would try the different things to get access to a site that ban them? People who use Proxomitron are normal people who use a nice tool to get access to sites with sloppy coding. Roughly speaking. adding a line to get past a ban is no different than adding a line to get past sloppy coding. Editing the UA.ini-file is no different. As for getting a script that hides unique features in Opera, so that the browser can’t be identified through them – such a script already exists, and has done for a long time.

Bottom line is, users who want to gain access to sites that ban them will manage, so it’s no use to put in too much work in the banning. Most users will probably just not care. Maybe they’ll be a bit annoyed, maybe they take time to choose the “report a site problem” option in the help menu, maybe they just go on to a different site. But as for making a statement, to make people and Opera aware of it, I believe it’s enough already.

Is it really a problem?

I understand the concern Ken is voicing, I really do, and I even can understand doing something like this in frustration of being ignored by the people at Opera. I don’t agree with him, though.

First of all, I’m not convinced there really is a problem. True – something outside of my pages may show a link to a competitor based on my content – but then again, maybe the competitor shows an ad for me the same way. If I have an ad with Google, that is.

And is the use of my content to show relevant ads a problem? I’m not convinced of that either. I believe the content on the pages, including the ads, is what gets priority from the reader. If it doesn’t, the problem may very well be with my content.

Secondly, is banning Opera users a good move? True, it does make a strong statement, but it also stir up a lot of feelings, and not only with Opera users. And a reputation can be torn down ten times faster than it is to build up. Luckily, I’m not the one to take that decision, and to consider if it’s worth it.

One thing I do know though, is the no matter how much you disagree with a person, don’t get rude with him. That way he just get his shields up instead of trying to see your point of view, and no one’s the wiser.

Anyway, I think what Ken wants now most of all, is some words from Opera about what they think about it all. 😉

11 thoughts on “Banning Opera, part II

  1. If your blocking a WebBrowser because you don’t want to let people see competitors adds your just telling the user that your product is inferior to the competitors products being advertised by the WebBrowser. In which case your better of not visiting the website and continuing your search for whatever product you may be looking for elsewhere… So I think, that these websites, who block potential customers are using ( and losing potential ) valuble resources which could be used to improve their product so that they would feel it capable of competing. Thank you Opera, for weeding out the bad products/

  2. Svein, that was a very fair post. We may not fully agree, but I think you were fair. I could ask for nothing more.

    Your point about all web publishers opting out could be a valid point, but if so, it could speak volumes about the weakness of Opera’s business model than the validity of demanding that Opera to provide the “opt-out” mechanism, it would mean that web publishers really don’t appreciate Opera’s business model, only they weren’t as willing to take on Opera Software and suffer the wrath of Opera users the way I have. If providing an opt-out out mechanism seriously hurt Opera’s ability to generate revenue and viability as a company, it would mean is that Opera as a company couldn’t survive on their own merits without profiting off of other people’s works. I’d like to think that Opera was a stronger company than that. One would hope that advertising revenue only makes up a fraction of Opera’s overall revenue; with user subscriptions and licensing agreements for handheld versions of their software making up the vast majority of their revenue.

    With that said, even if Opera rolled out the option of disabling targeted RADs tomorrow, it would take a very long time for the majority of websites to opt out. Many webmasters don’t know about this issue and many others wouldn’t care. Sure, maybe big players like Yahoo would opt out, but maybe Opera could work out some kind of agreement with them. Even so, there would still be plenty of smaller and non-commercial sites that wouldn’t bother to do anything.

    Making this change would mean that Opera would need to focus more on attracting advertisers in a similar fashion that it did prior to v7.23 in the fall of 2003. Opera, however, has been around for ten years, and has only used content targeted advertising for less than two years. Surely they have the experience to make up for some of the lost revenue.

    One suggestion I have made previously was that Opera could target some ads based on the search phrases users enter into the search box on Opera’s toolbar. This would provide Opera with contextual advertising, without Opera using the content of web pages to target their ads. Another suggestion would be to provide users greater incentives to register their browsers. Opera Software produces a very good product, surly they could find a way to differentiate themselves and provide value added options that would encourage more users to register their copies.

    In the end, there are ways to make up for any revenue losses from allowing web publishers to opt out of content targeted ads. At the same time, it would help resolve an issue that will continue to be an impediment to web publishers embracing Opera and fixing their sites such that they function correctly on Opera. Providing an opt-out option could create good will that would be worth a lot more than the advertising revenue Opera Software would lose.

    Being realistic, I do not think Opera will address this issue in the near future. I have been waging my protest on different levels for over 18 months now, and I fully expect that I will still be protesting this issue for some time to come.

    I realize Opera users will not always appreciate or agree with my protest; I simply ask that they respect my right to protest. Yes I know I will be losing some good users, but this is a choice I have made and a loss I feel I must accept if I am to get Opera to redress my grievance. If and when Opera addresses my grievance in a manner I am satisfied with, I will end my protest and embrace Opera on my websites. Opera is after all a very good, very secure web browser.

  3. Ken, sorry, but with your protest you simply show a fundamental ignorance of how the web works. The simple truth is: the broadcaster does NOT control the medium. Today is Opera and Adblock and Greasemonkey, tomorrow it might be the Google/Yahoo-bar or some other plugin that even IE allows… and what about selective filtering via wget & proxies? As it is, I can simply fetch your site with a proxy acting as IE, and read it. This is a fight that is not worth your time, really, because you look like a lunatic Quixote running against huge windmills, more or less like that other clown Dave Winer complaining against Greasemonkey. You are just alienating the more tech-savvy readers… but anyway you admit shooting only for the clueless IE users that might click on banners, so why do you care anyway? I’m sorry, I find your attitude suspect (the word “SCO” and “Microsoft” come to mind, can’t help it).

  4. Giacomo,

    I don’t target clueless users. My point was to counter a common claim that Opera users are more valuable users because they are better informed. Yes by percentage, Opera users and Firefox users will be better informed about the dangers of surfing the Internet and more computer savvy. However, as my target audience is not computer savvy individuals this quality doesn’t provide any inherent advantage from my advertiser’s perspective.

    One should not mistake computer savvy with better educated these two things don’t equate. I know very well educated computer users who are not at all computer savvy, and I know very computer savvy individuals who are poorly educated. No browser has a monopoly on the well educated.

    In regards to my protest being an exercise in jousting windmills. It is never an act of futility to stand up for what one believes. The moment an individual or group does not stand up for their rights is the moment another group or individual will trample those rights. This is what Opera Software is doing with their business practices. They are trampling on the rights of others to make profit and are counting on those whose rights are being trampled to simply take it rather than risk being ridiculed or alienating others.

    What Opera is doing is wrong. Yes I have to expend a great deal of energy and resources fighting this battle and no not everyone will agree with my point of view. If, however, this is what I must do to stand up to what Opera Software is doing, then it is what I will do. For as long as Opera Software continues it business practice of using other people’s work for their own profit without permission, I will continue my protest.

    If you want to think I’m crazy, go ahead and think that. People should know, however, that I am not alone in my beliefs. There are others who share in my beliefs and block Opera users; however, they choose to remain at a lower profile than I do. It is not uncommon for me to receive private messages in forums in regards to threads on this issue thanking me for taking a stand or informing me that they are grateful for my efforts.

  5. At which point I’d just like to say – suck it up. Or if you prefer, boo hoo, poor baby. A toddler, similarly, has the right to protest it’s rattle being taken away. Cue the pointing, laughing and mocking.

  6. After reading the Opera Forum thread about this issue I think everything is clear now.

    This person has some kind of vendetta against Opera users (check his later posts there).

    According to what I have read in that thread it´s clear that he has failed to provide a logic explanation for his behaviour. He has tried to justify his action with very poor arguments and has contradicted himself so much that it´s difficult to not to think that this is something personal.

  7. I’ve been reading, reading and reading, and getting a clearer picture of the problem. Well, the problem as I see it – it’s obvious that there are disagreements about what it is and where it lies; is it that Opera doesn’t give an option for webmasters to opt out? Or that it can’t be distinguished between registered and unregistered users? Or is it Google that is the source of the problem?

    Or – maybe something else. Personally, I’m getting close to concluding that it is something else, that has to do with the perception of “intellectual property” and your rights. Which should hint towards the webmasters themselves (those who would block Opera) that is the problem.

    I’ll follow it up later when I’m ready, either in a comment or maybe a new post. (Trilogies seems to be popular, so why not a third part? ;))

  8. ” Personally, I’m getting close to concluding that it is something else, that has to do with the perception of “intellectual property” and your rights.”

    I would like to make a comment about this 😉

    I´ve read the comments made by Ken Barbalace (Raccon) in the Opera Forums and how he tries to use the copyright term in order to back up his statements and, honestly, his approach to this is quite naive and irrational. He seems to completely ignore the fact that there are LAWS regulating the intellectual property. The problem is that he thinks that his “perception” of the copyright term is above the laws which regulate this issue. Some Opera members tried to explain him that Opera is not copying, redistributing nor changing the content of the webpage and therefore there is no way to claim that Opera ” continues it business practice of using other people’s work for their own profit without permission” as he does. He completely fails to understand this; he even claimed that displaying the content of a webpage in a browser is the same than redistributing that content (ignoring the fact there is no transaction involved and even if he is right, all browsers would be violating the copyright laws since all of them display webpages and therefore he should block them all).

    He also seems to ignore the fact that the google ads (remember that not Opera users are using the google ads option, there´s a general banner option too, which is not related in any way with the content of the page, not to talk about registered users) are displayed in a toolbar, which is part of the browser, not the webpage. What the user does with the toolbars is not the publisher business.

    Ken Barbalace´s webpage is available to everybody who wants to access the site with a browser (there is no need to use a suscription in order to read the content, his site is not protected by passwords; something that he could do and I wonder why he doesn´t if he is so concerned about the intellectual property); Google, Yahoo and other search engines are indexing the content and people go to his site because of this (he doesn´t pay to search engines for this esential service but, how ironic, he has no problem with this;quite hypocrite behaviour); browsers are a esential part of the web (he also conveniently ignores this fact) so there is no rational argument to justify his behaviour.

    As a side note I would like to say that there´s a Firefox extension that displays targeted ads by Google (same as the Google ads in Opera): Adbar https://addons.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?id=217

    Following Ken Barbalace´s (i)logic, ALL Firefox users should be blocked since there is no way to know if a FF user who access his site is using Adbar or not. Hypocrisy…or just a zealot, not a surprise since he thinks that “I have found Opera users in general to be a group that I’m better off without” (copied and pasted from the forums) …

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