A lot of things can be said about online advertising. Some call it an impediment to using the wider Web, burying perfectly good content under an array of ads and forcing users to hunt for what's desired. Others call it the only thing standing between the average user and subscriptions to every site said users may enjoy. But the AdTrap from Chad Russell and Charles Butkus may well spell the end for online advertising, and potentially, the availability of free content online.
The AdTrap essentially works like ad blocker software currently does, in that it intercepts advertising and prevents same from reaching any device. It works with most every kind of page, including streaming videos, so virtually every part of the Internet comes through ad-free. Russell and Butkus launched the project following a discussion about the Web's early days—when it was text, pictures, and pages—and the desire to bring back said days in which ads weren't part of most every page around.
The AdTrap system doesn't work with every website; pages like Hulu simply don't respond to AdTrap's intervention likely owing to the nature of advertising on Hulu. But AdTrap's makers claim to be working on some solutions to that issue. Perhaps the biggest downside about ad blocker software is that it only works on one particular device, or one particular browser. AdTrap, being a hardware solution, works with the entire network so that, from laptops to smartphones and tablets, everything that connects on that network is getting the ad-blocking effect.
However, those believing that these devices may well kill the free Internet as we know it may be jumping the gun a bit, as the devices started shipping back in August. While the AdTrap team anticipates legal trouble ahead—it's already retained a law firm operating out of Silicon Valley—it's quick to note that it's not “against all advertisers.” Indeed, as Chad Russell's mother Julie—who also handles the company's finances—describes, AdTrap was simply developed in a bid to “make the user have an experience when the Internet first came out and there wasn't so much interference.”
While it's not likely that AdTrap will kill online advertising and the free Web as we know it, it's a safe bet that it may change online advertising and the free Web as we know it. Much in the same way that online piracy tends to adapt to mechanical changes, so too has advertising. Pop-up ads used to be all the rage, but blocker software has forced changes in how ads are presented.
Indeed, even the version of the Web that Russell and Butkus describe likely wouldn't be ad-free. Ads would just change to pictures and text, much in the same way that print ads work, only online. After all, AdTrap wouldn't block pictures, and it wouldn't block text, so instead of having ad code, sites could just turn to sponsored .JPG or the like displaying a certain product. It would require changes in the way advertising was bought and sold, but even this isn't likely to force a subscription-only model; there would be too few people willing to pay, especially in a fragile economy like the one we currently face.
So while AdTrap may not mean the death of a free Internet, it may well mean that changes need to be made in the way advertising is bought, sold and presented. There's too much at stake for online advertising to simply go away, and the more creative a solution, the better off we're all likely to be.
Edited by Alisen Downey