Is AdTrap the answer to our prayers when it comes to blocking online advertising?

ad blocking deviceYou may have heard of AdTrap … or maybe you haven’t.

AdTrap is a newly developed device that intercepts online ads before they reach any devices that access a person’s Internet connection.

That basic action means that people are able to surf the web – including viewing videos – without the onslaught of online advertisements that seem to become more and more pervasive with every passing month.

The fundamental promise that the developers of AdTrap are making is a return to the “good ol’ days” of web surfing.

You know, back when most web pages you downloaded contained text and pictures – and virtually no advertising.

AdTrap’s motto is a simple and powerful one:  The Internet is yours again.”

Not surprisingly, there’s a good deal of excitement surrounding this new product.  In fact, interest has been so great that the invention attracted more than $200,000 in funding — raised in a 30-day Kickstarter campaign in early 2013.

Those funds are now being used to manufacture the first AdTrap units for shipment to “early adopter” consumers across the country.

How New an Idea Is This?

advertisingIn actuality, there have been a plethora of (often-free) software and browser plug-ins offered to consumers that can block online advertisements. 

But most of them have significant limitations because they’ve been designed to work only with specific browsers or on specific devices.

Free is good, of course.  But the developers of AdTrap are banking on the willingness of consumers to shell out $139 for their product – a rectangular box that looks a lot like a wireless router and that intercepts advertisements before they reach a laptop, tablet or mobile device.

The beauty of AdTrap is that it will work on every device connected to a person’s network.  Situated between the modem and router, it takes just a few minutes to set up.  

CNN technology correspondent Dan Simon reports that AdTrap does an effective job blocking advertising content.  But not perfectly; ads still appear on Hulu content, for example. 

But the developers of AdTrap report that they’re working on ways to block even more content going forward, including ads on Hulu.

Is this Bigger than Merely Blocking Ads?

Beyond the collective sigh of relief you’re likely hearing from those reading this blog post … what are the larger implications if AdTrap and similar devices are adopted by consumers on a large scale?

One not-so-positive implication may be that websites will no longer offer be able to offer content without charge, since so many publishers’ business models rely on advertising content to help pay most of the bills.

If advertising isn’t appearing thanks to AdTrap, people aren’t getting paid.

So let’s think about this for a minute:  It’s true that the Internet was blissfully free of wall-to-wall advertising 15 years ago compared to today. 

But cyberspace was also far less robust in terms of the quantity and quality of the informational and entertainment content available to us.

So yes … having a device to block 80% or more of the ads served to us is a very attractive proposition.  But if it means that some of our favorite sites move to pay-walls as a result, it might be that making a $139 investment in an AdTrap device isn’t such a “no-brainer” choice in the final analysis.

What do you think of this development — pro or con?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Twitter’s World: Click … or Clique?

Twitter traffic:  dominateed by a tiny fraction of users.
Half of all tweets are generated by fewer than one-half of one percent of Twitter accounts.
What’s happening these days with Twitter? The micro-blogging service continues to light up the newswires every time there’s a civil disturbance in a foreign land, because of how easily and effectively it facilitates planning and interaction among the dissidents.

But what we’re also finding out is that Twitter is overwhelmingly dominated by just a small fraction of its users.

In fact, Cornell University and Yahoo recently published results of an evaluation of ~260 million tweets during 2009 and 2010, which found that ~50% of the tweets were generated by just 20,000 Twitter users.

That is right: Fewer than one half of one percent of Twitter’s user base accounts for fully half of all tweet activity.

Just who makes up this “rarified realm” of elite users? It turns out that they fall into four major groups:

 Media properties (e.g., CNN, New York Times)
 Celebrities (e.g., Ashton Kutcher … Lady Gaga)
 Business organizations (e.g., Starbucks)
 Blogs

Even more interestingly, these “elite” users aren’t interfacing with the rest of us “regular Twitter folk” as much as they are simply following each other: Celebs follow celebs … media companies follow other media companies … bloggers follow other blogs.

The Cornell/Yahoo research report, titled Who Says What to Whom on Twitter, can be found here.

But one wonders if the report should be retitled Much Ado About Nothing?

Google: The Company Everyone Loves to Hate?

Google, the company people love to hate?What is it about Google that gets people so riled up? After all, it’s a company that has revolutionized the ease in which we find and process information, not to mention the way we consume video content.

If that seems like an overstatement, just think back 15 years or so to how you once researched questions or searched for information … like trudging to the public library or placing “wish-and-wait-for” phone calls to other offices or government agencies.

Maybe we get frustrated with Google because even though the company’s informal slogan is “Don’t be Evil” … every time we turn around, it seems the company is saying or doing something to (deliberately?) engender consumer dissatisfaction.

Consider the comments of Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, who speaks often about the role of Google and how it relates to the personal privacy of consumers. There he goes, wandering from media outlet to media outlet, dropping bon mots — others might call them “verbal bombshells” — like these:

 “[Google is] building an augmented version of humanity, building computers to help human do the things they don’t do well, better.”

 “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can, more or less, know what you’re thinking about.”

 “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

What’s more, Mr. Schmidt seems to be digging in his heels on Google Maps. I’ve blogged before about this controversial initiative, as it began to become evident that Google was collecting more than just photos of people’s homes.

Just this past week, Google finally admitted that its Street View vehicles had been scooping up a lot more than just “meaningless fragments” of information from unsecured WiFi networks as it sweeps through neighborhoods. The digital harvest has included full e-mail addresses and passwords.

Alan Eustace, Google’s senior vice president of engineering and research, seemed apologetic. “We are mortified by what happened,” he said.

But Eric Schmidt may have revealed the true feelings of the company when he suggested on CNN’s Parker-Spitzer program that the people who don’t like Google’s Street View vehicles taking pictures of their homes “can just move.”

Of course, complaining about Google is a great armchair activity that may be little more than petting grousing. I know of few (if any) people who would be willing to forego the benefits that Google’s vaunted information and content engine delivers.

Going forward, it does appear that Google may be a bit more receptive to the concerns people have expressed. This past Friday, the company announced that it has appointed a new “director of privacy” across its engineering and product management. Reportedly, Alma Whitten, the person appointed to this position, will be focusing on building privacy controls into products and internal practices.

We’ll see how that goes.