Daily Archives: May 15, 2007

Steve Lambert’s Web Fight: Blocking Ads and Adding Art

The NY Times Business section for 13 May 2007 reports on the work of open-source artist and programmer Steve Lambert, Web Fight: Blocking Ads and Adding Art. It says in part

Steve Lambert, a conceptual artist, plans to add his own twist to one type of software that blots out commercial messages. His add-on will replace the display ads — which are usually papered over with blank windows — with curator-picked artwork from contemporary artists.

Mr. Lambert, 30, said he and Evan Harper, an artist, are not starting from scratch, but rather were modifying the program Adblock Plus. “Why reinvent the wheel when you can insert a gear and make it run backwards?” said Mr. Lambert.

Far from taking umbrage, the developer of Adblock Plus, Wladimir Palant, who lives in Norway, wrote in an e-mail response to questions, “Replacing annoying and obtrusive ads with some eye candy, turning them into their exact opposite, is a consequent continuation of what Adblock started — making the Web endurable and enjoyable.”

As open-sourcers, Mr. Lambert and Mr. Palant give away software and encourage others to tinker with it, which they believe improves the Internet by putting users’ interests over commercial ones. They have renounced their intellectual property rights to join a community where, in a sense, when everyone kicks off their shoes, stepping on someone’s toes is not an issue.

The article laters details the travails of a web advertising firm:

“There ultimately has to be a balance established where consumers recognize that if they don’t take the ads, there won’t be free content,” said Dave Morgan, founder of Tacoda, a Web advertising firm. In fact, EnvironmentalChemistry.com, a news and educational site, in 2004 began blocking anyone with ad-blocking software.

Kenneth Barbalace, its owner, said that heavy traffic on the site kept exceeding his available bandwidth, costing him up to $300 more monthly. Meanwhile, 10 percent of users were blocking ads, so he bid them adieu to reduce his traffic — and expense.

“A user who comes to my site and is blocking the ads is essentially denying me the ability to pay for the content that they are getting to access for free,” said Mr. Barbalace, who lives in Portland, Me. He said he found himself in “a little arms race” with software developers: they would rewrite the program to access his site, and he would in turn rejigger it to block them.

Finally, in 2006, Mr. Barbalace called a truce. Bandwidth is much cheaper now, and his ad revenue is way up. Plus, all the extra code he wrote for the site to keep ad blockers out made the pages load slowly. “I saw the 5 or 10 percent of people using ad blockers as an annoyance, as a philosophical problem, but not as a business problem,” Mr. Barbalace said.

What a refreshing thought –a businessman adjusts to changing technology by revising his business model. The idea of “calling a truce” is even more refreshing. Would that other businesses uncertain how to deal with open-source would take the same approach.

The article ends with these final words from Mr. Lambert:

“I don’t make money from this, so if it bothers some people, that’s O.K. Art should bother some people.”

42, 45, 57, 65, 235, 1729, …

The number crunchers at Microsoft, both financial and legal, have been crunching away lately.

The financial folks reported in news good for Microsoft and bad for all the folks paying high prices for Microsoft products that Profit at Microsoft leaps 65 percent.

The legal folks have also crunched away and now claim that Microsoft has a number of patents that relate to open-source. See for example Linux Foundation Prepares For Microsoft’s Legal Action, which says in part:

Microsoft carefully avoided threatening to sue any Linux users while nevertheless maintaining in a Fortune article today that 235 of its patents are violated by various forms of open source code. Sun’s Open Office suite allegedly violated 45 of Microsoft patents, while the Linux kernel allegedly violates 42 patents. Linux graphical user interfaces violated another 65, Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith and chief of licensing Horacio Gutierrez stated in the Fortune story.

Since we open-source folks may be in a crunch I’ve done a little number crunching myself.

I find it striking that just about midway between the 45 patents claimed to relate to Open Office and the 65 patents related to Linux graphical interfaces we find the number 57, a number that has had special meaning for me ever since I first saw John Schlesinger’s wonderful film Manchurian Candidate (based on the equally fine novel of the same name by Richard Condon) back in 1962. It is a conspiracy movie at heart and I suspect I am not alone among those who saw it who remember the appearance of the number “57” described in
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) as follows:

Senator Iselin is reflected off the glass covering a portrait of Lincoln – juxtaposing the ghostly-thin, anti-Communist with a stalwart American from another era, as he fixes himself a drink. As a spineless puppet, Senator Iselin complains to his wife that he can’t keep the number of Communists straight in the Defense Department: “I mean, the way you keep changing the figures on me all the time. It makes me look like some kind of a nut, like an idiot.” She holds up a newspaper and proclaims:

Well, you’re going to look like an even bigger idiot if you don’t get in there and do exactly what you’re told…Who are they writing about all over this country and what are they saying? Are they saying: ‘Are there any Communists in the Defense Department?’ No, of course not, they’re saying: ‘How many Communists are there in the Defense Department?’ So just stop talking like an expert all of a sudden and get out there and say what you’re supposed to say.

When he crumples, she apologizes for being dictatorial and brash: “Would it really make it easier for you if we settled on just one number?” As he pumps Heinz [commonly known as 57 Varieties] tomato ketchup from a bottle onto his steak, she arbitrarily decides on the exact number of card-carrying members of the Communist Party in the Defense Department for his script – so it will be easy for him to remember. [This is one of the film’s most amusing jokes.] In Iselin’s speech to the Senate later that afternoon in the next cut, he accuses the Defense Department of hiring ’57’ members of the Communist Party.

Crunching some more we find that if we multiply 235 by lucky 7 we get 1645, a number only 84 places away from another one of my all-time favorite numbers, 1729, and 84 is very close to the sum of 42 and 45. Go figure.

But I can offer some comfort to those who see “red” at this attempt by Microsoft to appropriate the integers as their own. After all, there are an infinite number of them …

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