One Man, One Long List, No More Web Ads

Rick works as a machinist in upstate New York and maintains EasyList in his den.
Rick works as a machinist in upstate New York and maintains EasyList in his den. "People hate ads," he says.
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By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jumpy, blinking Internet ads really bug "Rick752."

But he doesn't merely avert his gaze.

A machinist and self-described "blue-collar guy" in his mid-50s from upstate New York, Rick752, as he's known online, spends most nights upstairs in his den assembling a list of Internet ad sites and related data. That work, dubbed EasyList, enables millions of Web surfers to filter and freeze out nearly all advertising that would otherwise appear on their screens.

Yet the effort to block millions of Internet ads, while drawing raves from users, is feared by some who say that if it continues to grow in popularity, it could threaten the financial underpinnings of much of the Web, where publishers are largely dependent on advertising. Rick, who said he receives no money for his work, agreed to talk only if his full name was withheld.

"I'm playing against some pretty big players," he said, explaining his reluctance to step forward. "I don't want to be harassed. . . . I don't want to be bribed.

"I started it because I was frustrated with getting my computer infected from ads -- malware and spyware and all that stuff," he said. "I kind of went overboard with it. But you have to admit, it's pretty amazing, right?"

Indeed, EasyList and the free Adblock Plus software it works with may be the most popular and most effective of all the ad blocking systems on the Web. Using EasyList, which is also free, Adblock Plus screens out not just pop-ups, but virtually every other Internet ad form, including in-page display and video, based on Rick's list.

Its success, however, has put Rick in the middle of a fierce debate over ad blockers and what role they could have on the development of the Web.

Fans of EasyList and Adblock Plus see them as wonderful tools for uncluttering Web pages filled with distracting ads.

But some Web site owners argue that the blockers could have a devastating effect on the availability of content on the Web: Cutting the number of times ads appear reduces a publisher's advertising revenue.

Just imagine, they argue, what television programs would be available if there were no commercials to fund their production.

For now, ad blockers are used by a small percentage of Web surfers, and "we are nowhere near that doomsday scenario," said Mike Zaneis, vice president of public policy at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an industry group.

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