The Blocker

It’s been an interesting couple of days for Marco Arment – the programmer who gave the world Tumblr and Instapaper (and less famously, a short-lived iOS Newsstand periodical called The Magazine) wrote a new Safari Content Blocker for iOS. Called Peace, and sold for $3, it shot straight to the top of Apple’s App Store sales charts directly it was released. 

Today, he pulled it down.

It’s blunt force trauma, certainly, and I understand his unease with blindly stopping everything. But the point remains just as it was a few months ago when Gruber first addressed this at DF: there is no way a 537-word text posting on a website should be a 14 MB download in the browser. None. And on mobile devices – where data is usually metered and where every electron of battery is precious – the current state of web advertising is untenable.  It’s not the fact of advertising that gives offense; that ship sailed decades ago. It’s the fact that the advertising is so resource-hungry. This isn’t billboards on the road, it’s more like being forced to detour and drive down a side street composed of nothing but billboards in order to reach a destination that’s 90 degrees the other way.

Ironically, I’ve been ad-blocking in my own way for a very long time; I’m one of those cranky old dudes still using an RSS reader – in my case, a $2 monthly Feedbin subscription and Reeder for iOS. And just like that, I’m reading about a hundred sites a day, and missing all the pop-ups and JavaScript crap weighing down the modern web.

When this guy whipped up a content blocking proof of concept in an hour at WWDC, the page-load time on the site dropped from 11 seconds to 2, and the javascript that kept hitting the network for a full minute after the page was loaded wasn’t there anymore. That ain’t hay, folks. That’s getting back serious CPU time, which means battery. And in a world where battery is the most important thing in gauging the value of your smartphone, that’s like taking a thorn out of your paw. And the world agrees, because that guy’s proof of concept, blown up into a full-fledged app, is currently sitting #2 behind Marco’s blocker in top paid apps.

If the phone has become the primary interface to the Internet for most people, this is a serious blow struck for the users, and one long overdue. Peace and Crystal are both on my iPhone, and they’re going nowhere.

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