If you’re going to be in the advertising business, either as a site or as a service that puts ads on sites, at least make sure that the damn server gets the ads on the pages.

Now that our home is served by a Verizon FiOS connection that gives us 20Mb both upstream and down (and a big high five to Verizon for being the first in symmetry as well as speed), it’s getting easier to tell where the bottlenecks occur. And it’s usually not in the pipes. It’s in the ad servers.

Right now this topozone page (one that shows WUMB’s transmitter location on a top map) is holding back on text (specifically, lat/lon info) while the browser says “Transferring data from…” It’s been a few minutes, and I doubt that the data is coming.

Most sites with ads do a good job. Here’s for 02138. Loads fast enough.

But I’ll bet the time that it takes to serve advertising is a tie-breaker for many sites. I still think Technorati is a better live Web search service than Google Blogsearch, but it takes time, even on a fast connection, to serve up all those display ads on Technorati (which bears an income production burden that Google Blogsearch presumably lacks). To see how much faster Technorati is without the display ads, here’s the same search at

Here’s a bet. As more people get faster connections, tolerance for time- and space-sucking advertising is going to go down.

And eventually the advertising-pays-for-everything bubble will pop.


  1. Mike Taht’s avatar

    20Mbit to and from the home and you are getting tired of advertising’s speed? Is that what it took for you to achieve saturation? I lost it at ISDN speeds… while traveling in the 3rd world. It seems like 95% of the bandwidth used by all content is advertising, and stripping it out makes a huge difference.

    There are a few things you can do to speed up your web access and decrease the things demanding your attention in the general case.

    Are you running your own dns at home? Highly recommended, I don’t care how fast verizon is, local wire speeds are still faster.

    There are some nice ways to blackhole ad servers in dns but I’m not going to go into it right now.

    Are you using an adbusting proxy such as privoxy? I run mine with the excellent Neilvandyke.action file and rarely see ads anymore. When I surf with it turned off it’s stepping into a room filled with shouting people.

    (the firefox plugin Adblock plus, with one of their bigger block lists, – is almost as good, and certainly faster than privoxy. I use both)

    And feeding that into Squid? (Not strictly necessary these days)

    My firefox has a 2GB disk cache (up from the paltry 50MB), and also is tuned to start more than 4 connections… my machine has 4GB of ram so I tuned up a few other parameters as per this page

    And the net is still not fast enough! I’ve got some stuff in the chute to speed even all this up but can’t talk about it right now.

  2. jenett’s avatar

    That link has pop-under ads – what about that “Web’s social contract” stuff you mentioned a few days ago? Seems hypocritical to link to such crap, thank you.

  3. exanter’s avatar

    This has been true for the last few years, and I’ve been seeing it that long, but I’ve been on large pipes for a long time too. But really, this is just an extension of the weakest link principle: Your page is only as quick as your slowest link. Whether you’re offloading images, ads, whatever… If you don’t control it, you are giving some effective control on how your site loads (and thus, is presented) to someone else. If they have issues, well, you do too.
    And in the case of the ads, I doubt anyone would be real shocked to learn that all these ad sites oversell their capacity in a big way, and thus struggle to deliver a lot of the time. I’d wager that one factor in this whole thing would be the prevalance of the ad blogs, that are full of ads, but devoid of content.

    In a way, the “ads-pay-for-everything” bubble did pop, and lots of places are just content to get what they can from them. If they are living and dying by ad revenue, one would think they’d be up in arms over issues like this as it DOES drive viewers away. But as I’ve seen the issue just keep getting worse, and not better, it appears to not be the case

  4. Michael Buckbee’s avatar

    The Ad bubble may pop, but it is likely not going to be because of slow ad servers. If nothing else, Google is poised to massively revamp the near ubiquitious (and slow) DoubleClick ad serving network.

    If this is still too much of an issue for you, you can drop the following in your hosts file and more or less completely wipe out the issue:;hostformat=hosts

    I don’t personally do this as I’m loathe to deprive the sites I visit from whatever meager ad revenue they get, but I can see the ethics of it argued either way.

  5. Rex Hammock’s avatar

    I wonder if this is why Google is getting into the ad-serving business?

  6. Watch Your Ad Load Times |’s avatar

    […] Searls has it right. If your site has ads that take forever to load, MY attention is in jeopardy. And now that […]

  7. Chris Brogan...’s avatar

    Absolutely right, Doc. It’s not the advertiser who will get the brunt of the negative impact. It’s probably the site displaying the ad. My attention is at stake, is what I’m thinking.

  8. Damien’s avatar

    If the ad-servers will reach a cap in their delivery bandwidth as “domestic” users’ bandwidth grows, won’t they change their delivery model? If we can have symmetric 20MBit connections at home, would the delightful forced-delivery folks move to a paid SETI@Home model? “We’ll give you a slice of revenue if you give us a slice of your bandwidth?” The economics might not work though. Advertisers have never failed to find a way to keep getting the message out.

  9. Ben’s avatar

    Or servers are upgraded with demand?

  10. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks for the advice, Mike. Wish I were a better hacker. If I were, I’d do more of that stuff. But I’m qualified to do *some*, so I will.

    Jenet, I don’t see the pop-up or pop-under ads on, and only chose them as an example of a site that had a lot of ads that didn’t seem to slow it down much. Kinda chose it at random. Find me a better example and I’ll swap that one out.

    Damien, I think junk advertisers may always be with us; but the market in general will change. In my optimistic moments I think that will be for the better, but we’ll see.

  11. claire’s avatar

    Thank you for noticing this. I’ve been annoyed by load times due to adserving for years now, and I am in the online ad industry. I’ve asked media partners about it and they act like I’m making it up (lalalala can’t hear you….) I can’t even get a straight answer about what registers as an impression! It’s like asking someone about what constitutes the moment of conception. If the page loads halfway and hangs, say, on my leaderboard, but no content loads and the user clicks away, that’s an impression–even though it’s a useless one. You would think advertisers would be more up in arms about this but the fact is, most advertisers and agencies don’t think to ask about this kind of stuff, partly because the technology still scares them, partly because they’re still required to rationalize their online buys, partially because I think there’s some mutual delusions being reinforced among those in the online ad business. We all want it to work, so when it doesn’t, the best thing to do is pretend you “can’t replicate the problem.” I’ve even googled this problem a bunch and can’t find much about it. Weird.

  12. Norbert Davis’s avatar


    I have had 10mb FIOS up and down for about 3 years now from Surewest Broadband out of Roseville Ca) and they were the first in the nation to deliver 50mb FIOS service. Verizon might be larger, but I don’t think they were first.

    Norbert (happy 10mb FIOS user)

  13. Simon’s avatar

    Sometimes it’s not just ad server speed. Some ads contain lots of Javascript, and if the site does too, the browser can struggle to process it all.

  14. Ken Godskind’s avatar

    Ad supported content is a primary business model for the Internet currently, and that is not likely to change very soon. In fact, this is how we get to access so much useful or entertaining content for free.

    This makes it incumbent upon the operators of a particular site to ensure that their pages are loading in a reasonable time, since it is their brand and online reputation affected by poor page performance or errors.

    As a vendor of Web site performance monitoring and testing tools, I may be biased in saying this, but I am also confident that others inside and outside the industry agree, or soon will. External website monitoring using a browser-based monitoring system is the best method for understanding end-user page load times, and for understanding if your ad supplier is meeting their SLAs (service level agreements) to you and your customers.

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