Ad-Blockers: What happens when your users change behaviors?

Safari iconWith the release of Apple’s iOS 9 software for iPhones and iPads, the age-old discussion about revenues from web advertisements has picked up a new urgency. One of iOS 9’s new features is lightweight content blocking extensions for its built-in Safari web browser. This has opened a window of opportunity for mobile developers to create plugins that suppress ads inserted in mobile web pages. For the first time, Apple mobile users have the ability to shield themselves from some of the more annoying items that embed themselves in web content. Poof! No more full-screen ads, no more auto-playing video come-ons, no more accidental clicks on things you don’t wish to buy! Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Blocker Wars: The User Strikes Back

But what happens if you’re on the other side of the equation? Providers of content aren’t all that happy with this. Although Apple didn’t explicitly create this extension capability for blocking ads, it’s not a stretch to believe they knew this would be one of the first applications for it. With many publishing companies turning their efforts toward a great experience for their mobile viewers, what happens when ad-block plugins take away parts of their revenue? Naturally, they will spill a lot of ink to chronicle the impending apocalypse. Some even gleefully talk about “ethical” content blocking.

This topic got me thinking along the lines of changes to user needs in a service environment. A software change on the part of Apple has allowed its customers to change a key part of their behavior online. By allowing iOS users to obtain, install, and use ad-blocking plugins, suddenly those users have the opportunity to change how they consume content online. In so doing, they can become more selective about what they do and do not see. This is a change in behavior facilitated by a change in technology.

Service Changes Caused By User Behaviors

What happens when something like this occurs in your own environment? When your customers begin changing how they consume your services, are you prepared to adapt to those new realities? It seems to me that the ITIL concept of Continual Service Improvement (CSI) applies to this scenario. If your service ceases to meet your customers’ needs, shouldn’t you as a service provider be looking to change your services — modify, replace, or retire — to reflect the new landscape?

CSI is one way to recognize there is an opportunity to renew your service and make it better. Because CSI should be an integral part of all stages of a service’s lifecycle, it takes into account the fact that services must adapt to changing circumstances and needs. CSI feedback in the form of user behavior changes is something you should notice, possibly discuss with your customer’s stakeholders. Is the change something the customer didn’t intend to happen (and therefore to be corrected) or is it harbinger of a change to customer requirements?

If you are a service provider, a change in the application of such technology might force you to make decisions about your service that you’d prefer to avoid.

In the case of content providers with blocked ads, you might have to evaluate why users are blocking ads and modify your service. I realize this might be easier said than done, but it might be more effective to adapt to the situation than to ignore or stand opposed to it. The same is true for any IT service provider. User behaviors will dictate some of what can and cannot be done.