Michael Gundlach, the man who’s blocked 100 billion ads

Well, Michael didn’t exactly do it alone, he had help from around 5 million users who have downloaded his popular AdBlock for Chrome and Safari so far.

Michael Gundlach. Photo by Wingate Downs

Loved by users, definitely not loved by online ad industry, Michael was kind enough to give some advice to young developers on how to support their hobby projects, and share a little bit about how AdBlock was born a few years ago.

Millions of people, including Flattr users, have AdBlock installed but very few know the man who built it. Tell us a little about yourself?

My name’s Michael Gundlach, and my wife and I live in the sticks in Georgia. I love boats and Ultimate Frisbee. I also love programming; I’ve been doing it since I was 8. As a grownup I spent a while programming as an employee, and then a while programming as a contractor; and then I spent a full year burning the candle at both ends, working on AdBlock at night while contracting during the day. Finally I took the plunge and quit my contract, so now I’m working on AdBlock full time.

Where did the idea for AdBlock come from?

I had used the excellent Firefox ad blocker, Adblock Plus, for years, so when Google Chrome added support for extensions in 2009, I searched excitedly for the Adblock Plus port to Chrome. Instead, I found a blog post saying they had no interest in making a Chrome version.

I loved Chrome but it was painful to use without ad blocking, so I decided to build AdBlock. I had also been a little frustrated by how difficult it was to configure Adblock Plus, so this was an opportunity to make a powerful ad blocker that Just Works.

Several months later Apple asked me to port it to Safari, so after a weekend of furious activity I was able to present AdBlock For Safari at Apple’s WWDC 2010 conference.

Do you know how many ads have been blocked by your piece of software?

No, but let’s make up a number — estimates like these are fun to construct! There are 4 or 5 million AdBlock users across Chrome and Safari, and they’ve had it installed for an average of about 1 year. I’d wildly guess that an average of 1 ad per page is blocked, and I just Googled a random statistic claiming the average user loaded 88 pages per day in 2009. So 4.5 million users * 365 days/user * ~88 pages/day * ~1 ad/page = about 144 billion ads blocked. Call it 100 billion to be conservative. Dang, that’s a lot of ads!

What are your favorite free apps and software and have you supported the projects financially?

Google, Chrome, vim, and Ubuntu are up there. I worked for Google in 2005/06 — I’m a Google fanboi — and I’ve submitted dozens of bug reports to Chrome, so I suppose those kind of count as financial support. I’ve probably *cost* Ubuntu money on the whole — I’ve contributed code that’s in Ubuntu, but I also ordered some free CDs years ago :)

Would you say that traditional ads should die or is there still a place for them?

There’s definitely a place for them. It’s the unsolicited, untargeted, aggressive, in-your-way ads that tend to frustrate people. If AdBlock had a way to add a “Show me ads if they don’t suck” checkbox, I’d add it in a second and I’m sure lots of people would opt in.

Can you give 3 tips to young developers who want to release their apps and code for free but could use voluntary donations to keep their hobby project going?

1. Put Google AdSense ads on your page. Ironic advice coming from the author of AdBlock, I know, but: many users like AdSense text ads, and 98% of internet users have never heard of AdBlock. I’d recommend against adding too many, or adding image ads, as they may drive away users before the users engage with your product.

2. Sign up for Flattr and for PayPal; getting a button set up takes about 15 minutes each. Pick a prominent place to request a donation, and explain honestly how you could use the money. Then, show half of your users the Flattr AND PayPal buttons, and show the rest ONLY the PayPal button. After a few months, see which group has done better. You may find that most of your revenue comes from Flattr, and you can’t convince people to click the higher-yielding PayPal button. But if you have eager donors, the presence of the Flattr button may turn their $2 PayPal donation into a 10 cent Flattr.

3. Try the Freemium model, where you offer more features for those willing to pay any amount. If you’re a small project, it’s probably sufficient to redirect payers to a thank-you page that downloads the full version or gives them the magic code to unlock extra features. In AdBlock’s case, I want the whole featureset available for those who can’t afford to pay, but for most projects Freemium makes sense.

What’s the next project you’re working on if it’s not a secret?

Hah, I wish! AdBlock is two years old and still takes up all of my time. A lot of that is a good thing — for example, I get lots of thank-you emails that I reply to, and many users email with questions and I get to help them one-on-one — but the bug and ad reports never stop coming in, there are always more things I’d like to do with the project, and the browsers are constantly changing underneath me.

The biggest task is triaging issue reports. The majority are simple issues that can be addressed by someone familiar with the project, while a few require my attention. I have a few awesome contributors who stem a lot of that tide. I would love more help; if you’re interested in getting experience on an open source project, drop me a line at adblockforchrome at gmail.

If AdBlock theoretically ever settled down to the point where I could work on something else, I might get involved with building open-source software for third-world charity hospitals, as there’s no real good general solution out there yet.

If you’re using AdBlock for Chrome or Safari then you might want to Flattr Michael for giving a choice of cleaner, less-annoying surfing experience :)

If you’re a developer then an older interview with Michael at sleeplessgeek.blogspot.com might interest you. It looks at his agile development approach, choice of tools and why you should really release early and often.

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46 Responses to Michael Gundlach, the man who’s blocked 100 billion ads

  1. chinaFans says:

    Well .I hope you can make balance between the users and the ad company . because in the web,sometimes we need AD.

    我对你的执着和你优秀的作品感到很佩服。

  2. Marco Damm says:

    Thanks for the cool interview!

    About a week ago I was thinking about adblock (which I use myself of course) when browsing the Warriorforum, the net’s biggest marketing forum. To me it seems like a constant fight between adblockers and advertisers. To everyone who is part of the latter, and even the former, I can recommend Seth Godin’s thoughts and books on permission marketing.

    Godin summarizes permission marketing with “[it] is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”

    For me permission marketing worked out far better than (blockable) unwanted interrupting marketing measures like banner ads, etc. For example I do bi-weekly free online seminars and thereby recommend myself. So far that worked out well for me and people keep recommending me and my intercultural consulting business.

    Right now the book is around £5 at amazon.co.uk
    If you found the recommendation useful, here’s my amazon associate link http://okage.de/prms

  3. Alasdair Burman says:

    Thanks – Looks good – $7 dollars down payment and more to come! Anyway, you won’t be able to drink it all at once. Blessings to you and your charming wife. I suppose I ought to thank the 5 million others but i have to go and have a drink of neck oil. Spiritual Humanist me ( and closet Jedi ) King James Bible was 400 years old last week; what an example of a focused and homogenous committee, Translated and written from texts in Hebrew, Greek and Latin by 50 guys in groups of 5. Not long before a few (Wm Tyndale was one) were burnt at the stake for trying to do it. I bet Gutenberg was sick when he realized he should have taken out a patent. You should have heard his wife in Strasbourg Market. ” I told him to patent it! Same as his mirror polishing business. I’ve had to pawn me king clogs! ”

    Byeeeee

    © Alasdair Burman 2011 18:00 GMT Skipton Yorkshire UK (INGERLAND INGERLAND INGERLAAAAND)

  4. VictoRia Light says:

    Don’t know if this will work or not but I just wanted to thank you for your fine work. I could only send half of what you suggested and for this I am sorry. You deserve more & I wish I had it to give. Maybe some day I will. Untill then take care and I wish you well.

    Lightfast

  5. john says:

    Great. I don’t want this pollution from marketing companies fouling my screen & you’ve answered my prayers. Thanks so much.

  6. Thanks so much for the comments and the support! :)

    Michael (the author)

  7. tilman says:

    you only need ad block if you surf porn anyhow. don’t really get the moral “keeping balance”

    I opt in for ADs on Demand, which is patented by amazon, under a very vague license. and some TV station is offering that.

    anyhow the future will be paid internet. so let’s use our talent and kill some CEO’s

  8. screeno says:

    I see that Wladimir Palant’s Adblock Plus will soon be blocking fewer ads, per this piece –> http://siliconfilter.com/adblock-plus-will-soon-block-fewer-ads-by-default-allow-non-intrusive-ads/ .

    Michael, do you have similar plans?

    Thank you!

  9. @screeno,

    I disagree with Adblock Plus showing some ads *by default*, but I’d be happy to let interested users *opt in* to this feature. I’ve already gotten several emails (and donations!) from users thanking me for not turning on ads without their permission :)

    I would also prefer that the user be able to define their own criteria for an “acceptable” ad, but I expect Wladimir intends to add support for that once it’s technically feasible.

    So, no: I have no plans to do the same thing, but just like I let users opt in to seeing Google text ads with a single click, I plan to make it as easy as possible for users to opt in to the kinds of ads that they find useful.

  10. bernard says:

    hey, great interview. i especially liked the part about “open-source software for third-world charity hospitals”. i am from south africa so i see that there is “no real good general solution out there” everyday, all the time. so you’ve been coding since you were 8. im 21 now, studied cinematography, and im an editor / cinematographer now. i realized only recently that i should have studied coding. dangit. is there still hope for me?

  11. Pingback: The top FOSS projects in 2011 - Flattr Blog

  12. @bernard,

    Heck yes there is hope for you! You’re really young. My friend became a coder at around 27 years old and is successful just a few years later.

    Just pick a language and start playing with it. HTML and JavaScript if you want to build web applications (or Chrome extensions!), and then Ruby or Python or PHP once you’re ready to build the server side of things. Or build an Android or iOS app. And then find an open source project and start contributing to it.

    Don’t worry about not studying coding. The stuff you learn in a Computer Science degree isn’t as much about the art of programming as it is about the theory behind computing. Read coding blogs and books and have fun! :)

  13. Chellie says:

    Michael:
    Regarding the honor system payment: Is this a subscription based fee suggestion or a one-time fee for continual access? I paid in the middle of what I thought for each value: $10 annually/$30 one-time (I paid $20.00/middle of the road). If I am way off, please let me know. Thank you, Chellie

  14. Pingback: How to win over visitors with ad blockers

  15. Chellie, it’s a one-time payment.

  16. Bildkontakte says:

    I’m shure, that my comment will NOT posted here!

    Why? – Today, i searched for Ad Block. Found it in a german PC media – downloaded it – thought, it’s original from the Chrome site!
    Installed it – and what happend?
    Micheals site – should pay for it.

    I wondered veeery much about that ’cause i thought – It’s from Chrome!

    But: The best of all: !
    I changed my browser – surched via IE 8 for: Hey I am Michael etc.
    and found this site:
    http://chromeadblock.com/pay/#
    But when tryed to leave that page! – a message popped up – like usually you have them on Porn-Sites!
    “Do you really wonna leave this site? You havn’t payed yet”

    Hello????????? What’s that?

    Everything, what i found is copied – even screenshots etc. – and wil be send to Google!
    Who’s got the right, to go in my system? m- to block my browser?
    You’re shure, that you aren’t just annother gangster?

  17. xiaplus says:

    造福大众的大侠。 Thanks a million. I really appreciate it.

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  19. Bildkontakte.De says:

    If it had a serious outer, I would have payed for it – But not like this!
    On the german site of Chip – claimed as “Freeware” – and after that?
    Nada Freeware! Best of all: When you try to leave the site –
    It’s blocked! This behavior, you’ll find normally at porn-sites!

    Sorry – But: without this “structure” – I would like to buy it!

  20. Joe says:

    ChinaFans, speak for yourself. I think we don’t need ad, if I want ad, I will look for ad, ad will ruin the internet, in excess.

  21. Daniel Alfredo Toro Meza says:

    Muchas gracias Sr. y Sra. Gundlach, acabo de instalar Ad Block y hasta ahora ha funcionado, el computador del que dispongo padece serias limitaciones de memoria y la publicidad dificultaba enormemente su funcionamiento. Me apena tener que decirles que en estos momentos no tengo como pagar su magnífico trabajo (no dispongo de dinero ni de tarjeta de crédito o recursos similares), vivo en Venezuela, mi e-mail es danieltmeza@gmail.com y mi teléfono es (0416)8162411, en caso que lleguen a necesitar alguna ayuda en mi país y crean conveniente mencionármelo no duden en hacerlo.
    Quedo en extremo agradecido por haberme quitado de encima esta agobiante publicidad de Travian.
    Saludos

  22. Putri says:

    Aw, I wanted to give a $400 donation to AdBlock cus Michael seem to be a good guy [: And his wife is pretty too, don’t forget to tell her that. Haha! Plus I also love programming. About to quit though, which sucks.

    Anyways, too bad I can’t donate right now. Can you wait for about 2 years from now? I just wanna thank all programmers that made my computing life possible.

    Ps. How much money do you make from doing this? [:

  23. Steve says:

    It’s worth it just for not having to sit through pre rolled ads on you tube alone. Nice one Michael.

  24. Anonymous says:

    For some reason, you extension is auto updating, even when autoupdate is disabled in safari.
    Hell, did you put a backdoor ?
    What exactly did you update ?
    I’ve lost trust in your extension and want full removal instructions.

  25. Amanbir Singh Grewal says:

    Hi Michael,

    I have no money but I thank you.

    I wish you and your family well.

    Amanbir

  26. jasy says:

    May you write AdBlock fo maxthon 4.0? I very hope that, thank you!

  27. Channy says:

    Hi Micheal, i was wondering if you can shoot me an email at tchan@hcrhs.org. I had a few questions about adblock, and i tried to find contact info on the chrome site.

    thanks,
    tim

  28. david says:

    some blogs rely on advertising, it is a shame to reduce the revenue of those people – especially the ones who really need it.

  29. Pavel Tverdunov says:

    I would like to THANK Michael who make this possible to block such stupid banners like: ‘drink more-grow stronger’, ‘get to know your death date’, etc. I’ve already paid for this product 5$ and I’m going to pay again in the next month because it’s really worth it! THANK YOU Michael!

  30. Guadalo says:

    Michael,

    I installed AB a while ago, & donated 10 english pounds ( currently around 15 of your mickey mouse thingies ), however, since that time the HD on my laptop died & had to be renewed, ( replaced with a bigger & faster unit of course! more speed sir ? Yes, Igor !! Too fast is never fast enough!! ), anyhoo, as you can imagine, a fresh install of GC meant no AB present. I couldn’t see a way to find/prove that I had donated before, apart from taking a screen shot of my Paypal receipt ?? Or find a way of reloading the version I had previously, so I just wanted to mention that I had installed again, but didn’t donate again. Just so know, & don’t send the boys ’round to pummel me! ahhahahaaa
    cheers,

    G.

  31. Pingback: Should I Pay or Should I Go #1: Why Pay When You Can Get it for Free? | The Circular

  32. lil.tori. says:

    I feel bad for not paying! I admire your kindness and generosity and if I could I would help you out. So I thought I would send you at least a thank you note… Thank you! You make my web surfing less annoying and my youtube playlists less choppy. So seriously thank you. In fact, I’ll write you a little haiku just for teh lolz.

    I try to watch cats,
    I don’t care about Lysol.
    Thank God for Ad Block!

  33. daniel says:

    May I suggest you take payments in bitcoin. No transferr fees. I will pay you more when I see that possibility. Please let me know when you do this. Otherwise fantastic program. An answer to prayer.

  34. Fritz Foehr says:

    Dear Sir,

    I have a new phenomenon. On the link ” http://www.20min.ch ” I bring off not advertising.

    Sincerely

    F. Foehr

  35. John Hamblin says:

    Blocking unwanted ads is great for me; at 75 years of age there isn’t much that I need or want. However, my biggest problem is spam. I get over 100 each day and would love to know how to block them. I realize that some perfectly legitimate mail might be accidentally routed to the spam folder, but the number of times this has happened to me is negligible. I have tried to use the google blocking app but there are so many and they keep changing the text parameters so you can’t block them.

  36. Kevin says:

    This article should be entitled:

    Michael Gundlach, the man who’s put thousands of web sites out of business.

    Keep using adblock. The services you count on will be gone. You can have an ad free internet experience. You can have free web sites. Eventually, you can’t have both.

  37. Asli says:

    I was earning from my website, beacuse unemployment like crazy in my country. We should find a way to keep ourselves alive. But this is happening. Some technology is coming and lots of people are hungry.

    There is just one way after this blockng system. I am sharing some useful informations and new ideas. And if there will be no ads, i should find something to stay alive. So sharing ideas and good information will end? Or maybe i ask for money to my visitors? If someone not block adblock thing, there will be no one have a website for free. So Michael, as a circle, no one will be need adblockig too.

    This is so wrong. When you turn on the blocker, you forgot is it working or not. So how you can know a person want to see the ad or not.

    As a result i am inviting web site owners to stop their websites. We didnt collepse your stupid money system. But this will collapse internet.

    And michael could you please send me a few dollars to buy meat? I am eating pasta for 18 days.

  38. Peter says:

    We had a service that was complete free for 6 years and only relying on the income of google adsense. Thanks to adblock our income decreased constantly.. So we had to change our service to a paid service.
    Now people have to pay, We earn even more money, and the ads are away. :-)
    Well, what should I say – I would have prefered the free service for my web business, but thanks to this adblock software it isn’t possible anymore. So people have to pay for everything on the web in a few years. Thanks Michael :-)

  39. Anna says:

    I love AdBlock, but I don’t like the AB slow my browser from 1s (without) to 2,87s (with AB). I used the Acid3 Test.

  40. Kristen says:

    I wish people would stop crying about AdBlock ruining their businesses. Who would want to buy something from a person who is rude to others about a service publicly on a forum?

  41. Susan says:

    Has anyone reported the addition of Adblock to their mac, causing the
    “too many redirects” error message to appear on certain websites?
    I love the ad-free surfing of the net, but on one website where I play interactive games, I now have to quit Safari and restart it between games. This is just since I downloaded Adblock. Please tell me there is a way around this. I’ve already gone through all the resetting Safari, emptying caches, etc…. Any help would be appreciated.

  42. Susan says:

    ps.
    I downloaded Adblock specifically to keep from getting that horrible MacKeeper ad that causes a popup you cannot close. You cannot even click and drag it out of the way until you are done with what ever it is you are doing….you’re stuck! You are forced to either click to download the trial version of their product or force-quit Safari. I can’t believe that type of advertising is even legal and I have complained to the FTC about them. But it’s still out there.

  43. David says:

    The best thing about adblock, being an IT guy, is that older people I help who don’t know how to deal with viruses and downloading or clicking ads and getting them are able to block the ads that cause the problem. Its really too bad that more than half the ads out there contain viruses or malware or are all in your face and aggressive. But I don’t think Michael is putting anyone out of business. A smart business wouldn’t have so many ads that are in your face.

  44. MArioG says:

    He don’t understand that some websites need ads for pay the costs?? now This clown is begging for money in his website!!! LOL

  45. Jex says:

    Yeah, all very nice, but he is now placing ADS inside the AdBlock configuration window! Calling for a campaign where he is taking money from people! How ethic is that?

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