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.
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.