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Feel guilty about your browser’s ad blocker? Try the Reader button.

My browser now, basically.
My browser now, basically.

Like more than a third of American adults, I use an ad blocker in my web browser. It allows me to surf around without being slowed down and distracted by annoying web ads. (Fun fact: 99.9 percent of web ads are annoying.)

I've used one for more than a decade, but apparently it's starting to seriously catch on. In the year leading up to June 2015, ad blocker use grew 48 percent in the US, to 45 million users.

It has started to freak out media companies, especially given reports that ad blockers cost publishers worldwide some $22 billion in revenue in 2015.

Web publishers, basically.

The technology now exists for media sites to detect ad blockers and refuse to load content for those who have them. But few sites are doing that. Instead, everywhere I turn I find the same passive-aggressive tap on the shoulder.

"Hey," the websites say, all nonchalant. "We can't help but notice you're using an ad blocker. Without ads, we can't pay our staff or feed our children. But no bigz. You be you."

Ahem. No accusations here. Just an observation.

This we're-not-saying-we're-just-saying approach is a transparent ploy to stoke the guilt of web surfers. And, uh, it's working. At least on me.

So lately I've been trying something else, namely using the Reader button more.

The glory that is your browser's Reader button

The Reader button is a magic little widget in your browser that turns this:

buzzfeed, before reader (Buzzfeed)

Into this:

buzzfeed with reader (Buzzfeed)

The font is bigger (you can set your own font style and size), the distractions are gone, and lo, I can actually read something on the internet without my attention wandering in 30 seconds. I do an immense amount of reading online, so that's important for me.

They key difference is this: Reader doesn't block the ads from loading. It's just a piece of Javascript that displays formatted text over the top of the page. The page, in all its ad-ridden glory, is still loaded just behind it.

So: I go to a page, the ads load, ad revenue exchanges hands, I click the Reader button, and I get to actually read things. Win-win! (To see the original page, you just click the button again.)

It takes a second or two longer, but that's a pretty small price to pay.

This feature has been standard in Apple Safari for years. It was recently made standard in Mozilla Firefox as well, in both desktop and mobile versions. It's that little book-looking icon in the URL bar:

firefox reader (Mozilla Firefox)

For Chrome, you still need a browser extension to do it. There are a bunch; I use this one.

(Readers of my infrequent tech posts will recall that I still mostly use Firefox on a desktop, for the indispensable vertical tabs.)

Finding a balance between ad blocking and Reader-ing

For a while, I tried turning off my ad blocker completely and just relying on Reader to declutter pages I actually need to read.

It did not last. There are still too many ugly corners of the internet, where ad blockers are necessary for sanity. (If you've spent years surfing the web with no ads, it is a shock to see the garbage that's still out there.)

advertising clutter in a city
Most of the internet, basically.

So here's the balance I've struck. I still have my ad blocker on. But I have made a routine of whitelisting any site I regularly visit for #media #content.

("Whitelisting" just means telling your ad blocker not to block ads on that particular site; it's done differently with different versions, but it's usually a pretty easy, one-click operation.)

This way, all the media folks out there slaving to create the hot takes I read every day get paid. Their advertisers are happy. Their business model gets a few more years of life before it sinks into obsolescence, taking me and my job with it. And I feel better.

It's not a perfect solution, but a little less guilt goes a long way.