I am definitely the first one to understand that there is no free lunch on the web. At the end of the day, someone has to pay for all of the great services and content out there. To boot, I am a big believer in the ad-driven model of content. To this point, there is a battle being fought at every web content company on a daily basis between product manangement, engineering, and ad sales. What is clear on the web is that every little change can make a huge impact in terms of usability, traffic, and revenue. The more you err on one side vs. the other can help companies make or break their numbers. It is this battle between usability (simple and clean) vs. revenue (balance between getting what you want vs. being cluttered) that is constantly fought behind the scenes.
Take Forbes.com as an example. I have always liked the content but over the last 6 months I have basically stopped going to their site or any link that someone sends me from Forbes. Why? I cannot stand the in-your-face advertising and the clutter. First, it starts with a big-ass splash page before getting you to the site and once there a Forbes.com video clip starts with a pre-roll ad. Once I click on another page, I am confronted with another video ad that starts right away. Once again, I like the writers but honestly this site has become too revenue focused and consequently too cluttered. As a user, I feel like I am spending more time dealing with turning off video and audio ads and skipping splash screens rather than reading content. I am sure the Forbes.com business folks have done their analysis between lost unique visitors versus more revenue per page, but in the long run striking the right balance between usability and revenue is key. And as I sit down with my portfolio companies, it is also this balance that we all seek to achieve because we understand that what we may gain in short-term revenue increases may hurt us in the long run if our audience base declines over time.