• Microsubscriptions: solving the adblock problem and ad-spying

    by  • March 10, 2013 • Everything Else • 2 Comments

    Google, Facebook and all the rest make most of their money advertising. The more they know about you and your behavior, the more accurately they can forecast which adverts will change your behavior, and the more they can make being paid to alter your behavior – on somebody else’s behalf. Advertising is a control game, and it’s the economic engine of the internet.

    The civil disobedience / get off my doorstep response to this is Adblock. You stop seeing ads. Ad-supported sites start feeling the pain. Consider Destructoid’s story.

    “Almost half of your readers block your ads. We don’t think we’re mistaken.”

    BlockMetrics was easy enough to set up and monitor. At first, it was about 10%, then 20-something. When I dared to blink it just increased faster. Over a few days it never got better, averaging at an ominous 42-46% block rate. I thought their tech might have been flawed, so I performed my own tests and contacted another company who returned a similar result.

    This means that we’re working twice as hard as other sites to sustain our company, as if keeping a group of game writers fed isn’t difficult enough. We see gaming sites shut down or selling out so often these days. Feeling my pain yet?

    Let me propose a solution. Discourse, Disqus and similar are ideally positioned to manage subscriptions for speech. Sites would, by default, not permit readers to comment. Maybe you get so many free comments. But, fundamentally, participating in the conversation is something you pay for. You get rid of the adverts and get the ability to talk, for a dollar.

    You don’t pay each site individually, that results in a massive burden of individual payments. Rather, you pay the “Identity Broker” $20 a year, and every site you sign up to using that identity gets $1 or whatever they see fit. You never see ads, the people you’re commenting with are accountable for their actions (abusive speech etc. can now be punished – “pay this bond or lose your account”) Sites get paid, and civility is returned to the internet. Transactional overheads are manageable because a single payment is farmed out to the sites you actually use.

    Do you see the catch yet? No credit card, no voice. No poor farmers who just got 3G because their cousin in Bangalore send them a cheap android tablet to keep in touch with the family. No 11 year old photographers on Flickr developing their skills.

    How else might we do this? Proof-of-work, so you simply leave your computer running for a week to generate an account? Unless that computation is paid for, we are no further forwards – what’s the going rate for computer time at the moment?

    Free is ending. Advertising has turned the internet into an enormous eye, staring at you. That same approach is fuelling the national security apparatus.

    If you are not the customer, you are the product.


    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


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