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I don't really care if ads stop being profitable. If ads stopped being a good source of revenue, the tech industry would adapt, and my guess is that the end result would be much more favorable to society. I'm working on an early-stage startup right now, and I'm certainly not going to use ads as part of my revenue model.

Google might not be too happy about an outcome like that, but I'm not overly concerned about Google's wellbeing. :)

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this since you work on ads: are ads actually essential in the software industry, or could we do just fine without them?




In recent years we, conscious consumers, shot down several viable business models that could have replaced ads such as data collection for trend analysis and crypto mining in the browser. They were met with outright hostility.

Perhaps justifiably so, but we have to keep in mind that any producable "value" will have to "hurt" in some way. We have to give something in exchange for "free" services. Yet the focus is only on the price paid instead of the fairness of the transaction (or lack thereof).

Either we give up the "free" model alltogether and shift back to paid services only, or we choose the lesser evil and live with it.


> data collection for trend analysis

Of course that's going to be met with the same hostility. It's 99.9% the same thing.

> crypto mining in the browser

Of course that's going to be met with similar hostility. Climate change is even more present in the public consciousness.


> Either we give up the "free" model alltogether and shift back to paid services only, or we choose the lesser evil and live with it.

This is true in a specific way, and it is sometimes useful to use this frame. But in this case, I think the frame obscures more than it focuses.

"We" aren't getting together and voting or bidding or whatever. I think the closest thing to a choke point for decision making about some of this is in Google's hands, with Chrome. At least until the browser monopoly wheel spins again.

> We have to give something in exchange for "free" services

Eh? No. The requirement is that services need resources to exist. If you immediately extrapolate to pseudo-moralistic finger-wagging at "consumers", you're ignoring a lot of ways various organizations have found to exist. It is either self-blinding or a heavy thumb on the scale.


How about I keep leveraging the fact that I'm smarter than the average user so I can give nothing and and the losers who get their data mined or their power used to mine coins can pay you.

This mutual hostility has worked for the entire life of the internet and probably has another decade of life if not more.


Game theory. In a world with network effect and a choice to make money from ads or subscription, the companies that choose defect (bad ads) win. We have to change the environment to get a different outcome.


I still remember the web when I got my first modem. What the ads changed is the amount of various clickbaits, useless sites, sites "for fun", garbage of the internet. All this would be gone without ad revenue, there wouldnt be any sustainable bussiness model for them.

Regarding usability of ads, in 20 years I never bought anything shown. When I need something I search for relevant product solving my need and I buy it. And trying very hard to avoid fake reviews. If your product type showed on ads is what I need, I will still do my best to check the market and find best product type for me with lowest price I can get. Which is typically not what is shown on ad. At the end they dont change anything for me.

Now the question is - would internet without ads really be that bad?

My personal expierience with one of the news sites (cant remember which it was) after GDPR was somehow refreshing. If you didnt agree, they disabled all javascript and throw you into same website but with only text and images relevant to the article. I loved it.


> My personal expierience with one of the news sites (cant remember which it was) after GDPR was somehow refreshing. If you didnt agree, they disabled all javascript and throw you into same website but with only text and images relevant to the article. I loved it.

That was probably NPR.

Text version: https://text.npr.org/


Thank you very much for this. :) Yes, it was npr, and it is perfect example of quality content not needing megabytes of js content while still beeing usable. As a content. Not eye candy.

(Disclosure: I read book each week and I am thrilled by anything new I learn. I dislike pictures of cute animals and I do all communication with friends over the phone or going out.)


> I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this since you work on ads: are ads actually essential in the software industry, or could we do just fine without them?

The industry would definitely adapt, but I don't think it would be more favorable to society. Here's what I would expect to happen if we stopped letting third party ad networks detect ad fraud:

* Facebook, Youtube, Reddit, etc and other huge sites are already big enough to run their own ad serving, and keep doing that. They are still in a position to detect fraud as a first party, and they're big enough that advertisers trust them.

* Current ad networks build first-party integrations, where to the browser everything comes from the publisher's site. This could be designed as a newspaper licensing an ad serving system. This would provide high levels of trust, but not as high as the current system because you lose the protection of cross-origin iframes.

* Ad networks don't find it worth it to integrate with long-tail sites, the sites make less money, we have fewer of them.

If we went far enough to functionally remove ads from the internet, either by banning them or by ads losing the adblocker-blocker-blocker-blocker arms race, then I'd expect a different pattern:

* Everyone moves to subscriptions of various kinds, probably with slightly porous paywalls.

* Right now ads are effectively a progressive tax: the publisher makes more money from you in proportion to how valuable it is to advertise to you, which is roughly in proportion to how much money you have. To raise the same amount of money from subscriptions you need to charge more than what people can afford to pay at the low end, so some people get cut off.

* There's a massive drive to consolidation: people don't want to have a lot of subscriptions to manage, so we get things where one subscription covers many people. The economics of how small sites get included in this are complicated, and I suspect this also hoses the long tail.

* Free sites are popular, making money through some combination of product placement, charitable funding, and funding to push worldviews. The latter worries me a lot.


> funding to push worldviews. The latter worries me a lot.

This is already happening in the advertisement world of today, where certain topics—some political but some not—are not "friendly to advertising", and so get demonetized on various platforms. How is that different from the scenario you worry so much about?


> certain topics—some political but some not—are not "friendly to advertising", and so get demonetized on various platforms

I think they're pretty different. If you look at the AdSense prohibited content policy [1] or the ones for other general-interest networks they don't allow their ads on sites about porn, drugs, gambling, etc. If you run a standard newspaper, for example, covering the full breadth of what a newspaper typically covers, you should be able to put ads on ~every story.

In a world without ads, the newspaper would probably be a subscription site, and would be competing with non-subscription sites that are funded by people who want to push a perspective. The current dynamic effectively prioritizes perspectives in terms of how much people want to read them (because that's where the advertising money is) while in this new dynamic there would be more prioritization based on how much money the people with that perspective have (because that's where the funding is). I think that's probably worse for the world?

[1] https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/1348688


> There's a massive drive to consolidation: people don't want to have a lot of subscriptions to manage.

Imo subscriptions aren't viable at all. For me to subscribe to something I need strong evidence that I will use it enough.

Automatic micropayments with a daily allowance seem like a much superior solution. They remove the friction of making the subscribe decision and keep the content creators in check by only paying for interesting content. Subscriptions can be easily forgotten or aren't annoying enough to bother to cancel them even if the provided content isn't worth it anymore.


There is a company called Blendle that offers a curated source of news/op-ed/etc to read, where you pay some fraction of a dollar per read, usually in the 10-25¢ range. If you feel the article wasn't worth it, you can click a link to get an immediate refund, no questions asked.

I like the idea, and I do use their service. They have plenty of room to improve- the articles they pick tend to almost always have a certain political slant, and I find more puff than meat more often than I think a curated service should offer.

But. It's a real attempt at a new model, and they're trying. I do get enough value out of it to keep using them to the few-dollars-a-month level, and I hope they improve their system over time.


Blendle has stopped pay-per-article, moving to subscriptions entirely.


Are you sure about that? I literally received their daily digest which has the price-per-article, as expected, just a few hours ago. Maybe they are now offering both?


Yes, they're stopping micropayments on August 1st: https://www.niemanlab.org/2019/06/micropayments-for-news-pio...


Bummer. Guess that's the end of Blendle use for me. Thanks for letting me know.


The biggest problem I’ve had with Blendle is that I want to read an NYT article due to a recommendation, not because I go to their app. I just would forget to go there. There was no “open with blendle” option to move into my flow.


> Subscriptions can be easily forgotten or aren't annoying enough to bother to cancel them even if the provided content isn't worth it anymore.

Which is precisely why companies prefer the subscription model. See gyms, cable TV, and insurance companies.


> Automatic micropayments with a daily allowance seem like a much superior solution.

How do you ensure some content quality that goes beyond a headline and a catchy teaser paragraph?

Kindle Unlimited had this problem when they started distributing payouts based on pages read, which led to a proliferation of books with catchy first page, instructions to skip to the last page and a bunch of junk in between.


> How do you ensure some content quality that goes beyond a headline and a catchy teaser paragraph?

How about a simple button that makes a view/visit not count?

> instructions to skip to the last page

That happened because it didn't count pages read or time spent.


Kindle Unlimited has other problems that make issues for content quality, king among them being the KDP Select requirement.

I’ve managed to find value from Kindle Unlimited, but pretty much nobody but self published authors (which I have no problem with, but there’s effectively zero bar to entry meaning quality is over the place) is available on the service because of the KDP Select issue. It doesn’t seem to be evenly enforced either, since the Harry Potter books are available via Kindle Unlimited yet are available for sale on other eBook stores, for example.


> I'm working on an early-stage startup right now, and I'm certainly not going to use ads as part of my revenue model.

That is great, but who are the people paying you? Are they end users, or are you selling a service to other web companies that DO rely on ad dollars to make money?


I think that the democratizing effect of services that make money through advertising is vastly underestimated. There are a lot of people on the internet who can't afford to pay for Microsoft Office, or a set of encyclopedias, or courses like those which can be found on YouTube or blogs.

It's all well and good to say that you hate ads because you can afford to pay to remove them. Many can't, and we should think very carefully before we remove services they need.


The best content I’ve found in recent years has been either on sites that don’t contain advertisement (because they’re someone’s personal hobby blog, for example, or HN) or from videos where the person was supported directly by fans through Patreon.

Anecdotally, the advertisement-supported content is mostly garbage.


HN does have ads. They're job ads for YC companies, and they're the entries you see without an option to vote on. Ones like "Come eat – I mean build with the ZeroCater (YC W11) engineering team".


That's an example what ads should be. They are relevant, appropriate, they don't try to fool you or spy on you.


I believe your comment and Godel_unicode's are both correct, and I am pro-choice. Some people may prefer adverts over payment. I don't agree, but that is their choice. I can't stand to hear from NPR's underwriters any more, and will start singing songs loudly (I'm a bad singer to boot) when they come on. In other words, I am personally ad-adverse. My 80-something parents, however, don't even mute the channel, let alone change it, when watching TV and the advertising starts (it drives me nuts). Some people don't mind, and I think they have a right not to be denied content via advertising if that is an "offer on the table."

If one looks at the history of the HBO cable channel vs. broadcast channels (i.e. ABC, NBC, and CBS), and also Netflix, I think one can see there are similar dynamics at play.

The chaos of freedom is a beautiful thing, but using the government to enforce your version of utopia is scary.


Being pro-choice about advertising is like being pro-choice about influenza. Advertising is an infectious disease, it does not respect the choices of those who'd prefer to pay up front, and people underestimate its danger to young, old and weakened individuals.


You should check out Neil Degrasse Tyson on YouTube. Or virtually any podcast.


I listen to maybe a dozen podcasts. None have ads; most of them I support on Patreon.


It's unclear to me what that has to do with my point; the existence of high quality patreon-backed podcasts doesn't mean anything about the supply of quality advertising-supported podcasts. You should look into it, there are a lot of them.


I listen to ad-supported material, I just have muscle memory, and a visceral reaction to advertising where I will just advance VLC's playback by 1min via shortcut-key (assuming one uses a standard RSS reader and DLs the mp3 file locally).

I'm not sure I understand the point of saying you listen to non-ad-supported podcast, and not mentioning how they are supported or if it's pure hobbyist stuff you listen to.

Advertising comes in many forms (i.e. native content), and unless you link your .opml file, I can't ascertain the value of your statement. I do not recommend doing so, but young tech people think it's OK to put your real name on the internet (which is contrary to the ideas I was taught in the 90s; the use of pseudonyms has proven sound given our current circumstances).


Many podcasts are 100% advertorial content. The ad is the podcast.


But they can afford LibreOffice, Wikipedia, and Vimeo.

The current allocation of human productivity enablement is not the only one possible (and an "is" is not an "ought to be" as per Hume).


You need a computer to run LibreOffice. So no, in many cases, they can't afford it.

Vimeo requires the person creating the content to pay, yes? So if I want to do a series of videos on Kibana, or Active Directory, or astrophysics, I need to pay Vimeo in addition to the effort of creating my content.

Basically no one outside a philosophy lecture has ever suggested that the current state of anything is the only possible one, that's a meaningless strawman. Please avoid the condescending suggestion that others can't imagine things being different, it's as patronizing as it is pointless.


True, but in many cases you can still offer a service for free without ads. E.g. offer a free version with limited functionality, and then offer a paid version with features that are needed mainly by people who use your product for work. Even if ads weren't an option, it's still advantageous to get lots of people using your product, and I think companies will continue to find ways to do so.




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