On holiday a few months ago, I was chatting with J and Tim about the uncertain future of free-to-access, quality content on the Internet. People are accustomed to getting quality content for nothing. Take TrustedReviews for example – a great UK site that helps its users to sort the new technology wheat from the chaff. Typically, such sites rely heavily on the funding they gain from the adverts they include on their pages. However, tech-savvy users increasingly employ ad blocking software to hide ever-more-intrusive adverts vying for their attention. Clearly this situation is not sustainable, and something has to give. Either the content vanishes, or the consumer needs to pay – one way or another.
At one extreme, advertising becomes so perfectly targeted that people consider it a benefit and welcome it as part of their online experience. At the other extreme, people are given a way to “put their money where their mouse is”, paying their preferred content providers in return for an advert-free experience.
To my mind, neither extreme is currently credible. Firstly, perfect targeting of adverts would require the advertiser to have an inconceivable level of knowledge about the user that few users would tolerate. Secondly, paying for advert-free content is typically done on a subscription basis, and I don’t see users being prepared to set up and manage an ever-increasing set of commercial subscriptions. And my idea of a paid-for “Internet Licence” (perhaps managed by ISPs), while reasonable in concept, could be a nightmare to administer (trying to justify which content providers deserve which fraction of the income) – and undoubtedly inconsistent across international boundaries.
Today I heard about Flattr – an interesting new service (ironcially set up by one of the Pirate Bay founders) that’s heading in right direction by letting users reward the producers of content they value. In its current form it doesn’t give an ad-free experience, but I guess that could follow once content producers are confident that discretionary income can take the place of advertising revenue.
Here’s how the website describes itself:
- Flattr is a social micropayment platform that lets you show love for the things you like.
- Help support the people you like and enable them to continue with what they do.
- Add your own things to Flattr and receive appreciation from others.
I think I might give it a go. But I must admit, I’d really rather pay a little more to my ISP and have them do the running around on my behalf – rewarding the content providers I access in return for fewer adverts.