eyeo, Adblocker plus and the future of fundingby@ChrisChinchilla
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eyeo, Adblocker plus and the future of funding

by Chris ChinchillaDecember 10th, 2018
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Content creators find ourselves in the midst of a quandary. Online content began available for free, and as the web grew we tried to find a way to pay the creators, and for many years that was advertising.

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Content creators find ourselves in the midst of a quandary. Online content began available for free, and as the web grew we tried to find a way to pay the creators, and for many years that was advertising.

Like many things that initially seemed like a good idea, we took advertising too far, and now readers are bombarded with flying, swooshing, obnoxious attention-grabbing boxes coming from all angles.

Naturally, those interested in privacy, battery life, or plain old peace and quiet reacted and started using tools to block advertising. So much so that it’s estimated that 30–40% of users now use some form of ad blocker.

Blockers don’t solve the content creators initial problem: getting paid. Some are finding success in paywalls, membership programs, or donations, but many content creators have experienced a race to the bottom with pay rates and treatment from outlets.

I have been investigating emerging new methods and ideas for content creators to earn a rightful income, and imagine my surprise when I discovered two from the creators of an ad blocker.

The name “eyeo” is likely not so familiar to you, but you probably know their products.

My interview with Rachel Brochado for this article

Adblock Plus

Adblock Plus (ABP) is eyeo’s best-known product, and as you read this on an Ad supported site, I won’t go into too much detail about how effective it is but focus on what eyeo are trying to do differently. First, the code for Adblock Plus is open source. If you’re going to install something you need to trust, being able to view the source code is a good start.

You can find the ABP source in a mercurial repository, with a GitHub mirror aimed at encouraging newer contributors. A browser extension is typically straightforward, and ABP consists of JavaScript for Firefox and Chrome, Swift for Safari and iOS, Java for Android plus a handful of python code for managing the codebase, and it’s blocking sources. Commits to the codebase have gradually grown beyond the project creator Wladimir Palant, and there’s a jigsaw of projects that seem well architected.

Where ABP gets interesting, and where we start to look into the future of content funding is their initially controversialAcceptable Ads” program. Eyeo’s perspective is that there is nothing inherently wrong with advertising, but more, the nature of many ads today. I spoke with Rachel Brochado from eyeo who explained to me that an independent committee oversees what governs an “acceptable ad”, and who/what is allowed onto the whitelist. There is a clear list of criteria on what an acceptable ad is, but no list (I could find) of accepted ads, so it’s hard to know how enforced the criteria is. Eyeo only starts taking a cut of the ad revenue after 10,000,000 impressions per month, which implies they have enough larger sites in the program to make it financially worthwhile to them. With little other information available, it’s hard to know precisely how much the program benefits creatives, publishers and ad agencies.

Acquired in mid-2017, the final eyeo product is Flattr, an older player in a growing field of micropayment platforms realizing that for this model to work, they have to be seamlessly easy for end users. This is typically in the form of browser extensions such as Brave, and also Flattr. I’m still uncertain if a browser extension reduces the barrier for enough users, but we have to start somewhere. Flattr offers integration for creators with just under a dozen platforms for video makers, writers, gamers, photographers, and programmers. Content consumers (or “contributors”) commit a monthly sum split between the creators (on Flattr) you patronize. It’s a simple idea but relies on the right combinations of creators and contributors to match, and that might take time to build, and again, the current published list of creators isn’t long. On the positive, the Flattr fee structure is lower than many equivalent services, allowing more money to flow between audience and creator than to platforms.

Is eyeo the Future of Funding?

After an initial rush of interest in their open source projects, it feels like eyeo are slowing to take a strategic view of what they do and how their products fit into that vision. The nature of their business makes people suspicious of hidden agendas, but with most activities and code out in the open, I hope people can look beyond that. I can see how ABP, Acceptable Ads and Flattr could fit together to create a funding model for the future, and I hope it’s successful. I would hope that instead of multiple paywalls and subscription programs, a standard of sorts emerges to allow us to pay for content fairly. Having seen a handful of publications try switches from advertising to alternative models, and unable to replicate the same level of revenue, I’m unsure we’re ready yet. However, with mainstream consumers increasingly questioning the business models of many tech companies, maybe this comes sooner than we think.

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