Going Ad Free with Micropayments
Having recently decided that I was fed up with seeing ads and paywalls on countless websites every time I open links (on news sites in particular), while still wanting content producers to get payed, I felt I needed to look into options for micropayments and see if they are any good. I simply won't subscribe to sites for which I am only a casual reader, so I needed another option.
- There are numerous accusations of dubious activity such as:
- Inserting affiliate links
- They tried blocking ads, but then injecting their own
- UPDATE Apparently this is a widely held misconception, here is some more conversation around it.
- Taking tips for people without consent
- Including Tor, but Leaking DNS, which is now fixed but a false sense of security is a dangerous thing
- I'm not convinced by Basic Attention Token and tips implementation, nor chances of mass adoption of Brave for their system to get enough market share to succeed.
- I want to choose what browser I use – and still be able to read monetized content without ads.
So that left me mostly with the two services Mozilla is working with, Coil and Scroll. Here is a basic breakdown:
- Works with browser plugins
- Pays out continuously based on time spent on site / watching content
- On mobile requires Puma browser (due to lack of plugin integration in mobile browsers), which is basically Firefox Mobile + Coil support
- Uses open interledger protocol:
- To monetize your own content, just add an HTML tag (or if doing conditional ads, you can do a small bit of JS to check).
- Paying out goes to any wallet provider that supports the protocol, I use Uphold for my blog, which can pay out in Fiat currency
- Other providers than coil can emerge and use the same protocol
- Enables various other kinds of Monetization, so can be used with Twitch, Imgur, Newgrounds and all kinds of other services.
- Coil doesn't have to pre-approve monetized content providers
- Works with browser cookie as far as I can tell
- Pays out to its partners as a split share of your subscription fee
- Works on basically all browsers (but you might not notice if you get signed out at first, from clearing cache for example)
- Does deals with specific content providers, such as The Atlantic and Bloomberg.
- Centralised payment system, officially only available in USA currently
Coil was very easy to set up. Just sign-up, grab the browser extensions and go. Then you can see a little green dollar sign when you visit pages that take payments. Unfortunately we don't have the ability (yet) to add the extension to mobile browsers, so in order to benefit from Coil on mobile I needed to install Puma Browser (effectively Firefox Mobile). Which, after a while of delaying I eventually decided to do. My one gripe was that neither LastPass nor 1Password currently recognize it as a browser, so it couldn't fully replace my mobile browser (yet), as they would offer to add passwords for the entire app rather than just the page you were on – I did flag this with 1Password.
I am very happy with the service Coil provides (including their curated list of monetized sites). I find that the broad range of independent publishers it supports makes it an incredibly viable option. The open protocol in particular should enable future iterations, competitors and support from more financial institutions over time, and it seems like its biggest perk is it is decentralized, and so I was able to experiment with the other side of the coin with ease.
With my blogging provider Write.As, I was able to instantly try out monetizing my own content. I just needed to add my “interledger payment pointer”, which I obtained via Uphold to automatically pay out in Euros.
Now, before getting excited, my low volume blog does not make any real money. Here's how it's gone so far:
But, I am hopeful should I write anything of consequence and should more people start using Coil, I would end up getting payed a much greater amount. I'd be interested to see how the more commercial partners are doing.
So after my positive experience with Coil, I decided to give Scroll a go. It is interesting, because while it doesn't have the open tech appeal of Coil, it does remove ads and has some serious premium content providers signed up to it, although sadly some of them still have article limits before you would still have to subscribe.
Coil uses magic SSO links via their interface and to your email, so it is really simple to get going. Click on the links in your browsers of choice, and you are already set up. They also show a breakdown of which partners are getting a cut of your subscription (and how much of it they get).
You can tell that it is working on participating sites because you get a small S symbol on-screen, which you can open to the Scroll toolbar, which enables you to do things such as share ad free links, and also it gives visual confirmation that you are indeed signed in.
My only problem (other than questions about the centralized model), is that Scroll gets logged out when you clear your browser cache etc. and I don't know what their plan is (and if it will continue to work the same way once browsers crack down further on cookies). So I have found myself logged out a few times, and then need to input my email and get a link to back log in again. It's only a mild annoyance, but it is true that it has been more awkward to use in the long run compared to Coil (which was more a set up once, work forever kind of thing).
I think the world of micropayment funded content is finally beginning to mature, and “experiments” in the field are getting more and more thought out, and I expect to see these services continue to expand significantly over the next few years. I cannot predict if the day of micropayments is here, and I know that globally $5/month to two main providers is cheap in some places, and unimaginable in others, but the nice part with Coil, is that people in places that are less wealthy can easily get set up to monetize content, and hopefully that will democratize media a little bit more – while also providing alternatives to established ad-based media.
There are also further questions to be asked, like the implications of society being desensitized to automatically paying out small sums of money all the time, and potential for accidentally paying money to people you wouldn't want to (even if there were ads doing it before anyway). It is also interesting what impact this has on privacy / tracking – and micropayment providers knowing what content you are looking at. I certainly hope that none of these businesses evolve to monetize your user data, as that is exactly the opposite of what I'm paying them to do. I also wonder about children and people unable to pay, and if we are just locking them out of ad-free experiences – which I would consider to be a dark outcome. Will it also make ad-funded stuff less viable – as more places stop relying on ads and use this instead? I certainly hope so.
I am very happy with my micropayment experience so far, and I intend to continue to use both Scroll and Coil for at least the next year, and I definitely feel a bit better not seeing ads this way, rather than simply applying an ad-blocker with no alternative funding for content producers. If you are willing to, I'd recommend giving it a try for yourself and experiencing the warm feeling of giving something back when reading something you have enjoyed, without the cursed tracking cookies and ads slowing loading and interrupting your experience.