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A *billion* dollar idea

19 February 2018

As I mentioned in my last column, Google has now equipped its Chrome browser with the ability to defeat the worst in aggressive advertising formats on the Web.

Those pop-ups, pre-stitials, interstitials, persistent overlays, auto-run videos and other annoyances that have driven us crazy for far too long will be nixed by the ad-blocking code in Chrome.


So why did Google do this?

Well I have a feeling it was because of a significant rise in the number of people who have wised up to the availability and effectiveness of independent ad-blocking software. All it takes to banish the vast majority of advertising from your screen is a quick download and install.

The problem with this third-party ad-blocking software is that they block Google's ads too and so, if Google hadn't built ad-blocking in to Chrome, they would have continued to feel the impact of an increasingly "blocker-aware" public and risked seeing their own ability to deliver ads significantly affected.

The bottom line here is that *NOBODY* likes ads, especially on mobile platforms such as smartphones.

I don't use a smartphone -- at least in part because I refuse to suffer the delays, distraction and irritation that advertising creates on that platform. One only has to watch others cursing and swearing at their phones, whilst furiously mashing the screen with their fingers as unsolicited ads interrupt their activities to realise that this is bad.

So these days I actually wonder what the webscape will look like in two or three year's time and I have a prediction...

I think we've reached "peak ad".

Advertisers have simply over-stepped the mark. They have tried to skew the value-exchange so far in their favour that people are now turning to ad-blockers and effectively saying "enough!". While most people are prepared to accept a modest level of non-intrusive advertising, the reality is that advertisers judge their performance on how much their messages are noticed. A pre-roll, interstitial or persistent floating banner that covers the content is far more effective at being noticed than a small unobtrusive banner at the top of a page -- hence we are getting more of the former and fewer of the latter.

I'm pretty sure that many advertisers will respond to a shrinking audience of non-blocker users by ramping up the aggressive nature of their advertising -- making it even more intrusive and obstructive. This will result in an escalation of the war and force even more people to install blocking software.

The end result will be that *effective* advertising via the online medium will all-but disappear. The aggressive advertisers will have shot themselves in the feet.

But what will this mean to content that is currently ad-funded? Will we see a contraction of content available on the Net if there's less ad revenue to pay for it?

Possibly... but I'm thinking that it's far more likely we'll see other methods of balancing the value-exchange contract that is implicit whenever you visit a website or use an online service.

People have talked about "micropayments" for an awfully long time and they have been proposed as a solution to paying for content. However, despite all this talk and many attempts to implement a practical micropayment system, it's still just talk.

Some online content providers have been successful in implementing paywalls or charging for their content. Spotify, iTunes, Netflix and a number of news publishers have actually built a profitable business on *selling* content online -- but they are in the minority and the problem which arises is that people don't want to have to manage a thousand independent subscriptions to a thousand different websites or providers so there is a natural limit to how effective this strategy will ever be.

So what else can be done?

Well how about swapping some CPU cycles for content?

We've all read about the growing number of websites that have been hacked to hijack your computer into mining crypto-currency when you visit their pages -- and I think they're onto something.

How would you feel if, instead of having to put up with God-awful ads or pay a subscription, you could gain access to your favourite news (or other) website in return for sacrificing 25% of your CPU time to crypto-currency mining while you were actually browsing that site?

I'd be more than happy to engage in such a value-exchange. I really don't care if the fan on my PC starts whirring while I'm reading my favourite content and since browsing is rarely a CPU-intensive activity, I wouldn't even notice most of the time. In fact, I'm pretty sure that my CPU gets more of a hammering from the auto-play videos and awful JS code that runs to animate crappy advertising than it would from a bit of mining.

So... do I see a fantastic opportunity appearing right now?

Who will be the first to offer a crypto-mining network as an alternative to an ad-network?

Instead of sites embedding annoying ads (which will be largely blocked), they could instead simply embed some mining code that is active only for the time that the user is actually on that site. The website would get a percentage of the currency mined by its visitors, the network would get the rest.

Hell, I think this is a fantastic business model and I'm pretty sure that if you did the necessary Power-Point display, added plenty of buzzwords (as if "cryptocurrency" isn't enough these days) and presented to the right people, funding a startup based on this idea would not be a problem.

Let's see if someone announces just such a network in the near future. This idea should have actually gone into my "million dollar ideas" notebook... but in reality, it's worth a hell of a lot more than a million dollars.

If/when someone decides to patent this... I claim prior art -- which I am willing to relinquish for a suitable one-time payment :-)

What do readers think? Could this be the "micropayment" solution we've been waiting for? Might providing a few minutes of CPU resources to mine a tiny fraction of a coin effectively be that micropayment transaction that, to date, has been impossible to implement?

Does anyone want to purchase my prior-art rights now, in the hope that they'll be worth HUGE money later on? (LOL).

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