The Cost of Being Seen

While the web might have started out as excited amateurs building their little corner then sharing it with others, it’s now also home to large companies and content professionals. Which has made recouping the cost of running sites and creating the pages on them a major driver of “normal” website structure. The usual models are either pay-for-access or paid-by-advertising, but I came across a new idea today: internet user as middleperson.

As an author and publisher, I know that creating has a cost and share the desire of journalists, instructors, film-makers, and the many other people who create content for the web to receive a more tangible reward than “exposure” for at least some of my work. But, I also understand both the entirely sensible reasons why people don’t like the advertising model for making content pay and the desire of people not to be tied into only the number of sources they can afford to subscribe to.

The Basic Attention Token(BAT), a variation of bitcoins, attempts to address this by paying people to watch adverts and allowing websites to charge for access in BATs. Instead of having to watch the adverts during/beside the content, with all the annoying tactics to force attention to the advert that such a system breeds, users watch the adverts then access clean content at a later moment. Publishers don’t suffer the blame of users for adverts that detract from the user experience, spy on visitor, or even deliver malware. And, because the payment for watching adverts can only be used for certain things rather than turned into cash, advertisers have greater trust that viewers are people rather than bots. Theoretically, everybody wins.

However, in my gut at least, it feels wrong. Having grown up with newspapers and magazines that have adverts beside the articles, and with television channels that have commercial breaks, I don’t find the presence of even the least advertising inherently negative or distracting. However, it is a long way from not actively avoiding adverts to choosing to seek them out: intellectually, I can see that 15 minutes spent watching adverts is the same length of my life whether done in a block or interspersed through a program; but emotionally, choosing to sit down for 15 minutes to watch adverts seems like a very different – and considerably less attractive – thing, than watching 15 minutes of adverts in many short bursts between things I want to watch.

So, I can see how it could provide benefits if implemented carefully, but suspect that increasing the separation between adverts and content will result in many people being less motivated to view adverts not more.

What are your thoughts on the concept? What would be your lines in the sand for how it was implemented?

2 thoughts on “The Cost of Being Seen

  1. The only way it would work for me is if I could let the ads run their course while I did something else, and then returned to view the content I was interested in. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp has a streaming service for their radio content. When it’s invoked, the first thing that appears is 2 ads, anywhere from 10 seconds to 30. I get ’em going and go somewhere else, either physically or online, for the duration. Then I plug in the earbuds and listen.


    1. The BAT model is you watch X units of adverts and your account is credited with X tokens, then you can spend those tokens at any point after to purchase X tokens worth of articles. So, if you built up a stock of tokens you wouldn’t need to have the short wait before content.

      However, as you say, people don’t always pay full attention to adverts, so I’m unsure how BAT intend to deal with users starting playback then leaving the advert to run while they do something else.

      Liked by 1 person

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