The Internet needs cure for its advertising addiction

Guest Column:
Leonid Bershidsky
After reportedly being valued at $3 billion by Facebook and then at $10 billion by Alibaba – neither deal actually happened – the ephemeral messaging service Snapchat is finally getting a revenue stream. After deliberating for more than a year on how to make money, its solution is the most unoriginal imaginable: advertising. More

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OP-ED / LETTER TO THE EDITOR

The Internet needs cure for its advertising addiction

Guest Column:
Leonid Bershidsky
Posted 8/25/14

After reportedly being valued at $3 billion by Facebook and then at $10 billion by Alibaba – neither deal actually happened – the ephemeral messaging service Snapchat is finally getting a revenue stream. After deliberating for more than a year on how to make money, its solution is the most unoriginal imaginable: advertising.

Though business founders and customers alike hate it, and Web pioneers are sorry they helped it become so pervasive, adverts seem set to fund the Internet industry’s future as well as its past.

Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel explored the in-application purchase model that’s used by the Japanese messenger Line, which makes most of its money selling stickers: Snapchat’s customers, mostly aged 13 to 25, might go for it.

He considered “native advertising” – a cute expression for ads masquerading as content. He talked about supporting upcoming artists and actors by letting them create ads that would have a value to users. Instead, he appears to have opted for standard pre-roll ads.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, the company will launch a service called SnapChat Discovery showing users news stories preceded by ads. You’ll have to hold your thumb on the phone screen to see the news, so you can’t avoid the pre-rolls.

To a user, that’s an unpleasant bit of manipulation, just like Google’s Adwords, which 41 percent of searchers perceive as organic search results, or Facebook’s infamous mood-programming experiment.

The ad model – with implications including massive data collection and tricking users into clicking on information they never asked for – is legitimate, but it feels dishonest to most people outside the advertising industry.

Internet users accept it because it gives them access to free stuff, but try to cheat it in return by not clicking on ads, though they are no match for Google. I know people who claim they have never clicked on an ad; I also know I’ve been beaten at this game numerous times by companies who are making a bigger effort to win than I am.

The builders of some of the first money-making Internet sites are unhappy with the turn the Web has taken. Designer and programming guru Maciej Ceglowski made a poignant presentation about it in the German city of Duesseldorf in May, speckled with pictures of cute animals to take his listeners’ minds off the depressing content.

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