Post Advertising

What’s *really* wrong with the free and open internet — and how we could win it

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

A few days ago Sue Gardner, ED of the Wikimedia Foundation, posted What’s *really* wrong with nonprofits — and how we can fix it. Judging by seeing the the link sent around, it has been read to confirm various conflicting biases different people in the SF bay area/internet/nonprofit space and adjacent already had. May I? Excerpt-based-summary:

A major structural flaw of many nonprofits is that their revenue is decoupled from mission work, which pushes them to focus on providing a positive donor experience often at the expense of doing their core work.

WMF makes about 95% of its money from the many-small-donors model

I spend practically zero time fundraising. We at the WMF get to focus on our core work of supporting and developing Wikipedia, and when donors talk with us we want to hear what they say, because they are Wikipedia readers

I think the usefulness of the many-small-donors model, ultimately, will extend far beyond the small number of nonprofits currently funded by it.

[Because Internet.]

For organizations that can cover their costs with the many-small-donors model I believe there’s the potential to heal the disconnect between fundraising and core mission work, in a way that supports nonprofits being, overall, much more effective.

I agree concerning extended potential. I thought (here comes confirmation of biases) that Creative Commons should make growing its small donor base its number one fundraising effort, with the goal of having small donors provide the majority of funding as soon as possible — realistically, after several years of hard work on that model. While nowhere close to that goal, I recall that about 2006-2009 individual giving grew rapidly, in numbers and diversity (started out almost exclusively US-based), even though it was never the number one fundraising priority. I don’t think many, perhaps zero, people other than me believed individual giving could become CC’s main source of support. Wikimedia’s success in that, already very evident, and its unique circumstance, was almost taken as proof that CC couldn’t. I thought instead Wikimedia’s methods should be taken as inspiration. The “model” had already been proven by nearby organizations without Wikimedia’s eyeballs; e.g., the Free Software Foundation.

An organization that wants to rely on small donors will have to work insanely hard at it. And, if it had been lucky enough to be in a network affording it access to large foundation grants, it needs to be prepared to shrink if the foundations tire of the organization before individual giving supplants them, and it may never fully do so. (But foundations might tire of the organization anyway, resulting in collapse without individual donors.) This should not be feared. If an organization has a clear vision and operating mission, increased focus on core work by a leaner team, less distracted by fundraising, ought be more effective than a larger, distracted team.

But most organizations don’t have a clear vision and operating mission (I don’t mean words found in vision and mission statements; rather the shared and deep knowing-what-we’re-trying-to-do-and-how that allows all to work effectively, from governance to program delivery). This makes any coherent strategic change more difficult, including transitioning to small donor support. It also gives me pause concerning some of the bits of Gardner’s post that I didn’t excerpt above. For most organizations I’d bet that real implementation of nonprofit “best practices” regarding compliance, governance, management, reporting, etc, though boring and conservative, would be a big step up. Even trying to increase the much-maligned program/(admin+fundraising) ratio is probably still a good general rule. I’d like to hear better ones. Perhaps near realtime reporting of much more data than can be gleaned from the likes of a Form 990 will help “big data scientists” find better rules.

It also has to be said that online small donor fundraising can be just as distracting and warping (causing organization to focus on appearing appealing to donors) as other models. We (collectively) have a lot of work to do on practices, institutions, and intermediaries that will make the extended potential of small donor support possible (read Gardner’s post for the part I lazily summarized as [Because Internet.]) in order for the outcome to be good. What passes as savvy advice on such fundraising (usually centered around “social media”) has for years been appalling and unrealistic. And crowdfunding has thus far been disappointing in some ways as an method of coordinating public benefit.

About 7 months ago Gardner announced she would be stepping down as ED after finding a replacement (still in progress), because:

I’ve always aimed to make the biggest contribution I can to the general public good. Today, this is pulling me towards a new and different role, one very much aligned with Wikimedia values and informed by my experiences here, and with the purpose of amplifying the voices of people advocating for the free and open internet. I don’t know exactly what this will look like — I might write a book, or start a non-profit, or work in partnership with something that already exists.

My immediate reaction to this was exactly what Виктория wrote in reply to the announcement:

I cannot help but wonder what other position can be better for fighting consumerisation, walling-in and freedom curtailment of the Internet than the position of executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation.

I could take this as confirming another of my beliefs: that the Wikimedia movement (and other constructive free/open movements and organizations) do not realize their potential political potency — for changing the policy narrative and environment, not only taking rear guard actions against the likes of SOPA. Of course then, the Wikimedia ED wouldn’t think Wikimedia the most effective place from which to work for a free and open internet. But, my beliefs are not widely held, and likely incorrect. So I was and am mostly intrigued, and eager to see what Gardner does next.

After reading the What’s *really* wrong with nonprofits post above, I noticed that 4 months ago Gardner had posted The war for the free and open internet — and how we are losing it, which I eagerly read:

[non-profit] Wikipedia is pretty much alone. It’s NOT the general rule: it’s the exception that proves the rule.

The internet is evolving into a private-sector space that is primarily accountable to corporate shareholders rather than citizens. It’s constantly trying to sell you stuff. It does whatever it wants with your personal information. And as it begins to be regulated or to regulate itself, it often happens in a clumsy and harmful way, hurting the internet’s ability to function for the benefit of the public. That for example was the story of SOPA.

[Stories of how Wikipedia can fight censorship because it is both non-profit and very popular]

Aside from Wikipedia, there is no large, popular space being carved out for the public good. There are a billion tiny experiments, some of them great. But we should be honest: we are not gaining ground.

The internet needs serious help if it is to remain free and open, a powerful contributor to the public good.

Final exercise in confirming my biases (this post): yes, what the internet needs is more spaces carved our for the public good — more Wikipedias — categories other than encyclopedia in which a commons-based product out-competes proprietary incumbents, increasing equality and freedom powerfully in both the short and long (capitalization aligned with rent seeking demolished) term. Wikipedia is unique in being wildly successful and first and foremost a website, but not alone (free software collectively must many times more liberating by any metric, some of it very high profile, eg Firefox; Open Access is making tremendous progress, and I believe PLOS may have one of the strongest claims to operating not just to make something free, but to compete directly with and eventually displace incumbents).

A free and open internet, and society, needs intense competition from commons-based initiatives in many more categories, including those considered the commanding heights of culture and commerce, eg premium video, advertising, social networking, and many others. Competition does not mean just building stuff, but making it culturally relevant, meaning making it massively popular (which Wikipedia lucked into, being the world’s greatest keyword search goldmine). Nor does it necessarily mean recapitulating proprietary products exactly, eg some product expectations might moved to ones more favorable to mass collaboration.

Perhaps Gardner’s next venture will aim to carve out a new, popular space for the public good on the internet. Perhaps it will be to incubate other projects with exactly that aim (there are many experiments, as her post notes, but not many with “take overliberate the world” vision or resources; meanwhile there is a massive ecosystem churning out and funding attempts to take over the world new proprietary products). Perhaps it will be to build something which helps non-profits leverage the extended potential of the small donor model, in a way that maximizes public good. Most likely, something not designed to confirm my biases. ☺ But, many others should do just that!

Wikipedia’s economic values

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Jonathan Band and Jonathan Gerafi have written a survey of papers estimating Wikipedia’s Economic Value (pdf), where Wikipedia is all Wikipedia language editions, about 22 million articles total. I extracted the ranges of estimates of various types in a summary.

Valuation if Wikipedia were for-profit:

  • $10b-$30b based on valuation of sites with similar visitor and in-link popularity
  • $21.1b-$340b based on revenue if visitors had to pay, akin to Britannica
  • $8.8b-$86b based on potential revenue if Wikipedia ran ads

One-time replacement cost:

  • $6.6b-$10.25b based on freelance writer rates

Ongoing maintenance cost:

  • $630m/year based on hiring writers

Annual consumer surplus

  • $16.9b-$80b based on potential revenue if visitors had to pay
  • $54b-$720b based on library estimates of value of answering reference inquiries

Conclusion: “Wikipedia demonstrates that highly valuable content can be created by non-professionals not incentivized by the copyright system.”

Though obvious and underwhelming, it’s great to see that conclusion stated. Wikipedia and similar are not merely treasures threatened by even more bad policy, but at the very least evidence for other policy, and shapers of the policy conversation and environment.

They don’t do this through just the creation of great content. To fully appreciate “highly valuable” here, consider that Wikipedia is also popular — the first, best, only example of peer produced free cultural relevance that I can think of. That is what is needed to compete with products which depend on and further bad policy, not mere creation of good content.

Much about the ranges above, the estimates they include, and their pertinence to the “economic value of Wikipedia”, is highly speculative. Even more speculative, difficult, and interesting would be estimates of the value due to Wikipedia being a commons. The winning online encyclopedia probably would’ve been a very popular site, even if it had been proprietary, rather than Wikipedia or other somewhat open contenders. Consider that Encarta, not Wikipedia, mostly killed Britannica, and that people are very willing to contribute freely to proprietary products.

A broader (than just Wikipedia) take on this harder question was at the core of a research program on the welfare impact of Creative Commons that was in very early stages, and sadly ended coincident with lots of people leaving (including me).

How do we characterize the value (take your pick of value value) of knowledge systems that promote freedom and equality relative to those that promote enclosure? I hope many pick up that challenge, and activists use the results offensively (pdf, slideshare).

Googbye Adalytics

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

I featured a 468×60 Google AdSense block in the footer of this blog since 2004-08-30, and included Google Analytics javascript since 2006-12-29. I failed to note adding either.

I’m behind on my 8 year blog refutation schedule, will probably do a six middle months post rather than Q2 and Q3 separately; see Q1. In the meantime, I’ll note removing AdSense and Analytics now.

I added AdSense as a small way of getting to know a hugely significant part of the net a little better through direct experience. My revenue expectations were met over the years — trivial, due to trivial traffic and relatively innocuous placement. Viewing my blog with a browser sans adblock and with flash for the first time in perhaps years just now prompted the removal and this post, which I had planned to do in the fullness of time — the innocuous placement was still ugly, and with flash enabled all of the ads are graphical and many animated. Clearly I have learned all I am capable of learning via this experiment, which I am glad I did. If I ever have something characterized as third party ads here again, it’ll be via some very different mechanism.

I more dimly recall adding Analytics because I never looked at log analysis generated reports, and maybe if I looked I would find something to optimize. I seldom looked at Analytics, and never discerned anything. If I really feel the urge to look again, I’ll use a log analysis program, and if I want an Analytics-like interface, use Piwik. I realize for some analysis, and especially some experiments, in-page javascript can be very helpful. If I ever really want to do that, Piwik can.

Relatedly, I’ve meant to recommend Don Marti’s blog for a long time, when I got around to saying and doing more about net advertising, but don’t wait for me.

Freedom At Stake As Oracle Clings To Java API Copyrights In Google Fight

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Developer Freedom At Stake As Oracle Clings To Java API Copyrights In Google Fight (dated 2013-03-30; I failed to complete this post in one sitting and let it sit…):

Oracle lost in their attempt to protect their position using patents. They lost in their attempt to claim Google copied anything but a few lines of code. If they succeed in claiming you need their permission to use the Java APIs that they pushed as a community standard, software developers and innovation will be the losers. Learning the Java language is relatively simple, but mastering its APIs is a major investment you make as a Java developer. What Android did for Java developers is to allow them to make use of their individual career and professional investment to engage in a mobile marketplace that Sun failed to properly engage in.

Johan Söderberg, Hackers GNUnited! (2008; appeared as chapter in book I also contributed to; Söderberg’s text stuck with me, as I’ve quoted an extended bit of it before):

Intellectual property rights prevent mobility of employees in so forth that their knowledge are locked in in a proprietary standard that is owned by the employer. This factor is all the more important since most of the tools that programmers are working with are available as cheap consumer goods (computers, etc.). The company holds no advantage over the worker in providing these facilities (in comparison to the blue-collar operator referred to above whose knowledge is bound to the Fordist machine park). When the source code is closed behind copyrights and patents, however, large sums of money is required to access the software tools. In this way, the owner/firm gains the edge back over the labourer/programmer.

These kinds of critiques of intellectual protectionism from the perspective of developer freedom to do their trade, in addition to developer freedom to modify and control their computing environment, to tinker, are too rare. I’m also reminded of the fun title Noncompete Agreements Are The DRM Of Human Capital. So are copyright and patent.

Back to Developer Freedom At Stake…:

Will our economy thrive and be more competitive because companies can easily switch from one service provider to the other by leveraging identical APIs? Or will our economy be throttled by allowing vendors to inhibit competition through API lock-in? And should this happen only because a handful of legacy software vendors wanted to protect their franchises for a few more years?

Clearly this isn’t just about developer freedom. Nor is it just about user freedom — non-users are affected by anti-competitive practices — and the freedom of all is put at risk.

Bonus: What do APIs have in common with advertising?

Billion dollar open source organizations

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Brian Proffitt looks for the next $1 billion open source company. This year Red Hat recently surpassed US$1 billion annual revenues (and also $10 billion market capitalization).

One can debate what counts as an “open source company” (presumably something like “[almost] all software developed and distributed is open source”), but Red Hat is relatively uncontroversial; less so than the companies Proffitt lists as possibly next: EnterpriseDB, , and Eucalyptus. I might have included Canonical Ltd among those, but I didn’t look closely for indicators of whether any could reasonably become $1 billion annual revenue companies, or reach an easier $billion milestone, valuation — Proffitt notes that MySQL AB was acquired for approximately $1 billion in 2008.

An even more obvious addition to the watchlist ought be Mozilla, which should have annual revenues exceeding $300 million. Mozilla is least problematic on the “open source” front, though the for-profit corporation is wholly owned by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, which could lead one to overlook it as a “company”. This also means it won’t have a traditional company valuation (acquisition price or market capitalization), but it’d be clearly over $1 billion.

There’s one other open source organization that, if it pursued huge revenues and were for-profit (both requiring many counterfactuals that may well have destroyed the project; I advocate neither, though I have advocated huge revenues in the past) would be a billion dollar company by valuation and perhaps revenue as well — Wikimedia. I wonder, given that it forgoes huge revenue from advertising, and most people claim to dislike and find little or no utility in online advertising, what we can conclude about the consumer surplus generated by Wikimedia?

As hugely problematic as they are, huge organizations (most obviously governments and corporations) outcompete smaller arrangements in many aspects of human society. If software freedom and the like is important, advocates ought to be rooting for (and criticizing) huge “open source” institutions. And should also be looking for (admittedly difficult) characterizations of consumer surplus and other “billion dollar” metrics in addition to firm revenue and valuation of future profits.

Falsifiable PR, science courts, legal prediction markets, web truth

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Point of Inquiry podcast host Chris Mooney recently interviewed Rick Hayes-Roth of

The site allows one to crowdfund a bounty for proving or disproving a claim that the sponsors believe to be a bogus or true statement respectively. If the sponsors’ claim is falsified, the falsifying party (challenger) gets the bounty, otherwise the initiating sponsor (campaign creator) gets 20% of the bounty, and other sponsors get about 80% of their contributions back. TruthMarket runs the site, adjudicates claims, and collects fees. See their FAQ and quickstart guide.

It seems fairly clear from the podcast that TruthMarket is largely a publicity mechanism. A big bounty for a controversial (as played out in the media anyway) claim could be newsworthy, and the spin would favor the side of truth. The claims currently on the site seem to be in this vein, e.g., Obama’s birth certificate and climate change. As far as I can tell there’s almost no activity on the site, the birth certificate claim, started by Hayes-Roth, being the only one funded.

The concept is fairly interesting though, reminding me of three things:

Many interesting combinations of these ideas are yet to be tried. Additionally, TruthMarket apparently started as TruthSeal, an effort to get web publishers to vouch monetarily for claims they make.

Counterfeiting against inequality and addiction

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

When I read articles blaming advertisers for the bad behavior of (especially relatively poor) people who want advertised products (quoted material below mostly from linked story) I tend to think:

  1. To the extent “corporate pushers have made us addicts”:
    1. As a letter-to-the-editor from Michael Slembrouck says “You can ask your dealer to stop selling you dope because you have a problem, but if you keep giving him money he’s going to keep giving you the same dope.”
    2. It seems to me that being able to ignore/forgo potentially addictive messages/products is an important survival skill.
  2. More [free] speech (broadly speaking) is the answer:
    1. What is the hidden role of patent and trademark? In other words, what is the role of lack of cheap copies? Cheap copies would reduce incentive to advertise in the first place, and also reduce “the dreary feeling many get from walking by store windows knowing society offers no legal path for them to ever possess what is inside.” Is bad behavior supposedly related to lack of access to fashionable items reduced where counterfeit goods are plentiful? That’s a serious question, though of course answers will largely be swamped by cross cultural confounders.
    2. Regarding addiction and other adverse things characterized as such, I still think one of the best messages trusted figures (friends, ministers, the famous, etc) can convey is how totally unacceptable it is to follow spam — and I consider advertising to include a continuum from spam to useful information, with that critiqued as solely “manufacturing desire” tending toward the spam end.
    3. If advertising is so powerful, why not use it more for counter-addiction-and-other-adverse-messages? In the link above, I wished for the Ad Council to run a don’t-click-on-spam campaign. Maybe too close to its membership for comfort. Fortunately, access to media has improved greatly, including access to organizing for access to media. Hopefully things like LoudSauce (crowdfunded advertising) will help make that happen.

As indicated by the title, I mostly blogged this for 2(a). I think the contribution of intellectual protectionism to inequality is woefully underexplored and underexploited. I made a new category on this blog, Inequality Promotion, to remind me to attempt further exploration and exploitation.

Namecheap’s savvy anti-SOPA marketing

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

I’m impressed by how much gratis publicity and advertising has gotten via its anti-SOPA marketing (including the Wikipedia article I linked to; it didn’t exist 3 days ago), and completely unimpressed by the failure of approximately every other company to take advantage of the opportunity, which strikes me as easy social media gold. Communications department heads ought roll.

* pro-SOPA marketing failures made Namecheap’s action straightforward relative to companies not directly competing with Go Daddy. However, there are lots of other domain name registrars, none of which has done anything with Namecheap’s marketing savvy. Another registrar, (which I’ve used and recommended for some time, and has supported Creative Commons and other good causes), like Namecheap is donating a portion of domain transfers to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but doesn’t seem to be making a big deal of it, and their anti-SOPA blog post is rather tepid. Compare to Namecheap’s anti-SOPA blog post, which isn’t all that much stronger in terms of substance (contains genuflection to “intellectual property”), it is much more strongly worded and simply more effectively written.

One other company has a support-EFF-against-SOPA tie-in. That company, Zopim, provides website chat services, and doesn’t seem to compete with Go Daddy at all. I’m not interested, but never would have heard of them otherwise. Any company could do that.

(I see that sometime today two other small domain registrars have added support-EFF-against-SOPA deals. Good for Suspicious Networks and Centuric.)

What inspired to me write this post is that Namecheap isn’t only taking gratis publicity. They’re also running presumably paid ads as part of their anti-SOPA marketing campaign:

While trying to get the above ad to load again (noticed out of the corner of my eye but didn’t register until sometime after — I’m oddly trying to recover from ad blindness), I noticed another Namecheap ad, which if you’re already really tuned in, illustrates nicely the imperfect options available from a software freedom perspective for domain registration and other nearly commodity services.

Check out more anti-SOPA and pro-freedom actions.

*Isn’t the name “Go Daddy” ridiculous? That, coupled with a super cheesy website and company logo led me to disregard them long before they started shooting sexy elephants at gladiator events, or whatever got people upset before they supported SOPA.

Mozilla $300m/year for freedom

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

More Mozilla ads by Henrik Moltke / CC BY

Congratulations to Mozilla on their $300m/year deal with Google, which will more than double current annual revenue. I’ve always thought people predicting doom for Mozilla if Google failed to renew were all wrong — others would be happy to pay for the default search position; probably less since Microsoft, Yahoo, and others make less than Google per ad view, but it’d still be a very substantial amount — and the link article hints that a Microsoft bid drove the price up.

There’s always a risk that Mozilla won’t spend the money well, but I’m pretty confident that they will. Firefox is excellent, and in 2011 has gotten more excellent, faster, and I think many of the other projects they’re doing are really important, and on the right track (insofar as I’m qualified to discern, which is not much), for example BrowserID. Even in small and hopelessly annoying things, like licensing, I think Mozilla is doing good. (Bias: Mozilla has donated to my employer.)

I’m no longer enthused about the possibility of huge resources for progress toward Wikimedia’s vision from advertising on Wikipedia. Since I was last on that bandwagon, it has become even less of a possibility in anything but the distant future: Wikimedia’s donation campaigns have gone very well, adequately funding its operating mission, and lack of advertising has become even more part of Wikimedia’s messaging; I’ve also become more concerned (not in particular to Wikimedia) about the institutional corruption risks previously blogged by Peter McCluskey and Timothy B. Lee. (Note these objections don’t apply to Mozilla: its significant revenue has always been advertising-based; very roughly its revenues are already 10x those of Wikimedia’s; and it is also building up an individual donor program, which I agree is often the healthiest revenue for a nonprofit.)

But I still very much think freedom needs massive, ongoing resource infusions, in the right institutional framework. I celebrate the tremendous benefits of the FLOSS community achieves without massive, concentrated, ongoing resource infusions, but I also admit that the web likely would be much worse, much less webby, and much less free without concentrated resources at Mozilla over the last several years.

Thank you Mozillians, and congratulations. I have very high expectations for your contributions over the next years to the web and society, in particular where more freedom and security are obviously needed such as mobile and software services. Such would be just a start. As computation permeates everything, and digital freedom becomes the most important political issue, the resources of many Mozillas are needed. More on that, soon.

Wikimedia advertising (soft) drive

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Wikipedia (actually the Wikimedia Foundation) started another yesterday. I’ll just reference what I’ve said in the past:

I am convinced by comments on the above posts and conversations since that it will take a huge shift in Wikipedia community opinion for advertising to have a chance. The time for direct argument in relevant venues is distant. If you agree with me that advertising on Wikipedia will allow the foundation to greatly speed the fulfillment of its commitment, you can make your support known without rancor:

1) When you donate, leave a comment that says “I support advertising on Wikipedia.”

2) On your Wikipedia user page (mine), add the following code, with obvious meaning (|{{PAGENAME}} may not be obvious–it’s a hack to make your name sort correctly in the relevant category listings):

[[Category:Wikipedians for optional advertisements|{{PAGENAME}}]]
[[Category:Wikipedians who think that the Wikimedia Foundation should use advertising|{{PAGENAME}}]]

Fortuitously Mozilla posted their 2006 financial statements today:

Mozilla’s revenues (including both Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation) for 2006 were $66,840,850, up approximately 26% from 2005 revenue of $52,906,602. As in 2005 the vast majority of this revenue is associated with the search functionality in Mozilla Firefox, and the majority of that is from Google. The Firefox userbase and search revenue have both increased from 2005. Search revenue increased at a lesser rate than Firefox usage growth as the rate of payment declines with volume.

Congratulations to Mozilla. The Open Web‘s prospects would look far worse if Mozilla did not have the wisdom to exploit this revenue source. Now, what about the prospects for Free Knowledge?

Addendum 20071123: The Wikimedia Fundraiser Blog is running Why Wikipedia Does Not Run Ads, a post linked to in the fundraising ad now running on Wikipedia.