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Would You Use a Web Browser with Ads?

As if it weren’t enough to have ads on websites everywhere, the Mozilla Corporation, the company that maintains the Firefox web browser, has announced that it will start selling ads to display in the browser. For now, these ads will show up in “directory tiles,” the nine tiles that display by default when you launch Firefox. “Mozilla intends to display the most popular sites by location, as well as sponsored websites that will be clearly labeled as such.”

This isn’t much, but it’s the start of a trend that may lead down a slippery slope. Today it’s “sponsored websites,” but, if people aren’t too bothered by that, what will it be tomorrow? Ads injected by the browser above websites? Interstitial ads – provided by the browser – before you load a web page?

It’s a curious paradox that the Mozilla Foundation – the non-profit entity behind Firefox, which is all “free software” and “open source,” which describes itself as “a non-profit organization that promotes openness, innovation and participation on the Internet,” is going this route. To be fair, things are complicated. The Mozilla Corporation is the for-profit entity that maintains Firefox, operates under the umbrella of the aforementioned foundation. But Firefox needs money to survive, and this money is provided by none other than Google, in exchange for Firefox having Google as its default search engine. Google pays some $300 million a year for this presence.

It’s all very confusing, and it’s not surprising that Mozilla needs money to continue development, but, to be honest, $300 million a year sounds like it’s more than enough to maintain a web browser. However, the current contract with Google runs out in November, 2014, so perhaps Mozilla is planning on dropping Google and trying to make it on its own.

No matter what, I won’t be using Firefox if there are ads. I don’t see the directory tiles, since I have my own home page set, but the idea of a browser displaying ads repulses me. I know that more and more people accept ads in apps – in part because they’re too cheap to spend a buck for a mobile game – and this encroachment of ads into desktop apps is something I don’t want to see.

There are other options. You can use Safari, Chrome (though that is a Google data/behavior collection device), or Opera, or a few other, smaller browsers such as iCab. But no matter what, don’t accept ads in your apps; it’ll just start the slide toward ads everywhere.

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Delete Social Media and Online Accounts from a Single Control Panel

Are you fed up with social media? Tired of sharing your life with total strangers? Do you want to remove your accounts from online vendors and services?

It can be hard to find the right pages on these services to delete accounts; after all, they want you to stay, even if you don’t actively use the accounts, to keep their numbers up.

justdelete.me is a one-stop control panel that you can use to delete your social media and online accounts. This web page includes links to 25 popular social media services – Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc. – as well as online vendors and services, such as Amazon and Netflix.

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Robb Lewis, the creator of this page, describes it as follows:

JustDelete.Me is a directory of urls to delete your account from web services. [...] Services are marked either easy, medium or hard depending on how difficult it is to delete that account. Those marked as hard have additional information on how to completely remove your account, such as Skype which requires you to contact customer services to do so.

So if you want to quit some of your social media and online accounts, use this page as a springboard. It will save you a lot of time searching for the right places to do so.

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The Paywall Problem: Newspapers and Occasional Readers

I believe in newspapers, and depend on them to get news. I’m from a generation that had only newspapers – and pre-cable TV news – for daily information, and I still think they are important. I read a lot of news on the web, on many different sites, but I still depend mostly on newspaper websites to know what’s happening. (And I buy a “newspaper,” the print kind, every Sunday.)

Many newspapers have introduced paywalls, or paid access. The New York Times was the first major paper to do this, but their misguided pricing strategy (different prices depending on whether you want to read the paper on the web and a smartphone, or web and tablet) and high prices ($15 to $35 every four weeks) make it very expensive. The Washington Post is smarter; they offer the same price ($15 per four weeks) regardless of which device you want to use. Other papers have other byzantine approaches, instead of a simple one-time annual fee. The Wall Street Journal actually did this, in the early days of their paywall: they charged $50 a year for full access.

Paywalls for newspapers are inevitable, but they need to be implemented differently. Recently, I wanted to read a couple of articles on different newspaper sites. One was on the Wall Street Journal’s web site. This is a paper that I don’t read often, but I came across an article about William Faulkner’s literary estate that interested me. The Wall Street Journal has some good non-business coverage, but there’s no way that I’ll ever subscribe to it, as I’m not interested in 99% of what they publish.

The second article I wanted to read was about Shakespeare, and was on the Le Monde website. I was able to read a few paragraphs of the article, but would have needed to pay €2 to read the entire thing; in other words, more than the cost of a daily paper. (Le Monde charges €15 a month for digital access.)

The problem in both of these cases is that I’ll never become a regular reader of either of these papers. I used to live in France, but I don’t any more, and French news, which interests me, is not worth that much. And, as I said above, I don’t care enough about business news to pay for the Wall Street Journal.

So how can I read articles I want to see? Many people have discussed the idea of micro-payments, and the news industry is certainly one sector that needs them. I’d pay a nickel (or 5p) to read an article; considering the cost of a newspaper, that seems fair, especially since I’d still be seeing ads, and the newspaper would get revenue from that as well. But I wouldn’t buy, say, a credit for a paper like the Wall Street Journal, because I wouldn’t expect to use it often enough.

What we need is a broader micro-payment system for newspapers, and other print publications (I’d pay, say, a quarter, or 25p, to read a magazine article from the New Yorker). The ideal system would work with as many publications as possible, where you’d buy a credit, and be able to apply that credit to any participating publication. The idea isn’t new; it’s been floated by Walter Isaacson, The Wall Street Journal, and Google has set up such a system using Google Wallet, but I’ve never come across it in vivo.

For now, newspapers are shutting out readers, and losing money, by only offering expensive digital subscriptions, or by linking digital subscriptions to print subscriptions. It’s time for newspapers to realize that not everyone is wedded to their content, and that most people won’t pay for a specific paper, but want to read news from multiple sources. Micro-payments could change the way we consume news, and it could help keep newspapers afloat.

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Welcome to Kirkville 3.0

About nine years ago, I moved from a static-page website to a content management system (CMS), and changed from some 90s-era web pages to a more modern blog. At the time, my friend Rob Griffiths recommended Geeklog, which I used for several years, until I switched to WordPress. Today, I’ve made big changes to my blog, but you won’t see many of them.

Instead of changing platforms, I decided to change themes, buying the Enfold theme by Kriesi. While this one looks a lot like my previous theme, it’s got tons of features under the hood. It’s responsive – so its size changes according to the size of your browser window – and it’s adapted to mobile devices, such as iPads and iPhones.

It’s also more modern on the back end, but you, the reader, won’t see much of that (though you’ll see a neat effect when you scroll up and down on the page). It’s allowed me to simplify much of the content, making the sidebar less intrusive, and I’ve added a few static pages for information about me. (You can see them at the right of the header.)

Going down the line, I’ll be changing the layout a bit, using more graphical elements, and this theme allows me to create a number of different types of posts, other than just standard articles. So I hope to diversify a bit in the future.

After nine years, and 880 posts, I’m very happy to have refreshed this blog. Thanks for reading, and I hope you come by often.

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What if Twitter Locks Out Third-Party Apps?

A recent announcement from Twitter highlights the fact that the company is seeking to make more money from its service. This is certainly not a surprise; Twitter is widely used, yet there is little advertising, other than sponsored tweets and accounts, and the company needs to monetize its user base. But developers are worrying about Twitter restricting use of its API, and whether this will lead to a “closed garden” approach.

Twitter sees some 400 million tweets posted every day, and the company initially let anyone who wanted work with this data. Developers of third-party Twitter applications take advantage of this openness to offer features that Twitter itself does not. But if Twitter starts rolling out ads that get piped into these applications, how will users react?

The problem with Twitter is that its simplicity is what prevents it from making money. The company could insert plenty of ads on its own website, but they would only reach users who interact with Twitter via its website; those who use third-party clients wouldn’t see anything, and wouldn’t generate any income.

Twitter’s being a one-trick pony may lead to long-term problems. There is no doubt that this is a popular platform, but part of what has ensured its popularity is the ecosystem of third-party applications that allow users to choose how they want to tweet and read tweets. For Twitter to make money, they have two choices: drown users in ads, or expand their service. If they do the former, they may lose users, and another company might try to create a similar service. If they do the latter, they may dilute their brand.

I find Twitter to be useful, for several reasons. It allows me to stay in touch with friends and co-workers, and serves as a kind of digital water-cooler. It also allows me to get information from companies that interest me. And, finally, it allows me to share information that interests me, including articles like this, to my followers. But if suddenly my timeline – even in a third-party application – were to be drowned in ads, I don’t know if I’d continue using it. Twitter has certainly become a habit, but Facebook used to be a habit as well, and I don’t visit their website much any more.

Twitter is in a tough spot, and needs to figure out how to move into the future. They run the risk of alienating much of their user base, losing users, and devaluing the brand. Monetizing a service like Twitter is not simple, and I hope those making these decisions do the right thing for their users. Because, after all, without these users, the company has nothing.

By the way, if you don’t follow me on Twitter, maybe you should.

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