The Stack Archive

Pirate Bay founder’s micropayment system pairs with AdBlock Plus

Tue 3 May 2016

Today a new collaboration was announced between one of the most newsworthy companies of 2016, Adblock Plus, and content payment company Flattr, who together are launching a scheme to allow users to make voluntary, ‘tip’-style micropayments to websites whose content they like – but whose regular ads they do not wish to see.

Based in Europe, Flattr was launched by Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde to process micropayments for its members in 2010 – but it always lacked a wide method of distribution to generate impetus for the system.

In a statement release today Sunde said:

“Our goal with Flattr Plus is to finally evolve the Web into what it was supposed to have been to begin with; a place for creators to meet their audience, and a mechanism for audiences to directly and sustainably support creators.”

Flattr co-founder Linus Olsson added:

“The idea of great content has gotten lost in clickbait headlines and slideshow articles. All with the goal of generating advertising revenues. If we want to reverse that trend, we need a funding model that is based on engagement and attention rather than mere visits. I am convinced that people’s growing willingness to support great content is the next big change for the Web. And it will happen if we provide them with a simple, easy-to-use solution that allows them to fund the art, music and journalism they love. So that’s what we are building.”

Including mechanisms for micropayment into Adblock Plus provides the missing diffusion method, since the number of users employing adblockers has risen from 21m in 2009 to 181m in 2015. That number is perceived to be constantly rising, and though the German Adblock Plus company is beginning to face market competition, it remains the leader with an estimated 51% of the market (Adblock Plus’s parent company Eyeo claims that the product has been downloaded 250 million times).

The separate Adblock (not plus) product itself accounts for another 38% – though there is no indication that the Flattr collaboration will extend to that product as well.

Till Faida, co-founder of Adblock Plus and parent company Eyeo, commented in today’s release:

“The current model of showing obnoxious ads to users and violating their privacy in return for content has failed: users are increasingly frustrated with the advertising experience on the Web and at the same time aggressive ads provide less and less value to publishers…With our Acceptable Ads initiative we have already proven that fewer and better ads provide more value; with Flattr Plus we’ll go one step further, providing even more choice to users in how they compensate publishers for the content they consume. Moreover, with our many millions of users we are uniquely positioned to establish a completely new monetization method for publishers that rewards good content while respecting users.”

AdBlock Plus’s ‘Acceptable Ads’ program is the company’s nominal attempt to encourage advertisers to produce less intrusive fare, and charges companies such as Microsoft unspecified amounts in order to be included on the plugin’s ‘whitelist’ of advertisers, though the user can turn this whitelist off in the plugin’s preferences.

However earlier this year the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s CEO and president Randall Rothenburg likened Plus’s Acceptable Ads program to ‘an old-fashioned extortion racket, gussied up in the flowery but false language of contemporary consumerism’.

The basic Flattr system has been likened to hitting a species of ‘Digg button that pays websites’; users must deposit a minimum of 2€ per month, and can reward worthwhile content providers by clicking a button to make a micropayment to the site in question.

Flattr, which boasts of helping to fund 30,000 content creators, has also been constrained by the fact it has to take payment in Euros, and only accepted VISA, MasterCard and SEPA (IBAN) bank transfers, rather than more popular digital methods such as PayPal and Bitcoin.

The service received a large shot of publicity in 2010 when it became WikiLeaks’ primary source of income after the whistle-blower site was ejected from payments systems of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal.

In 2013 Twitter caused additional controversy by banning Flattr from rewarding high-quality tweeters as an ‘abuse of the Twitter API’ – leading some to speculate that the shortform social network had a similar system of its own in mind, though none has yet emerged.

A piece of the action

In the end it was most likely about skimming percentages of the ad take, and Flattr itself has no moral immunity from this aspect of the scheme that it’s proposing to enlarge with AdBlock Plus, since Flattr launched with a 10% skim for operating costs, and a public intent to lower this when the user base grows. Currently the take is still 10%, split between Flattr, ‘any partners involved in the transaction, and the payment processor fees’ – though no details are supplied about the nature of the split.

Flattr plus is set to launch this summer, with the intention of global coverage by the end of the year, and publishers not yet registered with the scheme can do so at the new Flattr Plus website.

The accompanying launch video, embedded below, likens internet advertising to ‘that guy’ you didn’t like in the school sports team, who was ‘sometimes useful’ and ‘sometimes funny’ but mostly just not popular – and offers a way out of his company:



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