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My Next 'Save the World' Plan: the Profitable Web

We all know how the Web stinks, I'm not going to write a long preamble.

In a few words, it stinks because websites exist to make money, and there is no way to make money. You can:

- charge a subscription (limits your audience)
- flash animated ads (annoys your audience)
- popup flashing animated ads (kills your audience)

So there you have it, the Web we all love so much, driving us nuts every day. All right, skip to Proposed Solution.

======= Proposed Solution ==========

All internet users pay a $5/month "use fee" (or $2, or $10, whatever).

Wait, wait, don't panic. Bear with me. The fee is buried in the ISP charge or somewhere, essentially no one notices it explicitly.

The money is split between all sites the person visits.

You spend 1 hour online this month, of which 59 minutes on CNN, 1 minute on Joel. CNN gets $4.97, Joel gets $0.03.

You spend 1 hour on CNN, 50 hours on Slashdot. Sorry CNN, you get only $0.10, Slashdot gets $4.90.

You spend the month in Antarctica, the $5.00 goes to your charity of choice, so don't be a cheapskate, you never get it back anyway.

(Leave your browser open overnight, so what. You never pay more than the $5 no matter what.)

========= Benefits =============

1. Incentives for ads are vastly reduced, naturally to the point where no ads are needed. There is content and only content. Essentially, a return to "eyeball time" being valuable.

2. Incentive for websites to offer interesting content, not junk to put in between flashy ads.

3. A zillion websites emerge as people with something interesting to say have an incentive to say it, AND make a buck.

4. Another zillion boring sites die as they fail to attract anyone. (Cleaner Google results, if nothing else)
Monday, January 12, 2004

Heh heh, the people who REALLY make money off of this are the people who build the infrastructure for tracking all this web traffic, and then distributing the money.

I'm sure Cisco loves this idea, as would any company that does web site traffic monitoring.

Anca Mosoiu
Monday, January 12, 2004

"websites exist to make money"

wow.  thats possibly the single most ignorant thing Ive heard anyone say for a surprisingly long time.

congratulations :)

Monday, January 12, 2004

I believe websites exist to create value. For some, value is money.

Others perceive value through merely spreading ideas, having comments on their blog, etc.

Ralph Lee
Monday, January 12, 2004

Step one ... boil the ocean ...

Honestly ... how are you going this "internet tax" to work?  What's in it for the ISPs?  They'll lose customers to the "free internet" (low-cost ISP providers which don't pay the tax).  The only way this would work is if they had a monopoly and abolished the free internet.

Moreover, how does this work for content providers?  I've just put up Aly's Fantastic Website and now I'm going about to all the different ISPs demanding that they pay me.  Cause I have a website up.  Likely they'll show me the door and great, I still don't have an audience.

So it sucks for content providers AND users.  Congratulations, you've found a fantastic idea which pisses everyone off ...

Monday, January 12, 2004

Wait a minute, web sites make money same way as television does, but attracting an audience, and either selling directly, or through advertising.

Getting the ISP's involved would ruin the internet, because then they would start trying to compete on content, i.e. <EarthLink> Sure we'll pay you your five bucks, but then you can't let anyone from an AOL IP Address access it. Bad idea

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
Monday, January 12, 2004

How could you possibly measure how much time I spend at a particular site? I have broadband - always on. Sometimes my browser is open all day, but I'm not looking at the site.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Thought about this more on the drive home.

My second criticism is a tad off base because I hadn't thoroughly examined what you had written.  The first one still holds, I believe.

I'd like to add another criticism: the plan doesn't account for the fact that different content costs different amounts to produce.  Suppose I'm a pharmaceutical company and I put data on my server worth millions, but it's only viewed by a few people, so I get a few hundred dollars.  A newspaper can cover expenses and make out a decent profit.  But the people who really clean up are bulletin board maintainers, like JOS.  And he puts almost no effort into producing this content -- it's all put here by contributers who do this out of the kindness of their hearts.

Hardly a fair distribution system.  Guess what kind of internet you're gonna get?  Lots of bulletin boards, very few good content services.

A fourth criticism: who sets the price?  If ISP A charges $10 and ISP B charges $5, does ISP B get half the content?  ISPs still have to sell themselves to the ISPs ... you can't magic a scheme like this into existence.

Essentially what we are looking at are different ways of inventing a magical money-sucking vacuum for people's wallets without actually providing useful content.  Any such scheme is doomed to fail.

Like I said, the infrastructure is already there to provide subscription-based websites; as time goes on we'll see more and more of those.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Since http is stateless, the amount of time really spent on any given page is determined by the amount of time it takes to download the content of that page. If your browser is open all day on a single page, you've only spent x seconds on that page, however long it would take to download the content of that particular page.

So now you've created an incentive whereby people put HUGE graphics and other objects on a webpage, which will increase the time spent on the site. Furthermore, if time spent on a site is the only metric measured, then it is in the site's best interest to have a minimal amount of bandwidth available to serve the site, artificially creating network bottlenecks to further increase the time it takes to download the content.

If you think blink tags are annoying, wait until you see this...

Very bad idea.

Wayne Earl
Monday, January 12, 2004

I second Ralph Lee!!! I value my family, and as such spend time on content that is interesting to them and thus others with similiar interest.

Monday, January 12, 2004

You can't tell how long someone spends on a site, because HTTP is stateless. You can tell the last time I downloaded something from that site.

Hmmm. Or maybe you can't, because my ISP uses caching, and only goes back to the site on an infrequent basis.

If it wasn't for caching, you might be able to tell how many pages I downloaded from a site.

Hmmm. Or maybe you can't, because this might create the incentive for hundreds of unrequested pop-up windows to suddenly instantiate on my screen.

Sorry, but these charging ideas don't really stand up to scrutiny.

Monday, January 12, 2004

"In a few words, it stinks because websites exist to make money, and there is no way to make money."

I think you have an interesting idea for the wrong 'problem'. The web did not start as a business, but as a way to communicate. Most web sites do not aim to make a buck (at least not directly) but to communicate whatever is interesting for the owner of the site. At most, I may want to recoup the costs associated to running the site.

Many commercial sites may stink for the reasons you give, but many good sites do not have any intention of being commercial. Not everything is a business endeavour.

Monday, January 12, 2004

I think its a great idea.

Now go make it happen
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"My second criticism is a tad off base because I hadn't thoroughly examined what you had written. "

Ah, but you managed to write a humiliating reply anyway, didn't you Alyosha?. Nice job. Congratulations, you actually got angry about an Internet post that had nothing to do with anything of real importance.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Blank, that's a stupid and offensive so-called joke.  At least come up with something original.

Robert Jacobson
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Hey, he got you too!

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Who do I get to recharge for reading all this?

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

What is it with some people? First they want to kill the software market and make all development state sponsored through a software tax, because "I want my software that is soo special but I don't want to  pay the development price so everybody should be obliged to pay for my pet hobby thing". Now there's peeps wanting to pull down the web market and change it to a webtax regulated regime because "I want to read my specialty sites but I don't want to pay so the site has to get sponsorship which annoyes me so I think the rest of the world should be forced to pay for my pleasures". Why don't you guys start with something that is arguably more of a societal benefit like really great governement sponsored free education for all?

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"...web sites make money same way as television does."

Since the BBC exists to "Inform, educate and entertain" not to make money perhaps you could the analogy needs extending. 

I've spent the majority of my working life in "Not for profit" organisations of one form or another.  Which is probably why I find the idea that everything should be for profit a bit odd.

A cynic writes
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Tut, tut.  I really should edit a bit better or at least make up my mind.  That should read either:

"...the analogy needs extending."


" could extend the analogy."

A cynic writes
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

" really great governement sponsored" is an oxymoron in any context.  :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Sorry, no long rebuttal, just a few words.

Obviously this will need to be instituted by decree.

Alyosha: pharmaceutical companies don't post million-dollar information on ad-sponsored pages. They charge money. They can keep charging money.

Websites are there to make a profit: okay, not every website is. Those which are purely philathropic or what not can *opt out*, thank you very much. I bet no one will opt out.

Okay, not $5, let's make it $1. How much do *you* pay for internet access? $20 at the very least. Will you really notice?

Or make it $2 for the U.S., $0.10 for the third world. Everyone happy?

Anyway, I'll stop helping now.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I think what this boils down to is that wants to use a web site to make money, but would rather have his money handed to him by the government than by willing consumers.  Here's a thought:  if you had printed the content of your website as a pamphlet and you were handing it out to people on a street corner, would they have any reason to pay you for that information?  No?  Well, then, why should they be forced to pay "by decree"?

If you've got information worth paying for, then people will pay for it.  If not, then maybe you need to find something that *is* worth paying for, rather than imagining that the government (or, really, all governments) will *force* everyone else to pay you for your information.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

After sleeping on this, I realize that an internet where people pay a flat fee for access and this money would be used to fund the content, we would end up with a scenario where it would wind up like cable, where only the people who had lots of startup money could get access to post content.  If we put the payment process in the hands of a few people, no matter what kind of good intent we might have at the beginning, it will get corrupted.

Or perhaps we will have a really big government agency who gets to manage all this money, a la the IRS?  Hmm.

Anca Mosoiu
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

More Romanians on Joel! Yay!

Anca you didn't get the point but I've work so never mind :)
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

>> If you've got information worth paying for, then people will pay for it.

Actually no. Think about it for a minute, Kevin. There is a psychological barrier there.

More often than not, people walk off completely rathen than paying, even if the stuff **is** worth paying.

Just look at the responses here, everyone is SO riled up about the very NOTION of paying for online content.

Now imagine this new and improved world: you pay fees for gas, electricity, oh, and a modicum *flat* fee for content.

The psychological barrier never comes into play.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004 says: Okay, not $5, let's make it $1. How much do *you* pay for internet access? $20 at the very least. Will you really notice?

*I'd* really notice.  I'm sure *you* wouldn't notice because it's not *your* money.

Foolish Jordan
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The claim that "there is no way to make money" for a website is ludicrous.  You might say that charging limits your audience... of course it does.  Money is always a limiting factor in the audience, unless the charge is zero.  Cable TV audiences are limited by the fact that cable costs money.  HBO audiences are further limited by the fact that HBO is a subscription.  Magazines are also limited by subscription, or a high news-stand price.

Does that mean those endeavors don't make money?  Of course not.

Plenty of websites make money.  Either through subscriptions, donations, or GOOD advertising (not annoying, not insulting, and TARGETED... advertisers have known the importance of targeted advertising for years, why do they suddenly ignore it when it comes to the web?)

People will pay for content on the web, just like they will pay for content everywhere else.  Sure you may have to compete against a free service, but that just means you have to make your content more compelling.

Mike McNertney
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Another gaping hole in this scheme: you need to ensure that taxes collected in one country are paid to the appropriate company in another country.  Taxation is bad enough, international taxation is entirely new ground.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

What? A meritocricy where each website is rewarded for the value it gives and not for the things it can sell?

Given that web hosting is cheap, or free if you host from home (roll the costs into your net connection costs), and the more visitors the more chances for income (from commisioned sales from book reviews to free advertising for your software company to simple banner ads and other forms of pimping yourself out), it would seem to me that popular websites can generate their own revenue, however small it is per person.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

More specifically, it's rewarded for the number of hits it generates.  Whether that's a good metric for value is debatable.

I object to the idea of one-price-fits-all assumption here -- some data costs a lot to produce (like pharmaceutical data), some costs less (like newspapers), and some don't cost at all (like bulletin boards).

Also, there is no free market for determining the optimum tax for the internet.  Normally I'm one of the loudest supporters of a necessary tax, or in preventing the excesses of the free market.  But this is just a giveaway to the internet industry.  It smells of central economic planning.  It's no different than the idea that or soap or newspapers be free, but everyone should be taxed the same regardless of actual usage, and the money divied up among the producers.

The infrastructure for making money off the net is already there.  If your data is valuable, sell subscriptions.  It's not my fault advertising doesn't work on the net.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

This is an excellent idea with a proven business model. Two examples: the AdultCheck system and the Real OnePass system. Both have you pay a flat fee to access content that the reader values. Payment is split between the providers according to their value.

The challenge for you will be what content segment would prosper by having better distribution for their product? You cannot use the whole web, because readers won't pay for it.

A reader
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

>> It's not my fault advertising doesn't work on the net.

Of course not. But it still doesn't work, and it's a pity. A lot of good stuff dies out because the publishers can't support it.


I never said this can be done "tomorrow."

Bill Gates has this neat idea to fight spam with 10c/message that you redeem if the sender is a friend.

Neat, but still science fiction:

- there is no micropayments infrastructure (especially across countries)
- the whole email standard will need to be redone
- Identification! is a huge issue. We need retinal scans or RFIDs at the least

So, BG's idea can't be done tomorrow. But that didn't stop him from proposing it. One day, soon actually, it will be possible.

He can buy Sweden and we can't. Because he has a 10-year plan while we go, "no, <X> is impossible, the current version of PHP doesn't do <Y> or whatever."
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

But you have missed the very most central part that is unique for the Internet: The Internet doesn't exist!

There are lots of corporate and educational data networks around the world. They exchange data between them because of the 'network effect': the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But each and every one of these networks are in full control over the traffic they choose to exchange with other networks.

This meta-network (network of networks) is called the Internet. There are also companies now that the Internet has gained a commercial value that let's you in on their networks only to use the Internet, they are the ones you know as ISPs.

This private contract-based model is its own market. All standards are consensus standards. The Internet is a market -- NOT a service! So there is no one to pay to...

(Sorry; I haven't taken the time to read all replies so I may have missed something.)

Jonas B.
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Isn't this messing just a bit too much with the free market (which is the incentive for commercial sites to innovate)

If some commercial web site exists without advertising or charges for services/content successfully, more power to them.

If some commercial web site comes with a form/method of being ad-supported, which their users can live with or even like, more power to them. 

If some non-profit site provides free content, that's good too.

For the commercial for-profit sites, the incentive already exists to provide content in the most profitable way to the site, which is a spur to innovate in terms of business model, ads and content.  The scheme seems to kick away some of the spurs.

It also seems to me that it penalizes those sites which are already making a profit on their current business model (e.g. Google, eBay) --

AND takes no account of the cost of providing content.  One page or one minute's viewing on a site which requires lots of editorial/technical/bandwidth/etc resources -- is not the same as one page/minute on a site which requires few resources.

For users, the current system, any web site chooses how it operates, provides choice.  For example if sites A and B provide identical content, and A has annoying ads and B has a subscription, the user has the choice which to pursue, or whether to look at C, which provides (say) different content with no ads and no subscription.

S. Tanna
Monday, January 19, 2004

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