Bad Ads We Won't Bombard You With And Other Ways To Support Techdirt

from the thanks-for-your-support dept

Check out our new list of all the ways you can support Techdirt »

Let's get a few things out of the way first: we are rarely aggressive in asking for support on Techdirt. Many other sites do complete takeovers or popups or have pleas for funding that take up half the screen. We don't do that. However, every so often we do remind folks that we need support to keep running -- so today I'm going to do that with what is hopefully an interesting story and a discussion on the kinds of things we won't do for money.

If you haven't yet heard it, I want to recommend a recent episode of the Reply All podcast entitled An Ad for the Worst Day of Your Life. It is quite an amazing story involving a guy whose wife died suddenly and unexpectedly a day after their daughter was born. That happened back in 2008, and the guy, Matt, was quite understandably distraught. He began blogging about his life as a widower and single father. The blog caught on and got more and more attention. Eventually, Matt decided the blog was no longer necessary, pulled it down, and moved on with his life.

Then, this year, just as he was about to get remarried, he suddenly started seeing ads with a giant picture of him -- and his dead wife. Those ads were showing up everywhere, thanks to the various sites that include awful units full of "Stories From Around the Web" or "Stuff You May Have Missed" or whatever. You know what they look like. They're always filled with the worst kind of clickbait crap imaginable. "Whatever happened to..." "Eat this if you want to live longer..." That kind of stuff. Here, I just randomly opened up a story on Google News, scrolled to the bottom and got this example:

They're all over the damn place -- and many publishers love them, because they pay a lot more than just about any other ads. The Reply All episode calls these "Chumboxes" -- a term I'd not heard before -- and then goes through the process of figuring out how Matt's picture kept showing up in them. It's convoluted, but involves content farms playing a weird arbitrage game of writing clickbait stories and then trying to attract traffic to sell their own ads. A story about a dead wife gets clicks. And that generates more fake stories about Matt and his wife and more ads and more clicks. It's a huge mess of crap, but it pays incredibly well.

The two major companies who provide these things are Outbrain and Taboola. And they're big. There are a few other smaller operations, but Outbrain and Taboola are the main ones. Outbrain has raised nearly $200 million and bought up many of its smaller competitors. Taboola has raised $160 million.

Here's the thing: Taboola, specifically, has been after us to put these ads on our site for years. We told them no, and they kept coming back. We told them no again and explained that we think those ads are crap and are an insult to our readers (because they are). And the company said, "No, we have quality filters and we promise it'll show good ads." Eventually we said we'd take a look and ran a test with our content using their "quality filters." And, guess what? The ads were still awful crap that would be insulting to you. So we told Taboola no. But they don't let up. Every few weeks we get another request from Taboola. They email. They try to friend us on Linkedin. They try to friend us on Facebook. And we keep saying no.

Because, despite what some trolls will say about us doing anything that will get clicks or money, we have no desire for short term revenue that fucks over our community. Because we actually value you guys (even some of our critics). Using crappy services like Taboola and Outbrain shows a lack of trust and lack of respect for your community. It shows a level of short-term money-grab thinking that is insulting and disrespectful. And that's too bad, because the concept behind Taboola and Outbrain could be good. If we could use a service like that which would actually take you to good and relevant information around the web, and get us paid at the same time, that would be great. Indeed, seven or eight years ago we partnered with a company that promised that. And then, a month later, they said they were no longer doing that and wanted us to do sketchy stuff. And we no longer work with that company.

We've talked before about how traditional banner ads -- the kinds from Google AdSense, for example -- have become next to useless over the last few years. The rates keep dropping to the point that they're barely worth including at all. In fact, we're exploring some new advertising programs that respect our community by not including any tracking technology at all, so if you happen to work for a company that wants to advertise in a respectful manner, please contact us.

All of that is to say: we try to respect the community here, even at the expense of revenue. And that sometimes makes things quite difficult. So we need to rely on you, our community, more and more. We try to be as respectful as possible. We don't put up paywalls. We don't complain if you use ad blockers. Hell, we let you turn off the ads on the site. But we also sometimes need to ask for support, and we've tried to make it possible to support us in many, many, different ways. We've now put up a page that lists out all the ways you can support us, from becoming an Insider (the easiest and most direct way to support us -- and we're working on some fun updates to that program), to backing us on Patreon, to buying one of our many t-shirt designs (more coming soon) to buying products from our deals store, from which receive a commission. We also have a partnership with Private Internet Access if you're looking for a VPN.

We're also just now launching a new job board in partnership with ZipRecruiter, and if you're looking to hire someone and post a job there, it helps support us as well (also, if you're looking for a tech job, go check it out).

Our goal, as always, is to build and support this community -- but it does take some money to keep things going. We know that not everyone can support us monetarily and we do our absolute best to make the site and community work for everyone, without being annoying or intrusive. But that does mean that every once in a while we may need to remind you that we need your support and explain the way we think about these things.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2018 @ 10:04am

    I would have bought PIA though you guys, I use it regularly. At the same time, you've issues you are protecting the site from and at times send non-regged responses to a oversight bin, I assume to block spammers.

    The end result of that is a valid comment doesn't get posted till long after the news has moved on.

    Say what you will, I'm not giving my info up. I'm sure you'll safe guard that but there is always the hacker with no scruples at all who will pick up the data base. You have articles peppered throughout of just such happenings.

    The only one that will protect your data is you yourself. No one else has a vested interest in it.

    Since I find myself at times blocked when it comes to commenting, I'm less inclined to buy from the place that gives me issues over it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Christenson, 8 Aug 2018 @ 10:40am

      Re: Not giving up info...

      I have started answering all the "personal" questions sites ask with random strings from random.org, and keeping them written down in a little black book, on the assumption that, over time, all of the sites will be hacked one by one.

      Not the most convenient thing in the world, but I don't know what else to do.

      Now, a job board??? Kewl! I am definitely interested in an employer with an attitude that appreciates Techdirt!

      As to Taboola sales, I suggest taking a chapter out of Popehat, and responding with a pony menace theme...you might as well enjoy blowing them off!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Aug 2018 @ 5:37am

        Re: Re: Not giving up info...

        Now, a job board??? Kewl! I am definitely interested in an employer with an attitude that appreciates Techdirt!

        Have those employers even heard of Techdirt? It looks like they're just pulling the listings from a third-party database, not having employers post directly.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Comment is free! So is the censoring!, 8 Aug 2018 @ 10:06am

    @ "no desire for short term revenue that fucks over our community"

    A) Now I'm intrigued what that'd be... Even "chumboxes" won't do that.

    B) You're admitting that your "business model" just doesn't work for, you know, BUSINESS.

    C) In my opinion, the advertising-supported model, no matter how bombarding, won't, either. The internets may be fundamentally unworkable, even worse than broadcast because so many in the market. Key point, easily observable, is that any big content requires practically captive consumers and concentration (like camp, indeed).

    D) I was just now wondering, while waiting for yet another enrapturing rehashed attack on Ajit Pai, why you don't -- as ever, not even giving you hint of idea when you treat me so bad!

    E) And that treatment of me and other dissent, the censoring, I mean "hiding" to use your euphemism, is NOT helping you. -- So keep it up!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 8 Aug 2018 @ 12:02pm

      Re: @ "no desire for short term revenue that fucks over our community"

      "B) You're admitting that your "business model" just doesn't work for, you know, BUSINESS."

      It has been failing for what, 15, 20 years? Help me here Mike, how long has your way of doing business been failing?

      "C) In my opinion, the advertising-supported model, no matter how bombarding, won't, either. The internets may be fundamentally unworkable, even worse than broadcast because so many in the market. Key point, easily observable, is that any big content requires practically captive consumers and concentration (like camp, indeed). "

      Since you are helping me here Mike, how long has hte internet been failing again?

      "D) I was just now wondering, while waiting for yet another enrapturing rehashed attack on Ajit Pai, why you don't -- as ever, not even giving you hint of idea when you treat me so bad!"

      Er, sorry Mike, could you please tell us how the algorithm that forces people to read your site work? Could you add an exception to this guy? He seems exhausted.

      "E) And that treatment of me and other dissent, the censoring, I mean "hiding" to use your euphemism, is NOT helping you. -- So keep it up!"

      And yet here you are, getting an answer after getting your obnoxious bullshit hidden by all the flagging from the community. Your brain works in mysterious ways.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 8 Aug 2018 @ 7:34pm

        'I can't hear you', said the person with fingers in their ears

        "D) I was just now wondering, while waiting for yet another enrapturing rehashed attack on Ajit Pai, why you don't -- as ever, not even giving you hint of idea when you treat me so bad!"

        Er, sorry Mike, could you please tell us how the algorithm that forces people to read your site work? Could you add an exception to this guy? He seems exhausted.

        What I find particularly hilarious is that they think anyone will buy the 'I have no idea what I've done wrong, why are you all so mean to me?!' line, given it's been explained to them multiple times, and all anyone has to do is see a few of their comments to understand why they get flagged on a regular basis(or by default in my case).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2018 @ 10:11am

    I have gotten to the point where I outright will refuse to go to sites that have Taboola style ads.

    I have always been a big fan of the deals style store model you run. Especially on highly relevant products and when the deals are not shoved in my face all the time.

    You do it right. Wirecutter (via their partnerships with places like Engadget) does it right. Once or twice a day it shows up.

    Gizmodo/Kinja is a perfect example of doing it absolutely wrong. They are constantly promoting their deals everywhere. It shows up on mobile more frequently than their actual articles. It shows up in my RSS feed. It also loads last, so breaks the viewing experience. So it is just abysmal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2018 @ 10:39am

      Re:

      Request: Never, ever replace Amazon links in comments with your own.

      Other sites have done this where they automatically add in their own attribution tag and that is just abysmal practices.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2018 @ 10:26am

    Something in your new "Ways to support us" page forces it wide, or allows the text to flow wide, or whatever. Reading requires horizontal scrolling.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2018 @ 10:42am

    great to hear!

    I'm one of your visitors that always has uBlock Origin on not because I'm opposed to advertising, but because I don't want to waste battery and bandwidth running javascript heavy pages that are tracking me everywhere I go.

    Get rid of tracking and server simple image ads from your domain and I'll happily turn off my blocker.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2018 @ 5:05pm

      Re: great to hear!

      Get rid of tracking and server simple image ads from your domain

      and they will appear with the addblocker on.

      The basis principle behind add-blockers is to block everything from a domain, and there quality depends on how good their blocklist is.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Aug 2018 @ 6:29am

      Re: great to hear!

      > get rid of tracking

      Try the Privacy Badger extension on your browser. It's not an adblocker; it just blocks the trackers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 8 Aug 2018 @ 11:26am

    Alright Mike, quit begging. :)

    This is one of the only sites I've sent money to in support. From buying a t-shirt to sending money to support fighting the guy with the Napoleon complex who thinks he invented email. Keep up the great work!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2018 @ 11:26am

    Problem is everybody else does. That means add blocker.

    Hopefully soon there will be an update to add blocker which will eliminate some more of the annoyance some sites love to issue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2018 @ 11:37am

      Re:

      There is a workaround for Taboola. If you have Adblock, just add "||taboola.com" to your manual filters. It blocks them all.

      I've yet to find a consistent and long-term autoplay video blocking mechanism. Whatever Chrome is doing naturally to stop autoplay videos stopped working a few weeks ago on some of the worst sites (like Forbes) and most of those video pupups never last long on adblocker. Like I can never get them to permanently block the Giz site autoplay video ads.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2018 @ 5:07pm

        Re: Re:

        Like I can never get them to permanently block the Giz site autoplay video ads.

        do they keep on changing the domain from which they are served?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Aug 2018 @ 6:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          they are internal videos similar to the "other content you may enjoy" Taboola stuff. So they all come from Gizmodo's domain. I need to find another domain level block for them. I'll have to dig through the code or see if someone online already figured it out.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 8 Aug 2018 @ 11:37am

    IF'

    you could get them to give you a FLAT rate..Just to advert and NOT install CRAP on our machines..??

    IF you could take their adverts and make them first party??

    A click thru Tabulation, AT THE MOST..

    Love those BIG sites that popup a note ASKING me to let them advert to me, and I send them a note, asking them to STATE on the front page that they would be Liable for Any bots/trackers/Virus installed on my computer from SAID ADVERTS.. I would allow them.

    BUT for SOME GOD AWFUL reason they want to install CRAP on my machine, JUST for viewing it...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 8 Aug 2018 @ 8:26pm

      Re: IF'

      Love those BIG sites that popup a note ASKING me to let them advert to me, and I send them a note, asking them to STATE on the front page that they would be Liable for Any bots/trackers/Virus installed on my computer from SAID ADVERTS.. I would allow them.

      'I'll consider allowing ads, if you make it clear that you take responsibility for them.'

      That doesn't seem like an unreasonable demand, I mean surely they pre-vet all ads they want to load onto the devices of their visitors to make sure that they aren't passing out malware like candy to hundreds/thousands/millions of people.

      Why, doing otherwise would be grossly negligent on their part, and provide a perfect example as to why adblockers are so vital, since the victim of them would be completely on their own if they got infected with the site disclaiming all responsibility, so I'm sure they would never do something like that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 9 Aug 2018 @ 9:48am

        Re: Re: IF'

        Story time..

        I had to reinstall winXP on a customers system..
        I decided I would connect to the internet, Via their modem, and CONSIDERED MSN as the first site it would connect to be safe..
        I connected to the site and the computer went Nuts downloading Tons of something..
        (I suspected what was happening) and let it have fun, as this was a CLEAN INSTALL..
        8 virus and 15 bots later..(After installing Protection From my personal computer) I had to reinstall ALL of WinXP..

        I sent a letter to MSN at the time and Told them my story, and 1 year later, they STOPPED all adverts for a about 10 years..

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    timlash (profile), 8 Aug 2018 @ 11:52am

    Happy to Help

    I actually enjoy paying my monthly Insider subscription. I feel great knowing that I'm supporting all the great work done at Techdirt. I don't even read everyday anymore. However, the internet needs Techdirt and I'm happy to chip in every month. Keep up the good work!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 8 Aug 2018 @ 11:58am

    The best advertisement experience I've had so far without any interaction was Troy Hunt's blog. He sets up a bar telling who is sponsoring the blog at the time that's loaded from the same address and adds a post when changing sponsorship. Clean and respectful.

    TD is ok as well and giving the opportunity for visitors to turn off ads without any restriction is pretty bold, awesome and demonstrates a lot of care. I despise advertisements with all I have and that's why I've been supporting TD with the insider thing whenever I can because you guys offer a service I truly like and use daily. And you have an awesome community around here.

    So yeah, thanks and keep up the good work!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 Aug 2018 @ 8:20pm

    Well that's not desperate at all

    So we told Taboola no. But they don't let up. Every few weeks we get another request from Taboola. They email. They try to friend us on Linkedin. They try to friend us on Facebook. And we keep saying no.

    You'd think by this point they'd have caught the hint, but wow, that is some serious 'dedication' on display there, though whether it's from trying to wear you down or in desperation to get another company to sign up with them only they know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 9 Aug 2018 @ 9:56am

      Re: Well that's not desperate at all

      It's probably more that Techdirt's just on a list and occasionally comes up in a rotation for somebody to send a canned e-mail to.

      When I was looking for work, there was this one guy who sent me a canned spiel about how he'd tried to call me but the number had been disconnected. Why would you do that? Why would you start off your pitch to a prospective worker by lying to him? And in particular, it's a fucked up lie. Phone service is important to people; why would you mislead someone into thinking they were having phone problems? As it happened, not only was I looking for work, but my grandpa was also in the hospital at the time, on his deathbed; it was especially important that I be reachable by phone at that time, and if I had believed the lie this man had told me and really thought people were trying to call me and getting disconnected, that would have been really stressful to me.

      Anyway. I asked him what number he'd tried to call. He tried to change the subject. I asked him again what number he'd tried to call, and he didn't reply.

      A few months later, he sent me the same damn e-mail. Same result; I asked him what number he'd tried to call, and he fucked off.

      The third time he sent me that e-mail, I responded with something along the lines of, "Hey, guy, this is the third time you've lied to me about my phone being disconnected. Is this company policy, and can you please give me contact information for your supervisor?"

      Never heard from him again.

      But I think that's pretty much what it takes to get taken off a mailing list like that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2018 @ 9:15pm

    "In fact, we're exploring some new advertising programs that respect our community by not including any tracking technology at all"

    How are you using the Instinctive tracker that Ghostery has blocked?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 8 Aug 2018 @ 9:48pm

    Thanks for the reminder. I forgot to make sure TD was whitelisted when I changed adblockers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Aug 2018 @ 2:20am

    First off, fuck Taboola and their garbage clickbait bullshit ring. Thank you for not associating your site with that trash. It speaks volumes for the quality and integrity of Techdirt.

    Having said that, it really doesn't matter what you do, the ads I get are still trash. At the moment, this page is full of adverts for hideously garish fashion websites that I'd rather tear out my own eyes than wear. That's an improvement over the usual adverts for Thai and Russian brides, though.
    I'm not sure whether those are better or worse than the current crop of LASIK adverts; I'm guessing they're both targeted at lonely, middle-aged tech geeks, so at least they're homing in on the correct demographic, even if I'm still not interested in getting scammed out of thousands of dollars.

    The point I guess I'm trying to make is that, given that the Internet enables me to be at least a moderately well-informed consumer in the way that, historically, it wasn't easy to be without directly contacting manufacturers, most advertising simply bounces off me.
    For the most part I already know what's out there and what I'm looking for; I've informed myself and made my decisions before even the most invasive of privacy-invading advertising snooper-bots have registered my interest, and then I spend the next few days watching them desperately trying to sell me something I bought three hours after I started looking (we've all had those weeks where we've bought a washing machine and then spent the next month being served up pages and pages of ads for washing machines).

    There really needs to be a big change in advertising to make it relevant to me again. I don't know how they're going to manage to do that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Christenson, 9 Aug 2018 @ 5:17pm

      Re: Adverts following around for months....

      Yep, get that some with the current Techdirt ads. Open tab led to related adverts on techdirt last night. And the control board for the washing machine followed me around for months!

      It seems to include some locals, too, like a chevy dealer, which is decidedly uninteresting.

      Dear Ads: Please tell me something *interesting* I don't already know all about!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris ODonnell (profile), 9 Aug 2018 @ 8:21am

    This post reminded me that my subscription has expired when I canceled a credit card - fixed and resubscribed as an Insider.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 9 Aug 2018 @ 10:25am

    Chumboxes... from the term for fish bait, I presume.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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