Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A response to Don re: Adsense

Don has asked for my opinion regarding putting Google adsense ads on his blog. His idea is quite interesting since unlike most bloggers who include ads on their sites, his motivation has nothing to do with earning a little revenue or defraying hosting costs. Instead, he wants to provide incremental revenue to Google in order to thank them for providing the Blogger service to us for free. Further, any revenue he does earn he plans to donate in ways which will support chess in his local community. This is my open response to Don regarding his post:

I have struggled for several days to clarify my thoughts on your idea and clearly articulate my arguments. Alas, I have not been overly successful. I believe this is a case where my head and heart may be pointing in different directions. Therefore, what follows is an exposition of what I have been thinking about over the last several days related to this topic. I admit in advance that some of my thoughts are contradictory and the logic of my arguments is not fully consistent with my thesis. Hey, what can I say -- you asked for my thoughts; here they are; do with them what you wish.

First, my overall thesis -- I do not like the idea of including ads on the Knights' blogs primarily for aesthetic reasons: "real" aesthetics (I think they can be ugly and distracting) and more importantly, reader perception (what impact does the presence of ads have on the reader's experience and the judgments he/she makes about the blog, its content, and its author?). As to your objectives, whether we are talking about supporting Google or local chess I wonder whether there are better ways to achieve these objectives.

Let me start by declaring that I am not one of those people who is opposed to the commercialization of the web. In fact, my "paying job" has much to do with using the web for commercial purposes. As I've mentioned previously, one of my main motivations for engaging in these blogging projects has been to learn more about this space for possible applications in corporate environments. In addition, I regularly read blogs which focus on commercializing and monetizing blogs, e.g. here and here.

Therefore, when I come across a blog which is ad-supported and clearly intended to be a commercial enterprise (e.g. big - Gawker's Wonkette or not as big - Digital Photography Blog), I have no problem with that. I also am not bothered by more recreational bloggers who are clear that there intent is to defray some of their hosting costs. However, I have come across several cases where the ads, rightly or wrongly, left me with less than kind thoughts about the blogger and their blog. Here is a perfect example -- World of Chess -- linked under "other chess blogs" in my sidebar. This guy put up his ads before he made his first post. Of course, there is nothing illegal, immoral or unethical about that. However, as a reader I begin to ask myself about his motivations. Is he really interested in providing relevant, interesting content related to chess or is he just trying to make a few pennies off my interest? Again, if it is the latter that's ok, but it does nonetheless color my perceptions of quality of his content. Consider Mig's Daily Dirt -- while Mig clearly has an overriding commercial agenda (sell newsletters), he has been careful not to use his blog as a hard sell (which of course is not to say that it is not related to his commercial enterprise. It is a branding effort). I believe he does this because he is concerned that a hard sell might diminish his readers' perceptions of the quality and value he delivers.

So where am I going? Don, I think it is important for you to consider what judgments prospective readers might make about your blog if you include ads on it. Will it affect their judgments about the quality and value you deliver? Will they get the wrong impression about your motivations (this is important, since it will probably be difficult for you to easily communicate to new readers what your underlying agenda for including ads is)? Should you even care about things? I don't know to be honest. However, this is the essence of my perceptual aesthetics argument.

My "real" aesthetics argument is much simpler. I find the ads ugly and distracting. Of course this is both intended and necessary. If the ads don't catch the reader's eye then they are of no value to the advertiser. This is important if your intent is to make money. However, this is not your primary objective. So I ask, why mess with your reader's experience? In response to the adsense post, General Kaia replied, "That sound[s] good to me. I won't mind any distractions." He won't mind them, but clearly acknowledges that they will be distractions.

google logo

Assuming there is any validity to my arguments above (and I grant that they are arguable), one might argue that your objectives are noble and therefore warrant either or both aesthetic compromises mentioned above. Let's start with supporting Google. First, I think one could argue that you really don't owe Google anything. Google's business model is predicated on having only a small percentage of its Blogger blogs using adsense. Even though you don't, you still provide value to Google by increasing their market share in the blogging space and attracting others to the service that may not have been aware of it. This then results in many new blogs (you certainly have been a catalyst for this in our little corner of the blogosphere), a small percentage of which do choose to include ads. In other words, you are not freeloading from Blogger.

Ok, you might buy that but still feel like you would like to do something more for them. I think there are alternatives to consider that won't have the side effect of messing up your readers' perceptions and experiences. Here's two:
  • Do Google searches on high value items like digital cameras, computers, etc. and click on the sponsored links. Google earns a lot more money on these than chess-related ads. A few clicks a day should do it.

  • Write Google a check (this has the added benefit of not meeting your need to help them through Other People's Money; in the ad approach you are using advertisers' money to address your freeloading concerns. One might argue that you are freeloading off someone else to mitigate your concerns about freeloading)
Now, let's talk about "charitable" support for chess. I recognize that this is not your primary motivation but instead simply a reasonable way to dispose of the residual income that you might receive by putting up the ads. However, let's suppose that having built a readership over the past six months you did want to leverage it to support chess in your community. I have actually thought about this a bit. As you know the BCC Weblog is associated with the Boylston Chess Foundation. The Foundation (which is in the process of receiving 501c3 charitable status) has a mission to promote and support chess in the local community, schools, etc. As such, I have considered the possibility of raising money for the foundation from the weblog. My research in this area suggests that given our objective and readership size (BCC Weblog will never be confused with Daily Kos) we would be likely to raise more money through a direct appeal (maybe in conjunction with a PayPal tip jar) than through ads. I suspect this is right ... I'm sure several of my readers would donate a couple of bucks to support if they think I'm providing useful and relevant content to them. Just imagine how many ads I would need them to click to generate the same (keep in mind that "chess" is not a high-value keyword on Google).

There you have it, my thoughts on your adsense post. I hope you find these thoughts useful in contemplating your decision.

No comments: