Most of us take the web and websites for granted: we rarely think about the costs associated with setting up, running, and updating servers, or ensuring that the pages we visit will work reliably and safely. These are costly operations and the more users a web service has the higher the costs. It’s fairly safe to assume that if Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Reddit charged users even a fraction of their costs they would have been unable to become the giants they are. Unlike in the real world, we have come to expect information and services on the Internet to be free. For most for-profit businesses this leaves little alternatives for profit outside of advertising. I don’t want to comment on the ethics, legality or impact on privacy and society that such advertising has. We know it’s pervasive and with the marriage of ever-improving algorithms and more time spent online, it will probably continue to become even more so. But advertising is one of only three ways (that I can think of) to make money on the Internet. The second is, of course, selling something whether it be e-commerce or a SAAS or anything else that individuals and companies are willing to pay for. The last way is the traditional non-profit model, however, it no longer powers charities and churches. It’s proven to be the most lucrative and the most viable.
Think about the last time Wikipedia adorned their header with a fundraising banner. If you’re anything like me you’ve probably closed that modal about a dozen times over the years without thinking twice. Yet, I use Wikipedia almost daily and have for years and they have never served me an ad or enforced a pricey subscription fee. We all use Wikipedia, don’t even try and deny it. What about Khan Academy? What about other non-profits that you may not think of? The Apache Foundation? Linux? Mozilla?
For at least 10 years I’ve used an FTP client called Cyberduck to maintain my website, every time you exit the application it asks for a one-time donation. I must have closed it hundreds of times without ever giving. About two years ago I bit the bullet and actually donated about $50 to Cyberduck, as a student it felt like a lot but I wanted to give back to a program that had given me so much. However great the sacrifice of $50 felt at the time, considering how long I’d been using the software it equated to a subscription fee of $5 a year! Not such a big sacrifice when you put it that way especially considering David V. Kocher and Yves Langisch probably spend more than 10 minutes a year maintaining Cyberduck.
This innovative model extends beyond just services and software products it is also applied to the content. More and more I’m seeing YouTube channels featuring a link to their Patreon accounts and why not? Making videos takes time and resources and making really good videos takes more time and more resources. If you really a channel’s content and are a regular viewer consider giving the creators a bit of compensation especially if they’re not big enough yet to be making a lot of money as YouTube partners.
I’m not saying that advertising is wrong or a bad model only that there are alternatives. One alternative is funded by your generosity, without which the lake of alternatives grows ever and ever drier. So this week give a few dollars to a non-profit website or service you use regularly and make it a monthly habit.