Rusty has finally decided to start looking at advertising systems for K5. Since my first contact with Rusty was my asking how to write up an article I wanted to post to Kuro5hin about an alternative to ad systems, I think it's time I wrap up that bit of writing and post it here. The big issue in how to write this is that the article itself comes off as advertising for a project with which I'm already involved (though it's not really a business ), so keep that in mind. I'm not writing from an entirely objective perspective. ;-)
Aside from the simple fact that advertisements generally detract from the aesthetic design of a web site, they build a dependency upon the advertiser. It has long been known that "traditional" media such as TV and newspapers allow their advertisers to exert a massive influence over their content. It is possible that this threat is unavoidable in any ad-supported venture, since the income for the producers is so dependant upon advertisers' good will. This doesn't mean that the advertisers will actually exercise this influence, just that the threat is there. And, as has been pointed out repeatedly by the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the mere fact that the threat exists has often lead producers to censor themselves rather than run the risk that an advertiser will be offended.
Another important consideration with advertising support on a web site is, as Rusty mentioned obliquely, the potential for abuse of the readers privacy by the advertisers, as in the recent exposure of DoubleClick's information gathering practices.
While I think we can all agree that society should protect its members from exploitation of their personal information, and could do so by regarding that information as their property (heck, under current law, the originator of a work (and can we not consider our credit or net usage histories as a work?) owns copyright by default ...), the most effective way to prevent exploitation is in keeping your data out of the hands of potential exploiters.
With that goal in mind, we are forming a consumer cooperative which will, on behalf of its members, purchase ad free access to popular web sites at rates competitive to current advertising. The coop will maintain a system similar to DoubleClick's, whereby the decision to display an ad (rather than which ad to display) will be made by our servers when a member accesses a participating site. As a consumer coop, the operation will be wholly owned by its users and therefore will have its privacy policies set by them. No usage information on a user will be kept except what is necessary to bill them for their use. That should be extremely minimal, since most sites with whom we've discussed this prefer a yearly flat-rate fee, rather than a per-view fee, so the user's actual usage is irrelevant.
By our estimation, a site receiving standard ad rates makes between one and five dollars a year from showing ads to a user (assuming 2-5 page views/day for a year). Adding in the cost of maintaining the system, we still expect it to cost the user around $50/year to subscribe to the 10-20 sites they read most. This is well within reason for the vast majority of Net users.
I have written a prototype of the system and put up a site describing how I think it should work. Since K5 is now looking at advertising systems, I've added a page for K5 to the survey system, if you are interested in giving your opinion on whether K5 should use it and how much the fees should be. I would appreciate all of your thoughts, both here in the K5 comments section and on the survey for itself.