When I made the decision to go into journalism as a career, it was motivated by me enjoying writing, and wanting to seek a way to make a living from it. By the time that I entered journalism school, people still hadn’t figured out a good way of getting decent money from the things they published, and I thought “okay, they’ll definitely have it figured out in at least four years, when I graduate.”
I think about this every once and a while, and laugh.
Since then, creators have had new tools emerge to get paid, but the stress mainly comes from the behavior of their consumers. While Twitch, Patreon and other platforms have given new venues to produce valuable things, I feel that there’s still a psychological barrier between “I have consumed this and think it’s valuable” and “I think it’s valuable enough to pay money directly to”.
While people have become a little bit warmer towards crowdfunding and ongoing patronage, to me, it still feels like a lot of that is coming from altruism. Rather than shift a person’s viewpoint about the value of the content, there’s more a feeling of “I feel emotionally attached enough to this person to contribute” rather than an impersonal exchange of currency for product.
I guess this continues to stick in my brain because the “how do we pay creators fairly online” problem doesn’t seem any closer to being solved. Regardless of how successful Patreon or direct donations can make a person, at scale (needing to support more than 1-2 people, or extra staff in general), the model falls back into its old habits of advertisement: either people are sponsoring you directly because your audience can be marketed to, or they are automating the ad spending through platforms like Facebook and Google, who are deciding where to whom and how to show the ads.
I don’t know if this is something that will ever be able to be fixed, but when alternatives come along that I feel are interesting, I kind of feel obligated to contribute to them to increase their chances of success.
I’ve been using Brave Browser (disclosure: this is an affiliate link) for a bit, mainly because it has a lot of privacy-focused features. I’ve also started using it as a separate browser specifically for work, just to reduce some risk of cross-pollination (and dumb “wrong account!” mishaps).
Brave is a fork of Google Chrome, and a lot of the things that made Chrome great are in there, as well. It can use all of Chrome’s addons, and most websites will think that a Chrome browser is visiting them when you’re really using Brave. I can still use Chromecast, BetterTwitchTV and UBlock Origin and PrivacyBadger (all great extensions) as if I was using Chrome.
As a precaution
Since this post went live, some news came up about Brave auto-completing referral links to some services they partner with. In this case, they partner with a service called Binance, and host a widget on their new tab page. Users noticed that they would auto-complete Binance.us links with code at the end of the URL to signify that Brave was the one sending traffic.
CEO Brendan Eich claims that this is to identify Brave as the browser sending traffic to distinguish it from its Chrome code base; without it, Binance wouldn’t be able to tell what was coming from Brave from Chrome. More cynical users will say that this is a way to get money out of its users without their consent.
I think that replacing a URL that a user types in isn’t ethical; while Brave has acknowledged this feature and are introducing a toggle to turn this off, this has soured a lot of perceptions on Brave’s marketing based on privacy. Despite other browsers doing similar (such as Firefox’s built-in search engines for sites like Amazon), I don’t think that it exonerates Brave, as they marketed themselves on being different.
While the referral URL doesn’t fingerprint the user, it does feel a bit scummy. I use Brave in conjunction with a number of other privacy tools, and am considering going back to Firefox. I’m not completely redacting this post, because I’m interested in the way that Brave handles crypto, ads, and getting creators paid. It’s a shame that privacy and that latter idea seems to conflict with each other, but I figured I’d let you know so you can make your own decision
The quest for the best of both worlds: privacy and functionality
I’ve been increasingly privacy-focused over the last couple years, mostly because I’ve become very aware of how much data I’m giving to companies, and how much money those companies are making off of me. I’m technically benefiting from using the services these companies are providing, but I’ve started to become uncomfortable — Google Docs is “free” in the sense that you don’t pay for it, but Google reads your documents to get data in order to sell to advertisers.
Brave is focused on providing a piece of software that does what it’s supposed to without the added worries of it harvesting your data for sale. So many pieces of software do this these days that I’ve started to purposefully “downgrade” my experience in order to maintain some semblance of sanity; I’ve embraced the “single-function, but focused” kind of program/app, even if it’s not as convenient, just because I know what I can expect from it.
However, what’s piqued my curiosity about Brave is that the company has another pillar of trying to fix (or at least improve) how creators interface with advertisers. They use a cryptocurrency token called the Basic Attention Token (BAT) in order to reward people for seeing ads, and make it easy for people to be able to tip creators they appreciate with them.
My experiences with BAT
As a precautionI’m not an expert on cryptocurrency. I’m not giving you financial advice with this post. I’m not affiliated with Brave as a company. I mostly just see an interesting technology, and if your thought process is “it’ll never catch on”, nothing ever will.
I first started experimenting with BAT because I kind of have a complex about usernames. Matt Demers is a fairly common firstname-lastname combination, and there a couple other people online, with the same name as me, who run in similar circles. To me, since I’m pretty much “MattDemers” everywhere, I want to be able to represent myself on platforms with consistency. Even if a platform is new and kind of in the “maybe cool, but not enough people use it for mass adoption” phase, I still try to secure “MattDemers” just in case.
With Brave, they have a Creators Program that lets you claim sites like the one you’re on right now, but also (and this is key), social media accounts like Twitter, Twitch, YouTube and Reddit. When you use Brave, the browser will insert “Tip” buttons into these platforms that allow people to use the BAT they have to contribute to these creators.
Someone write a great reddit post? You can tip them without involving PayPal. Someone make you laugh on Twitter? Toss them a couple BAT.
The thing that ended up hooking me was the ecosystem of how you get BAT. In my experience, if a service is too complicated and people they know don’t use it, it’s hard to attract new users. Something like BAT has to have a large convenience factor in order for it to succeed.
With Brave, it will serve you ads, and every month, you get paid in BAT for viewing them. That BAT gets added to a wallet that’s part of the browser you were already using. You can then give them to creators, or set up a one-click “Auto-Contribute” switch that will tip people a percentage of your BAT automatically; you can weight this towards creators individually, and it takes the process out of your hands in terms of remembering.
In order to buy ads for people to see, companies or individuals need to buy the BAT that will be distributed to the people viewing the ads. the user will then use that BAT to contribute to creators, who can either sell the BAT, or continue the cycle (tipping people, or buying their own ads).
Like I said, I’m not a crypto expert, and Brave’s whitepaper on the subject is a little over my head. My interpretation could be wrong, and feel free to correct me in the comments if I am.
Functionality is important
My point with all this is that BAT isn’t worth pennies, the ads aren’t intrusive or annoying (they’re pretty generic pop-ups that you can set frequency between 1-5 ads per hour) and the payout system actually works. Because Brave uses a wallet service called Uphold to sync between devices, I can get BAT from my mobile and desktop versions of Brave deposited to the same wallet. I can them use that system to cash out to USD or CAD, or again, just hold onto it. If I wanted to, I could take my BAT out of Uphold to my own, separate crypto wallet, too.
I feel like if BAT gets to something like $1.00 USD, I can reasonably expect to make around $10-15 USD of it a month because I’m consuming ads (based on what I’m getting right now). That’s money that I don’t feel bad about splashing to people on top of the people I’m already contributing to. I guess that’s the conundrum of all this, especially about cryptocurrency in general: if the token doesn’t get practical applications or more widespread adoption, it doesn’t seem worth the trouble.
What I wanted to do with this post was point out that compared to other cryptocurrency and alternative systems of supporting creators, BAT isn’t doing a bad job in terms of simplicity. Again, if it’s too hard and full of tech jargon, people won’t use it — if Brave wasn’t a browser with the compatibility of Chrome and if it was too complicated to set up, it wouldn’t have the fundamentals needed to make the project feasible.
I’ve gone through a lot of “fad social media” platforms that claim to be what people really want, but they never seem to last past their first month. The network effect is so strong with people that it becomes very hard to leave Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and all these platforms that just have such a big advantage in constant content, accessibility, and ease of use. This centralization of the Internet is contentious in how good it is; while I don’t think the Internet’s Wild West side is an entirely positive thing, it feels like it becoming more homogeneous and same-y keeps innovation from actually happening. Brave feels like it has some staying power because it has meat where it counts: the browser is fast, caters to an increasing need for privacy without compromising functionality, and has features people are familiar with.
I’m not saying that you have to become a crypto trader, or guilt people into using BAT; I’m more informing you that someone’s made something that actually has a shot of working in terms of the quality of product, I think it’s interesting, and more people should know about it in that case.
So yeah, go download Brave (if you use this link, I get BAT from a referral link). If you’re a creator on Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Vimeo, or GitHub, go make a Creators account and enable your channels to earn BAT. Even if that’s the only way you’re engaging with it, it still allows more people to learn about it in the process.
BAT and Brave aren’t perfect; Brave’s script-and-tracker blocking sometimes makes websites a little less functional, and if something has problems with Chrome, it will have problems on Brave. BAT and Cryptocurrency still have a lot of problems with onboarding new people, and there’s still a lack of tangible places to use your tokens. For a lot of people, I think crypto has a reputation of something you buy, like stocks, to see them go up or down and make money; the challenge is to make it functional, and easy to do.
If it means a healthier ecosystem for creators, I feel like it’s worth a try. Back when I was in journalism school, I remember having arguments with people about the merits and purpose of Twitter, and well, look where we are now.
If you’d like to contribute your BAT to me, you can click the triangle with the checkmark on the address bar of your Brave browser.
In general, any social account that has that icon can receive BAT, even on Twitter.
Amazon links on this post may be affiliate links to help support Matt.