Opinion: Why Google wants Google Contributor to succeed

News broke out earlier this week (see Techmeme) that Google is testing a new ad-alternative program with a small number of high profile websites. The ad-alternative program allows the regular readers of those websites to pay a small monthly fee ($1 to $3) to make the ads go away. Instead, those users will either see a thank you box (in place of the banner ads) or nothing (perhaps depending on screen size and formatting). Some see this more cynically, an attempt by Google to point out to the world that although people hate ads with a passion, they hate paying for content even more (see Venture Beat).

Personally I think this is a legit experiment, and Google actually has a lot to benefit if this catches on. Why do I think so? Look at some of the websites that are part of the beta: Mashable, The Onion, and imgur. It is a cross-section of tech-savvy users who are quite fond of those websites. The experiment is not set up to fail.

What Are Google’s Benefits from Contributor?

  1. more and more websites are using crowd-sourcing to get funded, and in some cases, some funding levels include a “No Ads” option. Google is left out. Typically the more passionate the users of a website or project, the more likely they are to fund it, which means Google is not only missing out the sheer numbers, but also some of the more highly-prized eyeballs
  2. in recent years, Google has diversified dramatically. True, Adsense is their main money maker right now, but, for example, Android (Google Play) is growing exponentially, and those pennies from every app or in-app purchase add-up quickly when you get to billions of Google Play users
  3. Data! Google is a very data hungry company. The only way to use Contributor is to run Google code. Whether you have to use Google’s own ad servers or place a wrapper around your own ad server, Google gets access to your website. Not only that, but they also get access to the people that otherwise might have been running AdBlock. With Contributor, the Adblockers become willing “data cattle” in order to support their favorite websites
  4. people don’t want to pay for content, but they hate ads with a passion. Coming up with a solution that makes both the website owners and their power users happy and keeps Google in the loop (both data-wise and dollars-wise) is not a bad thing from a business perspective.

Frankly, it is a bit of a surprise that something like that hasn’t happened already. “The internets” have managed to solve millions of problems so far (and probably created millions more but that’s another story for another day), yet “the internets” haven’t figured out how to self-fund in a user-friendly fashion. As it is often the case, the first one who cracks the code has a pretty good chance to be the incumbent market leader for a long time (eg Google Search).