Tedium - Losing Sight Of Creators 🔎

The problem with ad-blocking for creators.

Hunting for the end of the long tail • May 31, 2024

Losing Sight Of Creators

Instead of building ways to block ads, we need to make the case for the tech-minded to build creator-supporting ideas. Creators would help.

About every six months or so, a product emerges on Hacker News or a similar site that promises to remove sponsor reads from, say, YouTube videos. Or ads from podcasts.

It’s worth keeping in mind that, unlike the tracking-heavy services that follow Web-based advertising, these formats are easily skippable, but additionally are often direct buys by sponsors, rather than the more invasive types of web advertising sitting out there, tracking their every move. But for some reason, people keep making these tools.

I get that everyone may have their specific use cases, and their specific reasons for not wanting to have to deal with the disruption of sponsorships, but many of these creative mediums offer ways to avoid ads entirely, such as Patreon support, or premium feeds.

But there is an audience that has decided that any advertising is too much advertising. It is an audience that has been nurtured by bad behavior by large companies for many years, and it is one that has not made the connection that their behavior may be crossing a line when you get down to a smaller scale.

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It was in one of these Hacker News threads where I found myself in a debate about this very topic. I wrote something noting how an ad-removing product, even if it removed ads that the creators already accepted from contracts, was still damaging to the people who run podcasts, in that it would often remove value from the creators. The post was not popular. It got zero points, meaning that someone immediately tapped it down, and someone responded immediately asking if it was somehow “unethical” for users to skip ads by themselves.

I didn’t respond, because it honestly felt like a gotcha. But another user tried to goad me into it. I eventually wrote a reply explaining that it was in fact a gotcha, and ultimately it didn’t take away from the point that ad-removing tools harm small creators. I ended my little rant with this line: “Stop free-riding on absolutely everyone like they’re a Hollywood studio.”

I noticed the user who tried to goad me also responded to the original post, which essentially asked why people would want to remove ads from work they support. The user responded by suggesting that these people should have a day job.

(Jazmin Quaynor/Unsplash)

That’s the tell. They don’t respect the work of others. Maybe they once did, but now, they see it as a means to an end. There is no value to the creation. And while it may feel like I’m picking on a single troll on Hacker News, I want to be clear: This is likely not a unique view. Maybe there was a point where it was about getting rid of invasive advertising. But it crossed a line into not seeing the hard work of other human beings as valuable.

That is heartbreaking, and it gets to the sharp edge of what was once a dull point: We are spending more time and money focused on extractive work than creative work. And it’s harming us as a society. These people who spend their time developing ad-blockers that are targeted at work that is not laden with ad tracking could have put their time into solving problems that led those creators to put advertising on their products in the first place, despite the fact that, ultimately, their beef is with middle men, rather than the people just trying to scrape by. But they chose not to.

With this piece likely being the final piece of May, which appears to be by all measures the best month in Tedium’s nine-year history, I wanted to take a moment to discuss the issues that small creators face, because I think that they often get overlooked by folks who see the evils of advertising and don’t consider the effects that this may have on regular people.

And I think that the problems that lead to ad blockers impacting small creators scale up. In a way, what’s been happening with artificial intelligence and large language models feels like another shade of this issue. The creation of a site like udm14, while maybe sharing some parallels with ad-blockers, is something of a protest against this change to the direction of the internet, from something that is friendly to small sites to something that treats them as direct competition. When I search for something, I don’t want my answers from Google. I never did. I wanted to find interesting websites, often handmade or scrappy, with that information baked in.

Google, by building this tool, is essentially telling people who used their service for decades that they may have believed that the goal of its service was to “find websites,” but Google thinks the actual goal of its website is to “find answers.” Those are two different things, and one ignores the deeply extractive nature of the other. Recently, people telling the story of Google—both Adam Conover, whose video I featured on Monday, and Casey Newton, in a retelling on PJ Vogt’s Search Engine—end up painting this picture of Google as a company were it seems like they’re pulling off a slow-motion heist and they’re in the late stages of it. But we didn’t think about Google this way for years, so this reframing feels stark.

Which is why we need to think about solutions to fix it.

If we’re going to find our way out of the current doldrums of the creator economy, we need to figure out a way to get technologists and developers to see that creation is the point. It is the product, the thing of value, not the means to an end. When it’s not, they focus on building ad-removal tools instead of empowering creators to stop using ads entirely.

Or, at the very least, build ads appealing enough that nobody feels compelled to skip them.

Creative Links

Over on Bluesky, I called the Google search algorithm documents leak that happened this week “The SEO Pentagon Papers,” which I think is the funniest way to think about it.

I gotta admit, I am happy to know that there is a documentary on IDAHO, the great slowcore band that perhaps got overshadowed, but are deserving of a fresh heyday in their own right. (Fun fact: Maya Rudolph was once a member!) If you’re feeling a bit awkward about listening to Sun Kil Moon these days or miss Low, they’re a worthy band to get into.

This story about how a dryer chime—unique to Samsung dryers but in the public domain—got copyrighted by a random band and turned into fodder for copyright claims on YouTube, is the weirdest thing.

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And if you need to clean out your old pics, give CleanMyPhone a spin.

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