I’ve noticed that Slashdot has started to include text ads in their RSS feed much more frequently, and I’m considering unsubscribing. I have no moral or ethical objection to text ads in RSS feeds, but this is the first time I’ve run up against that many text ads all in a row, and I find them ugly and rather annoying (on web pages, there’s more going on, and text ads don’t get in the way so much).
So, am I one of those people, often flamed in Slashdot comments, who expects something for nothing? How is Slashdot supposed to make money from providing an RSS feed to freeloaders like me? There are two reasonable answers to these challenges:
Slashdot strips links from their RSS feed, so if I want to follow a source or read comments, I have to visit the Slashdot site (and see their ads) anyway; and
in business, it’s OK to be selfish — I look for what I want, the other side looks for what they want, and if we cannot find any common ground we just wish each other luck and walk away. If I want an RSS feed without text ads, it’s OK for me to go looking for one; if Slashdot wants to put ads in their feed, it’s OK for them to do so. If there’s no common ground, then I simply stop reading Slashdot.
Of course, from an entrepreneurial point of view, that still leaves a problem: how can people make money directly from fulltext RSS feeds? Indirectly, of course, you can use them to promote yourself or your business, but what if the feeds are your business?
The only way I can see for ads in feeds to work is to do the same as with webpages: embed them in content. No site shows you ads on a page all of their own, do they? (Yahoo!Groups is the exception that confirms the rule, obviously; and guess what? I don’t go there voluntarily.)
Of course, that opens up a lot of issues. Feeds are highly data-centric; there is no site chrome, just pure content. There is no sensible way to place ads other than to make ads into content. It seems that the only viable strategies in the long term are sponsorship or patronage arrangements, where either readers or vendors pay the content producer direcly. Of course, a sponsorship arrangement where the content producer actively cheerleads a product raises questions about neutrality.
I don’t know how things will shake out in the end, but I know that the traditional advertisement format does not work. The internet is a great enabler for reducing middle men and serving the long tail; advertising will inevitably have to follow.