Blockchain start-ups which are seeking to re-model the internet economy are popping up left, right and centre these days, thanks in large part to the ICO phenomenon.
These generally entail platforms – largely conceptual at this stage of the game – that are setting out to challenge traditional content monetisation models (Youtube, Facebook, or any online news media, for instance) which rely heavily on advertising for their revenue.
Platforms like Steemit have emerged (see our piece on the Blockchain’s Burial of Classical Economics, for instance) which appear to suggest that these traditional models are indeed ripe for some blockchain-inspired revolution.
One issue, however, is that Steemit – and similar blockchain economy platforms like Datum and Media Protocol – are faced with one not so trivial obstacle: their platforms somehow need to wrench millions – if not billions – of users away from existing platforms. That is no mean feat and will require some creativity.
Challenge from the Inside
Brendan Eich is the one of the people behind the Brave Browser, the world’s first browser to incorporate a native cryptocurrency – BAT, or the Basic Attention Token. Also co-founder of Mozilla and Firefox, Eich has taken open-source Chromium as the basis for a new browser which comes with native functionality that accommodates crypto commerce.
The BAT team’s strategy is simple: instead of asking the world’s six hundred million active websites to accommodate the emerging crypto economy, it is instead asking people to simply change their browser.
Added to that, websites will have nothing to do on their end except register as an official Brave Publisher. And once they do so, visitors to their site can make voluntary contributions to those sites in appreciation for the content they produce. In return, users are promised website content which is ad-free.
The Brave model does offer a second model, however: users can choose to be exposed to advertisements instead – and receive a piece of the pie for doing so, with payment rendered in BAT token directly to their browser-embedded crypto wallet.
In this scenario, advertisers are given access to better demographic profiling for their products and services, and users themselves can choose to be rewarded for exposing themselves to advertisers, all the while exercising control over what elements of their personal browsing data are shared with third parties.
The advantage for content platforms is that they can offer more attractive audiences for advertisers who are increasingly frustrated by adBlocking technology – that is thought to cost them in excess of $20 billion per year in lost revenue – and non-transparent internet traffic, half of which is being performed by bots precisely to squeeze more revenues out of advertisers.
Mass Adoption Around the Corner?
The Brave Browser has been downloaded from the Google Playstore over five million times at the time of writing (June, 2018), and it is thought that, between desktop and mobile, the browser now has three million active users. How many of these users, however, will begin to adopt BAT as the cornerstone of their own online browsing habits is another question – the vast majority of users today see the browser as nothing more than an effective adBlocking technology.
To encourage participation in the BAT economy, the Brave project team are currently giving away half a million dollars of BAT token to all users of the browser each month in order to encourage its adoption.
Payment schedules are flexible – a user can specify a monthly budget to be divided equally among all websites he or she visits, or websites can be compensated as a function of their weight in their visit statistics – “Give 10% of my monthly budget to Youtubers if I’ve been spending 10% of my time on Youtube”.
Over 300 million tokens will eventually be distributed to the wider public – for free – to encourage BAT adoption, and over 16,000 content creators are now officially registered as Brave Publishers – of which 11,000 are thought to be Youtube channels that collectively carry a captive audience of 200m YT subscribers.
The BAT team clearly believe that identifying the browser with an ad-free Youtube experience will form the bedrock of a new internet content monetisation model. The project is clearly a leading candidate to emerge as the driving technology for cryptocurrency mass adoption.
There is, of course, no guarantee that a broken model will eventually be fixed by a much better solution that has come to market. Whether the Brave Browser achieves its aim of democratising the internet’s content now lies firmly in the hands of the internet’s users.