Home Cyberpunk Pulling The Pixel: Unplugging The Internet Advertising Model

Pulling The Pixel: Unplugging The Internet Advertising Model

by David Rutland
Ads on cyberpunk.com

Scrappy Cyberpunk Blog Stops Internet Advertising and Wills Itself Into Existence

Disclaimer: This article was written in November 2020. CyberPunks.com removed their advertising network on December 5, 2020.

Welcome to CyberPunks.com, where we sold your data for cold hard cash and performed behavioral experiments on you to increase our earnings. Just kidding. We’re not technical enough to get up to those kind of underhanded shenanigans; we left that to our internet advertising partners.

Somewhere on the screen in front of you was an advertisement for guns or beauty products, car tires, or potted plants. If you couldn’t see it, the chances were good that you are the type of filthy scrounger who installs ad blocking software or who has the excellent, Pi-Hole adblocker employed as a black hole for trackers and ads.

If you were a reader of CyberPunks.com in late 2020, you were scrounging off the hard-working writers, editors, graphic designers, and, of course, the Russian mafia, who provide the short-term, high-interest loans necessary to make the magic happen on these pages. You don’t want to piss off the Russian mafia do you?

Russian Mafia
They're gangsters, pranksters, and serial romancers | Credit: Wamzlee.  CC BY-SA 2.0

Ads and Ad Blockers

Starting in July of 2020, due to increasing pressure from gentlemen with unpronounceable names holding leather bags stuffed with DIY tools and plastic sheeting, the CyberPunks.com editorial team made the decision to start showing advertisements. We didn’t take it too seriously.  We just wanted to make a few bucks, and a thousand of you just wanted to read a cyberpunk movie review.

Our readers in late 2020 would certainly have had to avoid looking at an animated banner ad for Deliveroo (The British GrubHub), or an animated banner ad for Britbox, not to mention an array of animated squares for various types of accounting software. For ultimate distraction, these would swap out every minute or so.

Full disclosure: Viewing advertisements is a novel experience for me. Under normal circumstances, I'm running adblockers on all of my devices and have Pi-Hole humming along in the background. To research this article, I spun up a Windows 10 image in Virtualbox, installed Google Chrome and turned off all of my usual protection to see the world and this website as others see it.

Running a clean-ish browser on a new VM, advertisers didn’t really know anything about me yet. Roaming my back pages and past articles on the site meant that I was being shotgunned with generic exhortations for Fitbits, Google Nests, and something called “Square Online” where I could start my own online store. Maybe I should start selling Fitbits?

For web publishers, the issue of monetization is always a dilemma. Ideally, no-one would run ads at all. Web pages would be clean and quick loading with no visual clutter attempting to coerce readers into flashing their cash on TCP Liquid Antiseptic Original.

Believe it or not, the writers here receive financial compensation for our hard work, insight and occasionally witty prose. That money needs to come from somewhere.

The options are limited. Sure, we could put up a paywall, but we’re struggling to think of anyone who would actually pay to read what we write. We could solicit sponsored posts, featuring poorly written reviews for ethically dubious products such as apps to stalk your ex  and shilling natural testosterone boosters.  We’re painting a mental picture of the type of person who would respond to those posts, and it’s not particularly favorable.

What’s a high-tech lowlife to do? For now, we’d prefer to steer clear of such shenanigans to keep the CyberPunks.com name pure and unsullied. You’ve probably noticed a few Amazon affiliate links scattered around the place, but they won’t keep the RGBs burning. While we could embed crypto-miners on the site, it’s generally agreed that this is an asshole thing to do and would only be considered by assholes who take testosterone supplements and plant spyware on people’s phones.

Probably this guy.

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What Has CyberPunks.com Done For Us Lately?

Ideally, CyberPunks.com would be self financing. They don’t pay us writers a lot, but we do get paid.

Having wrestled the account details from management, I decided it was time to dodge the banner heralding the Radisson Hotel chain, and dive into the company finances.

The operating budget can sometimes near $1000 per month, depending on the publishing calendar and the interest on our loans. Now, this may not sound bank-breaking, but when you’re relying on finance from the unsavory underground usury union of Uzbekistan, you need some kind of repayment plan. Or at least enough to buy a plane ticket and a new identity in Hong Kong. Maybe some new kneecaps.

Right now, it’s like Schrodinger’s bank account: we’re simultaneously rolling in gold coins like we’re Scrooge McDuck, and we’re boiling up old shoes because there isn’t enough money to buy food.

Collapsing the Probability Field

In one seven-day period in November, the CyberPunks.com coffers were growing at an average rate of $4.50 per day, meaning that management have managed to claw back a grand total of: $30.64. It’s not nothing. During the same period, only around $33 USD was spent on published material. From a very short-term perspective, it’s not as terrible as you might imagine for a niche-interest website which only popped into existence last year. Add in the Amazon affiliate earnings for the same period, and it’s just about possible that we broke even.

For a longer, 30-day period before that, ads on the site brought in a massive $126, which is about what you would expect. But we paid out a little under $350 for the content published during that time. That’s five articles and a net loss of over $200.

Consider this: CyberPunks.com has published almost 200 articles so far and only ran advertising for five months in 2020. We could've bought a boat with that kind of money. Although admittedly, not a very good boat.
The CyberPunks.com pleasure yacht | Credit: Tim Green. CC BY 2.0
The CyberPunks.com pleasure yacht | Credit: Tim Green. CC BY 2.0

Artificial Intelligence and Internet Advertising

On the off-chance that you’re interested, the ad network we used is called Ezoic.

According to people who know about such things, it’s not technically an advertising network at all. Instead, it’s an AI/middleware layer that maximizes the performance of the advertisements it serves.

In layman’s terms, this meant that you would occasionally see a spinning circle as the AI trawled through all of the personal details it could get its virtual hands on and decided what products you were most likely to elicit an impulsive click.

This AI, for some reason, thought that I was the kind of person who wanted to buy server equipment and spend my hard(ly) earned cash on buying advertisements on both Google and YouTube. It’s right on at least one of those counts, but I suspect that to be coincidental.

I ran searches for boats, dogs, testosterone boosters and various borderline-legal side projects. I still got nothing but boring boxes hawking energy companies and broadband providers. Shockingly, I was un-shocked.

To conclude this article, I installed the Opera browser. It comes with a free VPN, which allows me to pretend I’m somewhere else entirely. There’s an added bonus in that the IP addresses used by the VPN have seen prior use, so any ads I saw were based on the browsing history of a complete stranger. Cool.

To get started, I needed to turn off Opera’s built-in adblocker.

Using an IP from the Netherlands, I was shown teaser videos for an Amazon Prime series called Greenland, and ads for Calvin Klein sweaters. Using an IP address in the US, I got ads for guns and body armor. Go figure.

At time of writing, Ezoic seems confused, as I'm simultaneously being shown personal injury lawyers in Chicago and electronics stores in Greece.

History is filled with traitors and hypocrites who betray their own tribe to those they despise. Sometimes it’s for noble reasons. Sometimes it’s for cash.

France’s Marshall Petain governed the French republic on behalf of the third Reich. It may or may not have saved lives. Ephialtes betrayed the Greeks by leading the immortals along a hidden pass at Thermopylae. He probably did it for the cash.

I’m an aging cyberpunk with a hard-on of hatred towards internet advertisers, tracking companies and surveillance capitalism in general. I’m telling you that it was once in our website’s interests to run advertisements, and that it was in your interest to allow them.  We did this in order to earn earn $0.008 per page view.

We are hypocrites and traitors for cash.

So run an adblocker. Set up a Pi-Hole. We won’t blame you in the slightest.

Editor's Note: As of December 5, 2020, CyberPunks.com has decided to no longer run ads on our website. Seriously, do you see any? No? Good! Now, please subscribe to our newsletter below!

Hey, chum. These posts don't write themselves. If you wanna stay in the know, it's gotta be a two way street.*

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