Whitelist: Permission Based Marketing for the Web

It's time that we go beyond ad-blocking. We need to push the boundaries further in favor of the end user, the person in front of the touch screen. We should remove the focus from what the app is doing behind the scenes. And turn it back to the user; give them agency, and choice.

Imagine I had The Deck ads on this website, but you have installed an ad-blocker. You might see something like this, bellow the article you just read, instead of an ad:

If you find the information on this website useful, please add our ad network -connect.decknetwork.net- to your Whitelist to show your support.
We will always respect your privacy. You can review our policies here.
The Whitelisting process: request, accept, and done. 

The Whitelisting process: request, accept, and done. 

I'd like to propose a new industry standard for how to ask users for permission to run code on their browsers.

A whitelisting request as in the example above, should take the form of a hyperlink with the URL built like this:

  1. The URL Scheme "whitelist://"
  2. The domain name will match exactly the source of the code that will be loaded
  3. The URL Query variable "hostType" will match one of these: "Ad Network", "Publisher", or "Web Tool".
  4. The URL Query variable "publisher" will be the NFC compliant domain name for the entity requesting the new whitelisting.

This is not just wishfull thinking this is perfectly possible right now with the available technology. To prove it Inbuilt the app: Whitelist.

You can try this right now on any recent iOS device if you choose to install it: 1) enable the Whitelist content blockers in settings; 2) visit daringfireball.net; 3) see that The Deck ads are blocked there; 4) come back to this post and click the whitelisting request link above; 5) finish the whitelisting process in the app; 6) go back to daringfireball.net; 7) ads should be visible there after reloading.

Before and after Whitelisting; the ad is in the bottom left corner of each screenshot. 

Before and after Whitelisting; the ad is in the bottom left corner of each screenshot. 

We need to stop patronizing people. What may seem acceptable to us, will not necessarily be to all of them. We must let them decide.

It's reasonable to asume that by visiting a certain website, they are expecting that site's functionality to run properly on their browsers. So, code from publishers domains (primary or CDNs) should run without problem.

It's reasonable too for them to expect that some things they are accustomed to using on the web will work everywhere. There are certain services that are known to provide essential third party resources. All of these should be able to run too, within reasonable restrictions.

Beyond those two cases (first party and essential resources), anything else should be requested to users.

So let's provide them with a mechanism that enables this to happen seamlessly. And, if possible, that adds value to the rest of the industry.

That's where permission based marketing comes into play. In the words of reknown marketer, Seth Godin:

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them... ... It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention. ... permission marketers understand that when someone chooses to pay attention they are actually paying you with something precious... Real permission is different from presumed or legalistic permission... Permission is like dating. You don't start by asking for the sale at first impression. You earn the right, over time, bit by bit... In order to get permission, you make a promise. You say, "I will do x, y and z, I hope you will give me permission by listening." And then, this is the hard part, that's all you do. You don't assume you can do more.

You should read the whole thing, its invaluable.

The industry would be wise to take this approach. Standardizing on permission based advertising for the web would cut down on the oversupply of ad inventory. Effectively stoping the race to the bottom of CPMs.

Advertisers could get a differentiated product where click-fraud and traffic bots are less of a problem or nonexistent. With people actually willing to pay attention to their messages.

You've got to love a solution that punishes the biggest offenders the most. Trackers and Ad Networks will not get unfettered distribution any more. There's no reason why publishers should just ask -for the good of their hearts- that readers whitelist any of them. They will be in a position of power; enough to strike deals and charge dearly for each whitelisting user an ad-network gets. Or they may choose to check their options and build their own ad-network -if their big enough for that-, or opt for a federated alternative similar to The Deck.

There's also nothing forcing publishers to always welcome every ad-blocking visitor. Whitelisting is a type of micropayment -a simpler one that deals with the valuable currency of users attention. Visitors could get a few articles for free before whitelisting becomes mandatory.

So there it is. I hope this proposal takes root.

And, if you're interested, you can find Whitelist on the App Store: Download on the App Store

The Future of News Part II

I had a short but very instructive debate with James Allworth on Twitter yesterday morning.

In particular, he raised two points that I'm not sure I was able to address appropriately; so I'm going to try it here.

It is absolutely true that the relationship between Facebook and publishers is starting from dramatic imbalance. That doesn't mean though that publishers have no leverage or anything to offer to Facebook. They can help Facebook reduce friction in their platform - and raise their revenue accordingly. Publishers are also the providers of the content that makes the Facebook timeline so sticky.

While it is still possible for Facebook to wield the Sword of Damocles over some publishers' throats, it's in their best interest to maintain an ecosystem at least as healthy as YouTube is for video producers or the AppStore for iOS developers.

The ones need distribution, the other needs content. As long as incentives are aligned, most publishers won't have to worry. There might be some that get in Facebook's crosshairs, but they will be the exception to the rule - as are AppStore rejections and banned YouTube Channels. Facebook will want to keep antitrust watchdogs at arms lenght, too.

For all intents and purposes, in relation with big publishers this imbalance has already happened. And it is as much due to Facebook's merits as it's the big publishers fault. They botched their execution on the internet once and again. They could have lead the way to opening the flood gates of publishing but chose to keep their unsustainable monopolies instead.

Small publishers, on the other hand, have the most to win. Frictionless distribution compounded with low cost means of production, enable more Daring Fireballs and Stratecherys to succeed. Each on their own niche.

And, as was explained in the previous section, publishers big and small have leverage they can use to obtain concessions. Why would Facebook yield: because it will be in their best interest to foster an environment where millions of publishers can thrive; they want lots of native content they can filter and target with their algorythms.

Actually, my guess is that they will provide the tools voluntarily. YouTube instroduced revenue share to incentivize production, without anyone forcing its hand. The analytics tools on videos and channels are improving all the time, too.

James Allworth on The Democratization of News

James Allworth on Exponent 039 - Lando Calrisian Publishers at about minute 49:

If you can get access to the same audience that The New York Times has access to and you can have access to the same tools. Conceivably, once they start to see this massive audience trends, if they get lots of people reading news that's native in Facebook - they could start to have tools similar to what Buzzfeed has for training people to understand [what] is the kind of thing that works.

And it gets to the point where you are anybody and you can create a piece of news. And you are willing to do it for very little cost, because of all the other benefits of having something successful.

I'm usually more on his side than Ben's, but this time his dystopia sounds like a veritable boom for the democratization of news. And very similar to what YouTube has done, enabling lots of individuals to become successful and profitable creators by breaking traditional media's already nonexistent monopoly on distribution.

I don't think, though, that the road to success for this wave of new publishers will be the introduction of new intermediaries (or the repurposing of the old ones), but the creation of a community around a niche subject. The New York Times will just have to find what its best at: national politics, international news, local New York news, etc..