Image of The genesis of valME.io - what were you thinking?

Social networking is great. Well, it's great for people who like to be social. Come to think of it, it's great even for people who don't like to be social.

Social networks, from Google to Facebook to Reddit et al., are provided to you for free. Why? Because someone else pays - advertisers. We certainly have nothing against advertisers, nor do we have anything against making money. But if you've come here to learn about the genesis of valME, you need to first know a bit about Google.

When it comes to making money from advertising revenue, Google is hard to beat. They created the best search engine in the world, and you have access to it for free. Why? Like we said, because advertisers pay so you don't (directly) have to. Consider all of the value you've received from Google. The time saved looking up useful pieces of information. The time saved getting from point A to point B. The money saved from finding the product you want at a lower cost. The knowledge gained from learning something new with just a few keystrokes. The value to you is immeasurable, right? And all at your fingertips for free.

But here's a bit of Google's history you may not known: in 1998, Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, the co-founders of Google, wrote a paper at Stanford University titled "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine." In it, they presented Google: "a prototype of a large-scale search engine which makes heavy use of the structure present in hypertext."

But in Appendix A, which is titled "Advertising and Mixed Motives," we find this interesting bit:

Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users. For example, in our prototype search engine one of the top results for cellular phone is "The Effect of Cellular Phone Use Upon Driver Attention", a study which explains in great detail the distractions and risk associated with conversing on a cell phone while driving. This search result came up first because of its high importance as judged by the PageRank algorithm, an approximation of citation importance on the web [Page, 98]. It is clear that a search engine which was taking money for showing cellular phone ads would have difficulty justifying the page that our system returned to its paying advertisers. For this type of reason and historical experience with other media [Bagdikian 83], we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.

Since it is very difficult even for experts to evaluate search engines, search engine bias is particularly insidious. A good example was OpenText, which was reported to be selling companies the right to be listed at the top of the search results for particular queries [Marchiori 97]. This type of bias is much more insidious than advertising, because it is not clear who "deserves" to be there, and who is willing to pay money to be listed. This business model resulted in an uproar, and OpenText has ceased to be a viable search engine. But less blatant bias are likely to be tolerated by the market. For example, a search engine could add a small factor to search results from "friendly" companies, and subtract a factor from results from competitors. This type of bias is very difficult to detect but could still have a significant effect on the market. Furthermore, advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results. For example, we noticed a major search engine would not return a large airline's homepage when the airline's name was given as a query. It so happened that the airline had placed an expensive ad, linked to the query that was its name. A better search engine would not have required this ad, and possibly resulted in the loss of the revenue from the airline to the search engine. In general, it could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed for the consumer to find what they want. This of course erodes the advertising supported business model of the existing search engines. However, there will always be money from advertisers who want a customer to switch products, or have something that is genuinely new. But we believe the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.

Reading that prompted some theoretical questions: what would happen if you reduced or removed the reliance on advertisers? Would the quality of content go up? (Come on. Admit it. There's a ton of crap out there.) How would the Web change - from search engine results to the news we see to where we decide to vacation to intellectual property laws to the balance of power to...? Would the world be a better place?

Everyone has different opinions on what quality means to them. It's a relative term. The differences are based on what brings value to that individual. For many decisions, we vote with our wallets. Like a particular kind of ice cream? You vote for it by buying it. Those shoes make you feel gorgeous? Ditto. You put your money where your mouth is - and where your values are. However, we don't much do that with social networks. And we don't need to, because someone else pays. Yes, we ultimately pay higher prices for the ice cream and shoes because merchants have to pay for the advertising. After all, nothing worth anything is free. But because we can't see those costs, we ignore them as if the costs don't exist. Out of sight, out of mind, as the adage goes.

Technologists rock! They have created this wonderful Internet where just about anyone can easily share content, ideas, and outright good times with others around the world. And make no mistake about it: content, ideas, and fun can be just as valuable, if not more valuable, than the ice cream or shoes. But not all those content creators have an easy time earning a living. Sure, they can put up a blog and get a bit of revenue from Google AdSense or the Yahoo Bing Network, but will it really be enough money to earn those shoes or that ice cream? And that's only if someone clicks on the ad.

Let's be honest: unless you're already famous, building a blog or forum that generates even a little income is extremely difficult and time-consuming for most. That led to a question: wouldn't it be great if people who already freely share their content, ideas, and enjoyment could actually make some money outside of advertising?

BAM! It hit stronger than a punch from Superman. Why not make an easy way for people to earn money from doing exactly what they already do while short-circuiting the advertisers? Such were the seeds of valME.io - put value in, get value out.

Value... for me.

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SO interesting! TIL that Google, who makes money from advertising, thought advertising lowers the quality of search results

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From Facebook Should Pay All of Us:

The trick is that most people think they are getting a good deal out of Facebook; we think of Facebook to be “free,” and, as marketing professors explain, “consumers overreact to free.” Most people don’t feel like they are actually paying when the payment is personal data and when there is no specific sensation of having handed anything over. If you give each of your friends a hundred dollars, you might be out of money and will have a harder time buying dinner. But you can hand over your personal details or photos to one hundred merchants without feeling any poorer.

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