Companies jumping on the cryptocurrency hype train is relatively old news. You’ve all heard about companies changing their name to some variant of “blockchain” just to cash in on the trading frenzy surrounding the hot new tech, regardless of whether they had anything at all to do with the industry or technology. As a nice follow up to last week’s blog about your server being secretly enslaved to mine cryptocurrency, the latest trend is to get your web browser to mine virtual coins. While there have been plenty of reports of illicit browser hijacking to crunch cryptocurrency numbers, online magazine Salon is offering up an ad-free browsing experience in exchange for using your “unused computing power” to mine, presumably as a way to offset lost advertising revenue.
What this means for you
Online advertising has been in a never-ending, escalating conflict with browsers and plugins that are designed to block ads. Content providers are also trying desperately to figure out how to monetize their visitor traffic without completely alienating those same visitors who are increasingly savvy to marketing gimmicks and have become sensitized to their rapidly dwindling privacy. Some content providers have moved directly to soliciting tips or donations directly from their viewers, but for sites like Salon, the donation model just isn’t appropriate. What remains to be seen is if visitors are sufficiently annoyed with the sites advertising to instead give up some CPU power to enjoy a brief respite, and what sort of impact it might have on their viewing experience. It will also be very interesting to see if other content providers jump onto this bandwagon. Could this be a new web browsing model: watch these ads or donate some CPU cycles? Humans have demonstrated their willingness to donate CPU power to causes like SETI@home and Folding@home, but are you willing to drop your spare CPU change into a for-profit company’s tip jar?