Saturday 18 August 2007

How much is my soul worth?

I still reeling from something I just read on Slashdot. Its quite relevant to Unangband, but probably not in the way you're thinking.

I'm going to post the whole comment, assuming that since it was posted as an anonymous coward, the post is effectively in the public domain. If I'm wrong, please correct me, and I'll remove it and just link back to the original article [Edit: Just to clarify, a PAD file is a way of describing your shareware software so that you can contribute it to software distribution sites, like Tucows].

Posting anonymous for not ending up on everyone's Freak-list ;-)

Two years ago I did a freeware Breakout/Arkanoid clone... for Windows *looks-to-the-ground-in-shame*. I made a small site, putted some ads on it (hey, the game itself had 100 levels, 10 music tracks, nice graphics and was absolutely free) and I submitted my
.pad to around 100 sites (1-by-1, I learned about those padfile-autosubmitter programs like 5 minutes after I was done.) Anyway, I leaned back relaxed as I watched the thousand dollars of Adsense-revenue everyone was talking about to come in.

Then I woke up. Although around 500 people already downloaded it from my site on the very first day, almost no one of them even saw an ad because most of the freeware-archiv-sites and the like were just linking directly to my installer. Ok, should have see that coming.
I edited my
.htaccess file redirecting everyone trying to download the file from outside my page to the index.html. HAH! Take that!
Ad impressions and clickrate increased dramatically and so I leaned back again... until one day later. It stagnated. Again. Totally.
I looked up a few of the sites I submitted it to and figured that since they couldn't get free hosting from me anymore, they were just hosting the game themselves now, next to their ads of course.

Ok, fine. I polished the game up a bit, just enough to call it 1.1, and added a license that would forbid to host the file.
I wasn't too surprised that they just updated their links and continued to host it on their sites but I tried to email them about it. I got some automated responses. Some guys said that it is not possible to forbid other sites to host freeware in the United States (maybe they were right, what do I know? I'm from the other side of the World.) Most of them didn't respond at all and around 5 guys basically told me fuck off - and oh yeah, I did.

I felt used, and angry, and I knew I had to do something about this unjustice. I thought about hacking their sites and posting sodomy-scandals on wikipedia about their owners and stuff like that (but I didn't do it, it was someone else... no really)
But then I thought, Hey, most of these guys have some amateur frontpage-site or some badly used CMS with some crappy logo of a smiling dog or something. I can do that better. Much better. In fact, I had the system of a fully automated site with a webcrawler looking for
.pads, autogenerated reviews and awards so people would link back to it suddenly right on my mind. And then I did it. I wouldn't say that I invented it but I didn't know of a similar site at the time. And yes, I cloned it to various domains.

Long story short, my network generates around 2500$ ad-revenue a month today, which is a lot of money over here, and I have a clear conscience. It is perfectly legal, I pay my taxes.
I just figured, why should I cry about people making money on the internet that way and waste my own talent making just some small games and tools and working 9-to-5 programming databases when I could not only be "one of them" but instead do it even better? You only live once and I can now spend money on things that enrich my and my family's life that I couldn't afford before. For me it's just the making-money-method-for-nerds of our days. If you are in front of the monitor hacking stuff anyway, you might as well make some bucks with it as long it's still possible.

Looks like I had to get that off my chest or something but I really don't look back. Now let me put my fireproof vest on while the flames strike upon me (from the people actually reading it before it gets modded down.)
Now, I'm also in the position of publishing a game, which I've spent a huge amount of time on. I'm doing it, not for love, nor money, nor fame, but because I enjoy working on it in my spare time. This particular article was a great read-through because it points out a lot of the issues around syndication of share ware and freeware games. I'm sure when I'm more confident Unangband can sustain the harsh glare of light in the real world, I'll be writing up a pad file and distributing it out to the thousands of software distribution websites. And they'll make lots of advertising revenue syndicating my game. In the mean time, I'm responding to the target audience directly with insightful and penetrating marketing methods.

I started off writing this with the expectation I'd end up talking about how the duplication and re syndication of content would end up making life difficult for Google, and we'd end up having to set up networks of trust to allow us to know which software to download, which games to play. And I'd like to point out to any Google engineers reading this, that before you cut me off from the Google ad program, that you should probably subscribe to the PAD directory, as it sounds like this is very amenable to analysis of link scamming. Another poster points out:
I mean seriously this is nothing new. Most of these sites just browse through the PAD directory and add your application to their directory. Usually I get them in groups of emails which leads me to believe that for the most part it's just one person creating multiple repositories. The ranking is probably random based, I don't always get fives. (Hard Rock 2)
In fact, Google, you should probably just get into the wild west of the free software distribution business and clean it up.

But the above Slashdot post has given me an insight into exactly how much money I could be generating developing a content re-syndication engine myself, and filling the Internet up with duplicate content. And I'll end up building a better website than anyone else out there, because I'll be using wild and crazy innovations like using the user agent string to actually offer the user the relevant software for their platform and dynamically determining whether to offer a torrent or an http download depending on whether the torrent tracker has seeds for the particular download (Why, oh why, does no-one else do these things?).

So why don't I?

I'm running ads on this blog, but I believe I have to be careful when discussing why to avoid violating Google's Terms of Service for advertisers. And I'm lucky to be in a position where I'm earning more than $2,500 US a month, although that kind of revenue for what probably amounts to about 2-3 months work total, is not something to be sniffed at. But I ultimately believe that the revenue from advertising model is an inadequate and a little soul-destructive. I've yet to see any compelling advertising on my blog. It's mostly because I use a lot of game based vocabulary which inevitably kicks up a lot of advertising about love potions. If I was talking about monkeys or sea gulls or the kittens, it'd be a different story. And I could equally start talking about iPhones or which ever keyword that 'blog-vertorials' are targetting themselves at, to direct traffic to a sister site and pay my way through ads.

But it seems to me that trading content for advertising is going to have a very detrimental effect on written communication, similar to the 'chilling effect' on journalism. And if you suddenly start getting money for saying or talking about particular things, you'll end up tainting the way you think and behave, not just in the written realm, but in your personal life: how you maintain your friendships, relate to work colleagues, talk to strangers. Truth and trust will be the ultimate casualties.

And I can see this getting worse with Facebook and other social networks. There are lots of smart people, and there were plenty at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival, who are figuring out ways to monetarise these networks, and when they figure out that the most effective model will be to use agents in the network to sell products, just like Amway, but scalable far larger and transmitted far faster, you'll end up in a position where your trust in your friends is eroded because everyone you know will have some kind of financial commitment in talking to you, recommending something to you, drawing your attention to the latest fad.

So how much is my soul worth? At least $2,500 US a month. How much is yours?


Andrew Doull said...

"And I'll end up building a better website than anyone else out there"

Before anyone thinks that I've disappeared up my own arse, I'm basing this on my experience of developing Unangband. I'll end up with a great website, with amazing ideas, that'll crash a lot and people will find hard to navigate. Read this post if you don't believe me.

Mikolaj said...

Confirmed. :D