“Advertising” has become a dirty word, yet without it, the internet – as it stands today – would not be possible.
All the “free” content we consume each day is only available to us because advertisers pay handsomely to promote their newest line of washing up liquid, sneakers or pet toys. The money that publishers receive pays the server costs, licensing and staff, making it absolutely vital for the survival of services like The Guardian, YouTube, and Facebook among others.
Whenever you roll your eyes because an anthropomorphic lizard is trying to sell you insurance, just remember that that cold-blooded reptile is the only thing standing between you and a paywall.
With that in mind, the system is clearly broken.
Although advertisers have more information about us than ever before, the targeting is still woeful. How often do we see an ad for something that interests us or for which we have a real need? More often than not, the ad is completely irrelevant.
Worse still, publishers rely on the collection of user data, infringing upon our right to privacy and anonymity. Of course, that right goes out the window as soon as we click “Accept” on those interminable cookie notices, but the alternative is often to abstain from any online experience whatsoever.
This is a huge problem that cannot be easily solved.
Enter Brendan Eich – a fascinating individual with a long history of innovation. After graduating with a Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, Eich went on to do his Master at the University of Illinois, completing his studies in 1985.
But Eich didn’t stop there, three years later he co-founded Mozilla, a free software community that went on to release the widely popular Firefox web browser. Firefox shares many of its values with the blockchain space, being open-source and prioritizing privacy.
It didn’t take long for Eich to notice and in 2015, he co-founded Brave; a free, open-source web browser with an integrated ad exchange platform leveraging Ethereum. As you would expect, Brave employs a coin called Basic Attention Token (BAT) for native payments.
Together Brendan Eich believes that Brave and BAT have the power to fix the internet.
Let’s find out how.
What is the Brave Web Browser?
At the most basic level, Brave is a web browser you download onto your local Windows, Linux or Mac device in order to surf the web more quickly and safely.
Given Eich’s background, it’s surprising to learn that Brave is built on top of Google’s Chromium rather than Mozilla’s Firefox. For Chrome users this has the added advantage of making the switch particularly easy.
You can import your bookmarks, browsing history, passwords and even add extensions with the click of a button.
Once the software is installed, you’ll see a welcome screen like this:
From the beginning, it’s clear that speed and privacy are Brave’s raison d’etre and it delivers impressively on both.
Interestingly, Brave users enjoy faster page load speeds compared to Chrome, because adverts and tracking scripts are blocked by default, meaning they do not need to be loaded. According to their own marketing material, this makes news sites load 2 to 8 times faster than on other browsers.
The happy synergy between speed and privacy is what makes the Brave browser so compelling. Straight out of the box, Brave blocks unwanted content from displaying and keeps count for you. Here is a comparison of the same page, displayed once on Chrome:
And once on Brave:
The ads do not display on Brave making for a much more pleasant user experience when surfing the web. You feel like a person rather than a product.
That being said, it’s not all good news for Brave users.
Brave uses Qwant as its default web browser, which has a strong focus on privacy, but falls far short of Google in terms of usability. Despite setting Germany as my country of residence, for example, results for English queries still assume I’m based in the US.
As a result, you need to be incredibly specific or receive irrelevant results. This is the cost of privacy.
Interestingly, you can change your default search engine to Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo and even add others. It’s not made clear how this affects your privacy, although Google clearly still knows where I’m located (Berlin, Germany) – not great from a privacy perspective.
Nevertheless, Brave offers an excellent user experience and allows you to determine the level of privacy you enjoy while surfing the web. The lack of ads is very refreshing and is simply better than what other browsers are delivering.
But without Ads, how do content creators get paid?
What is the Basic Attention Token (BAT)?
Brave’s native utility token BAT represents the lifeblood of the ecosystem and facilitates payments to publishers (content creators).
Instead of constantly being shown ads while surfing the web, users opt-in to 1-5 ads per hour. These are not the video or banner ads you are familiar with, but instead, appear as desktop notifications and look like this (on Windows):
In return for receiving and viewing the ad, you receive a small payment in BAT. Here is my dashboard after receiving one ad:
As you can see, I will receive 0.05 BAT for viewing one desktop notification ad. Crucially, the funds will not be paid out until the payment date is reached, but even then withdrawals are not currently possible. The BAT team is still working on the withdrawal feature, so don’t deposit any BAT you may want to remove from the Brave ecosystem in the near future.
The inability to withdraw BAT is clearly a problem, but not necessarily a deal-breaker. As long as the functionality is added sooner rather than later, most users won’t mind using the funds to support their favorite creators.
Where other utility tokens feel like they’ve been shoehorned in for no real reason (other than to justify an ICO) it’s easy to see why BAT is a vital part of the Brave ecosystem. International micro-payments would have been impossible to implement using fiat currency. An ERC20 token built on Ethereum on the hand does the job nicely.
At this point, you might be thinking: “Wait, you guys are getting paid to watch ads?”
The short answer is yes. Brave turns the current advertising model on its head by paying some of the ad revenue to you – the person receiving the ad.
In the current system, adopted by the mainstream, the content takes the place of the “payment”. In order to view a video or news article, the website shows you ads. You need to sit through them in order to get to the content. The advertisers pay the publishers for this service, providing the revenue the publisher needs in order to survive and grow.
Using Brave however, the money paid by advertisers is split into three parts:
- The Publisher
- The viewer (you)
Additionally, users have much more control over how many ads are displayed. According to the Brave Rewards dashboard, 5 ads per hour is the maximum which compares to roughly 200 ads per hour on other web browsers.
Brave for publishers
We’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing how Brave benefits content consumers: they receive vastly fewer ads, get paid for accepting them and enjoy enhanced privacy.
But how does Brave work for publishers?
Publishers, ie content creators, can use Brave to test an entirely new business model. Pages that were previously tied to collapsing ad revenues, can now accept micropayments using BAT.
More specifically, content creators can sign up to Brave’s creator portal, where they can connect their preferred channels. These include Youtube, websites, Twitch and Twitter accounts.
Once verified, publishers can start receiving tips and even regular payments from Brave users who may want to support them. Tipping a publisher is easily done by clicking on the BAT symbol next to the address bar.
Of course, the amounts here are quite small initially but Patreon, Steemit, and Publish0x are showing how successful this approach can be. Over 2 million people regularly donate money to over 100,000 creators on Patreon for example, amounting to over $350 million in total earnings. Clearly, this approach can work.
But tipping isn’t the only way that publishers can earn money. Brave has a feature called “Auto-contribute” which is on by default and is designed to reward content creators.
The idea is simple: the publishers who provide the most value receive the biggest slice of the pie. More specifically, Brave ranks visited websites by “Attention”, which denotes how much time has been spent on each site as a percentage of the total. Websites which have earned the most attention receive the most BAT tokens as a reward.
This approach provides a smart and automated way for publishers to receive BAT in exchange for providing value to users.
With Brendan Eich as CEO, a working product and a revolutionary idea, it’s hard not to get excited about Brave.
Of course, there are still many unanswered questions. The most important one being if this new model can really generate enough revenue to sustain professional content creators.
From a user perspective, Brave is already a strong contender, offering faster load speeds, more privacy, and a better user experience. That being said, the inability (June 2019) to withdraw BAT is an obvious problem and it’s surprising that this feature is taking so long.
Until it’s released, all earnings – for both users and creators – are locked in Brave’s ecosystem. Nevertheless, the ability to receive payments straight through a web browser is impressive and intuitively represents a much better approach than the endless stream of ads we have become so tired off.