Cryptocurrency mining: an alternative business model for the web

September 17, 2017

If there’s one thing that’s been around for as long as I can remember browsing the Internet, it’s ads. Clothing, games, pills, “You’re our Nth million visitor, click here to claim your free {AppleProduct}!”, we’ve all seen them. If you’re reading this I’d say there’s a 90% chance you’re running an ad blocker, but you still know what I’m talking about. It’s the reason you installed one in the first place, after all.

Having said that, there’s no denying that a great deal of sites have been infected with more and more intrusive ads, constantly tracking their users activity in a desperate attempt to increase click rate.

Right now, there’s somewhat of a war going on between websites trying to monetize their users with a super subtle “Disable your ad blocker or GTFO” popup, and ad blockers responding by detecting and… well, blocking the popups. Even if the ultimatum bypasses the blocker and gets through to the user, many of them simply choose to leave. There has to be a better way, for both sides.

Just yesterday it was reported that The Pirate Bay, hub of our favorite non-copyrighted and completely-legal-to-download torrents, had added a Javascript Bitcoin miner to their page. Its purpose was to test an alternative revenue stream to potentially replace ads. Once users noticed their CPU use going through the roof they were quick to show their discontent though, and with good reason! Could TPB have gone about it in a better way?

First of all, they could’ve informed their users of what they were doing, giving them the option to opt out if they wanted to. They could’ve also implemented a more efficient miner that wouldn’t affect their user’s experience while browsing the site. We can access the GPU from the browser with WebGL, so is there a way to mine Bitcoin without stressing our CPU? Of course there is! It’s an old project and it doesn’t seem to be maintained, but it shows that it can be accomplished.

TPB’s approach was poorly executed, to say the least. The idea, however, is something I found fascinating. Ads as a source of revenue seem fundamentally flawed to me. They help support the websites I like but also worsen my browsing experience in the process, a trade off a lot of people are not willing to make.

On the other hand, I’d be happy to lend some of my processing power to help keep my favorite sites afloat, as long as it’s done in a transparent way. Hopefully more websites will consider this a potential new source of revenue, marking the beginning of the end for online advertising.