Like many people in my immediate networks, I think behavioural advertising is rotting the web. It’s the reason that I have four different privacy-focused extensions in my web browser and use a privacy-focused web browser on my smartphone.
As a result, when I go start looking for some new running shoes, as I have this week, some that I considered buying yesterday don’t ‘follow me around the web’ today, popping up in other sites and tempting me to buy them.
The political implications of this behavioural advertising are increasingly well-known after the surprise results of the US Presidental election and Brexit a few years ago. Advertisers participate in real-time auctions for access to particular demographics.
But what’s less well-known, and just as important, is what happens to the losers of the realtime auctions when you visit a site.
Say you visit the Washington Post. Dozens of brokers bid on the chance to advertise to you. All but one of them loses the auction. But every one of those losers gets to add a tag to its dossier on you: “Washington Post reader.”
Advertising on the Washington Post is expensive. “Washington Post reader” is a valuable category unto itself: a lot of blue-chip firms will draw up marketing plans that say, “Make sure we tell Washington Post readers about this product!”
Here’s the thing: the companies want to advertise to Washington Post readers, but they don’t care about advertising in the Washington Post. And now there are dozens of auction “losers” who can sell the right to advertise to you, as a Post reader, when you visit cheaper sites.
When you click through one of those dreadful “Here’s 22 reasons to put a rubber band on your hotel room’s door handle” websites, every one of those 22 pages can be sold to advertisers who want to reach Post readers, at a fraction of what the Post charges.
TL;DR: A new service called tldr.io provides extensions for Firefox and Chrome that allow you to summarise content on the Web. These summaries are then available to other users who have the extensions. This adds value for both the person doing the summarising (comprehension) and the person accessing the summary (speed)/
You’ll have noticed that I’ve been using TL;DR at the top of my posts (like this one) for a while now. It’s something that stands for too long; didn’t read and is a nod to the fact that people don’t tend to read long-form content on computer screens. A few weeks ago I happened across a new service called tldr.io. I think it’s awesome.
The best services solve two problems at the same time. So, for example, Luis von Ahn created reCAPTCHA (prove you’re human / digitise books) and Duolingo (translate articles / learn another language). Tldr.io does something similar. One of the best ways of learning something is to summarise it for someone else. And if you’re in a hurry, having a summarised version of something is extremely valuable.
Once you install the Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome browser extension you’ll see either a red or green button in your address bar:
If it’s red it means that there’s no summary of this page. If it’s green it means that a summary exists. Clicking on the green button reveals that summary. If it’s red then that means you’ve got an opportunity to contribute one and add value! Nice.
The service has an API meaning it can be hooked into websites. Once you’ve installed the extension check out the way, for example, that the tl;dr grey icons appear next to articles on Hacker News – and what happens when you hover over them:
I like services that fulfil a need and have an obvious value proposition both for the creator and consumer! And this seems like something that could align nicely with the Web Literacy standard work we at Mozilla have been undertaking with the community.
If you were still in any doubt, head over to the latest summaries over at tldr.io and then, once you’ve contributed a summary, check out your impact. Wonderful.
Paper hat goes to the first one to summarise this blog post. Although that would be quite meta. 😉