The Opinion Slab: Ad Supported Websites?

Here we are for another slab of opinion. As ever, scribe your views into the comments on this post. Here goes:

Running a website can be expensive, be it a personal website or a site for an Open Source project. Speaking personally, I run sites like jonobacon.org and recreantview.org which are personal, but also jokosher.org and lugradio.org for Open Source projects – all of these sites get hit quite a bit. Currently they are funded out of my pocket and Aq who also runs the machine. Is it cool to put ads on a website (such as the ones on jonobacon.org now) to contribute to these costs? Does this detract from the ethos of free software? Are ads always evil and never acceptable or a perfectly reasonable way of covering these costs? Does the type of ad, size, and/or relevance affect your view?

My take: I think moderate use of ads on personal or Open Source websites are fine, but overuse is frustrating for the reader. The key thing is not the ads but what happens to the money. On a personal website it is fine for the owner to pocket the money, but for an Open Source project, the money should be tracked by the project and be used for the benefit of the project and not go to an individual.

So what do you think? Click that Comments link and share your view! :)

  • http://ubuntufr.free.fr/ Stemp

    I totally agree with you. Ads are only a way to get money for a free project and to cover the bills. And anyway with adblocker and co. it’s not anymore a problem for those who don’t want to see them ;)

  • http://www.david-web.co.uk/ DJ

    I think ads are fine for FLOSS projects – after all, you’re giving something away for nothing, so why not make some money to cover expenses? I’ve considered ads for my personal site before, but decided against it as I feel it cheapens the site and could cause people to question your motives for the content you’re publishing (are you also being paid to say nice things about companies? are you writing things just so you can include high-value keywords? etc.).

    I think purely text-based ads are fine, so long as there aren’t too many on the page and they’re not in obtrusive positions.

    Incidentally, you might want to check that the text you’ve got in your ad-box is allowed by Google’s rules – I suspect it might not be.

  • Christian

    Got no beef with some discreet adds, be aware however that if you also host Creative Commons licensed media on the site which is licensed under a non-commercial clause you would be in violation fo that license. Of course if the CC licensed stuff is your own it doesn’t matter as you don’t need to heed your own license :)

  • http://www.lovesunix.net/blog David Nielsen

    I block ads to be honest, mostly because they are irrelvant, fuck up the design of most pages and what’s with the use of animation. I fully support the whole having to eat deal and paying out of your own pocket, I pay for traffic on my site as well.

    I generally prefer to donate over having irrelevant ads mostly since I don’t like looking at goatse porn ads when I’m surfing for Linux information or something of equal value like ads for Vista. Automated ad systems really aren’t that clever and in my experience seldomly actually show me stuff I’d like. Another way to gain a bit of income is every time you mention a book etc., set yourself up as the referrer on amazon and they’ll give you a bit of cash, that is helpful to me and helpful to you.

    Not against ads, just don’t feel they are very helpful not a consistently good source of income, relying on them to pay for traffic would make me uneasy.

  • http://technofreakatchennai.wordpress.com Technofreak

    I raise both my hands for “some adds”. Everybody understands that when we are doing something out of our own pocket, then we expect something in return. Thus, finding some way of earning back to meet the expenses is not a bad idea. Regarding adds, I personally like the Google way. It is really a fact that most people who visit google.com do not notice there are adds on the sides, especially when they are searching in a hurry. Thus, the adds do not distract the entire purpose of the page.

    In a similar way, if the adds on your page doesn’t distract the viewers from what for they came to see your page, then it is 100% welcomed :)

  • Stoffe

    Google-style ads are fine. I have nothing against ads funding good stuff, as long as the ads aren’t in my face (as just about everything except Google’s are).

  • http://ubuntista.wordpress.com Simone Brunozzi

    Dear Jono, this is a complicate issue, and I want to share my thoughts with you.

    I am running a not-so-small FOSS project, http://www.ubuntusemplice.org (I’ll talk about it at UbuntuLive, hope you’ll join my talk), and I tried to understand if there was a way to finance it ethically. My answer is still in development, but it is simple: add another search engine in firefox, using adsense; allow the user to switch to THAT version of google, clearly informing that he’ll be supporting your project. This way, you’ll get less revenue (adwords in your site are more profitable than a user that google with your special goole), but the user can choose to support you Explicitely. Hope I’ve been of help. Best,

  • Ryan Morehart

    Ads are fine, as long as they aren’t excessive. :)

  • Ed Ad

    Hi Jono, If I were you, I would remove the incensitive text above your ads and you’ll be banned forever as soon as Google finds this out. Believe me they have some intelligent bots have. You won’t be able to debate about this issue. Check for yourself: http://www.google.com/search?q=banned+adsense

    Ed

    BTW. I have nothing against ads. If you are developping open source, it should not something you pay for, but receive gratitude for. As long as donations are not sufficient, ads are the way to go. People who hate ads, use ad blockers anyway. So go ahead!

  • http://idstam.com/en Johan Idstam

    I think ads are totally OK on an OSS web site. People are free to use ad blockers and it’s their choice to click the ads. I even click on ads on OSS-sites to support them in a simple way.

  • http://mylinux.suzansworld.com Suzan

    Thank god for Firefox and AdBlock! ;-)

    Well, I confess, I block ads as good as I can because they annoy me. I’ve got two websites of my own (a private and a linux-blog) and as long as I can I will go without any ads.

    The reason: a website with ads lost a bit of independence.

    And (especially for germany) it is maybe no longer a pure “private” website. That means, you really have to worry about your legal notice, your entries or whatever … :-(

  • http://www.michaelwood.me.uk Michael Wood

    I think that ads are a bad thing, if it’s you that wants to author content then its not unreasonable that you should pay for it your self.

    They do reduce the integrity of the content by introducing semi irrelevent items to the page.

    I don’t think anyone’s cost center is small enough that the website is more of a cost than the benifits recieved from it and not just financially speaking.

  • http://adventuresinopensource.blogspot.com Dan

    I think it’s fine to use some ads if they help keep the site going. I don’t think anyone would complain about that. I do think the content and format of the ads makes a difference though.

    If you have ads for FLOSS software or even just general stuff that Linux users will be interested in then it’s fine. I think the ads you have now look ok, they’re not too obtrusive. Sites that put banner ads between the first and 2nd paragraph of a story really wick me off.

    As long as it’s tastefully done ;) go for it dude :)

  • http://informationhunger.blogspot.com C.M

    What about ads in the RSS-feeds? (I’ve seen it in Blogger at least.) I rarely read any blog posts outside Google Reader, and if I do it’s to comment on a post.

    The ad up in the right there looks good. Google ads are usually on topic. :smile:

  • http://adventuresinopensource.blogspot.com Dan

    Forgot to say, any Vista ads would not be welcome :lol:

  • http://www.actsofvolition.com Steven Garrity

    Good article on the topic of ads on community sites by the guy who runs MetaFilter: http://fortuito.us/2007/05/how_ads_really_work_superfans_1

  • http://cinemasie.com François

    My 2 cents: usually, if you add the typical ads, they try to cover the same topic, but most of the time it’s too large. So I hide them on 99,99% of the websites I visit. I don’t know if you can still get some money in this case? If so, why not, it’s quick to hide the ads. If not…

    I think it would make more sense to try first to mutualize the ressources. Like to rent servers together, I mean with others FOSS projects. This way you can go for dedicated servers and have better prices. Then instead of ads, I think it’s better to find partnerships with companies interested in the area, in order to propose something to the visitors. Like for Jokosher: it’s about music. So instead of ads about music “buy this, buy that”, you find an agreement with some pay-to-listen platforms to let the visitors win some songs to download. One week a partnership with Itunes, 500 songs to win. Next week another platform. Etc.. etc… If your website has some visits, it has a name. If it has a name, they will be interested by an exclusive ad on it I think. Just one, not 23 ads at the same time. A nice banner, with some interest for the visitor. Win-Win-Win situation.

    It takes more time to negociate this than GoogleAds, but I think it’s more rewarding for everybody.

  • http://www.blokevogue.com/ sime

    A former co-worker of mine blogs for the sake of generating adviews/adclicks. She is doing quite well and generating about $300USD revenue a month.

    As an open sorcerer it doesn’t feel right, in respect to keeping the Internet a free medium. It kind reminds me of unsigned music, musician’s initially do it for the love. If your a fan you don’t mind shelling out for there album or tickets to a concert.

    My final thought on it is, if a techie (e.g. someone who has seen blogging evolve) considers your ads to be minimal or discreet you are within the ethical bounds.

  • http://blog.technomancy.org Rory McCann

    I have no problem with ads on sites, after all free software doesn’t mean uncommerical.

    The interesting question is ad blockers. Is is ethically OK for me to block my ads? Should you try to stop me? Am I free loading and screwing the FLOASS community?

  • George

    If the ads are targeted to the site’s topic and relevant and usefull to the user, I see no problem there (of course, I might have a bias towards that since I am a webmaster myself), and it might actually contribute to the overall experience. ;) Choose wisely.

  • George

    I FORGOT SOMETHING: “If these ads look interesting to you, click them – they help pay for jonobacon@home and keep it online.” – this little text has all the chances of getting your site banned from AdSense, and it is also imoral to do that. People pay money for their products to appear on those ads, and expect a return on their investment. By suggesting people to click them, you are throwing the advertisers money out of the window, and in to your pocked. Did I also mentioned that is against AdSense’s TOS ? Please read it again: http://www.google.com/adsense/terms .Section 7 explicitly prohibits this behaviour: Prohibited Uses. You shall not, and shall not authorize or encourage any third party to: (i) directly or indirectly generate queries, Referral Events, or impressions of or clicks on any Ad, Link, Search Result, or Referral Button through any automated, deceptive, fraudulent or other invalid means, including but not limited to through repeated manual clicks, the use of robots or other automated query tools and/or computer generated search requests, and/or the unauthorized use of other search engine optimization services and/or software; … Please be responsible about what you do, because what you are doing now is close to stealing from Google’s POV(and not only..), since you are not generating any value for the advertiser, but are taking their money.

  • http://dev.osso.nl/herman/blog Herman Bos

    Personally I think ads on a project page make it look unprofessional. Likewise I don’t like the donate now buttons on a website. Ofcourse it depends a bit on the project, but I see it like your offering your product and you shouldn’t pollute that with 3rd party ads.

    The way I would prefer is to make a sponsership program which you can join. Optionally send a coffeemug or something to show appreciation for the donation, which also results in extra exposure of the project. This also makes it more easy to approach companies who might want to support your project if you need some serious cash.

  • http://hauberg.org Søren Hauberg

    There is nothing in the Free Software mindset that would find it bad that you make money. Hell, for all I care you could get rich from ads, and spend all the money yourself. The only downside with ads is (as you mention) that they might be annoying to the user. But then the user will stop using your site, and you will be forced to limit the number of ads. So, from the perspective of Free Software you can do what ever you like. But if you want to have users, don’t do anything radical. It’s that simple :-)

  • http://www.jedimoose.org mrben

    I don’t have a problem with ads that aren’t too invasive. I don’t like text ads across the top of the page – they need to be removed from the content in some way – like in a sidebar here, or along the bottom just above the footer.

  • McLurker

    Whether I block ads depends on the site as well as the ad.

    Things I dont block: Google text ads at the side of a page

    Things I always kill: Ads in the middle of content, intellitxt, animated ads that shake, flash-based ads, any ad with sound

    Things I let live if I like the site: Banner ads (more chance of living if not animated, though), picture ads

    So, text ads are fine, and I’d tolerate banners/pictures if they weren’t in an obtrusive position and were needed to pay the bills on the sites mentioned above. I’d even tolerate animated ads that didn’t use flash.

  • Peteris Krisjanis

    I think a little bit ads, also smartly placed, is very ok for open source web pages, because support them is usually hasle and expensive.

  • http://www.unicap-imaging.org Arne

    My take: Ads are evil. No excuses.

    I currently pay like 5 or 6 Euros per month for like 15 GB monthly transfer. Thats less than I even pay for my computer magazine per month. I happyli afford that for my open source project.

    If one day the transfer limit is not enough, I would go for a virtual server or something which will still be below EUR 50 a month and look for other ones to share the server and the cost. But honestly: If the project is that large, I think there should be ways to get income from it beside ads.

  • http://www.LandsofAdventure.com Dread Knight

    I’m ok with Adsense. :)

  • http://blog.nixternal.com nixternal

    I had AdSense for 1 year it achieved 7 clicks total :) I got rid of the pay-by-click advertisements and instead pimp great projects. If the ads work, then it is great. I worked for a .net years back that did hardware customization, reviews, and howtos and we made a ton with ads and it helped big time. I think the only way to get money from ads is to setup contracts with the advertisee (I think I just made that word up).

  • Songwind

    I don’t necessarily believe that there is an objectively “correct” way for an open source project to use its funds. However, I think that every project or website should be up front about how the funds will be used, so the donors can make informed decisions.

    Also, site owners pocketing funds isn’t mutually exclusive with using the money to help the project. “I will be taking this cash in order to make up for the lost overtime at work I will be giving up in order to help create SongwindWare.” etc.

  • Tom Vollerthun

    Ads are fine. How many? Use our common sense. “Ethos of Free Software”? No one said you can’t do that: Many companies make their money on free software (which is fine), so why should the developers be the only ones to starve?

  • Chuck

    Ads are a choice for the site owner.

    I think on a private web site you can make the choice on your own as it is yours.

    In your case I believe that if you’re going to use ads it must be for your private site (music, Jokosher, LUGRadio, etc) and you need to split your publishing of Canonical Community Manager based information to an adfree or Canonical sponsored site so there’s no conflict with ads that may appear on the page.

    With a project (i.e. Jokosher) you must consult a majority of your code/document/testing contributors to see what their take is as with an open project you may spearhead it but without the contributors it’s not much.

  • Paul Boddie

    I don’t mind advertising on people’s sites, although I do question their judgement in handing over space to something over which they have very little control. Consequently, I was somewhat disappointed to see the Free Software Magazine’s site plastered with adverts for “freeware” and “shareware” – surely a dilution of the Free Software message.

    Of course, upon commenting on the FSM site, I was duly handed the usual “nothing comes for free” lecture as if capitalism was something I hadn’t seen before. This didn’t exactly address my criticism that whilst Google adverts were clearly labelled as such, a newcomer wouldn’t distinguish between the “shareware” adverts and the editorial content.

    My comment seems to have gone now, so I guess the message is that advertising can damage your credibility if you don’t follow widely accepted “editorial” practices and separate it clearly from what you write on the site yourself. That, and some people don’t like having those established practices pointed out.

  • Abbas Khan

    Ads are OK IMO, if needed :).

    If i had to choose between an OpenSource Project Website with ads or no Opensource Project website at all i would choose ads. I think most people understand and google stype ads are not so bad. Just try not to get any of those flashing crazy coma-inducing ads like some website have :). Or those ads that scroll as you scroll on the page, they are annoying, also i think vertically stacked ads look better than horizontal ones. Hope my suggestions help.

    Also try a donation box along with the ads, who knows if you steadily get enough donations you might be able to remove the ads :).

  • jldugger

    I’ve got no problem with making money from ads. In terms of making open source livable, it sounds great. Just be careful, is all. I don’t like Adware in programs I use, and if a site gets obnoxious about ads, I do use AdBlock and will stop visiting sites that AdBlock can’t make usable.

    But don’t put advertising in syndication data. That’s silly. If I take the time to start a webpage, it’ll be focused on two subjects: solutions to common problems (like ahem brltty interfering with my serial-usb devices), and the various debugging things I do peroidically and find interesting. As a technical user of Linux, I often use google to find problems and solutions. It makes sense to me to catalog the problem, cause, and solution in a way that Google search can find. Launchpad could eventually catch a lot of this when whatever stops Google from indexing it is undone (Launchpad found a similar bug report to my usb-serial problem that contained a fix), but some are compiler warnings and errors that simply aren’t bugs.

    Should I decide to write and publish software, I’d investigate simple adwords text on the site. For the moment there’s still enough fragmentation in Linux users that a site would have enough content to bother with. As long as it’s stated explicitly where the money goes (hosting, primary developers, etc), I don’t mind seeing individuals receive enough money to write software for a living. But I’m not aware of any besides Firefox that really make enough to bother mentioning, and most are hosted for free by SourceForge / Google Code, who’d likely take a dim view on advertising on their site.

    How that money makes it to individuals is an interesting question. Remember the lauchpad bounty functionality? It hasn’t seen any serious movement in ages. It’d be neat to see some dedication to jumpstarting that idea. The problem is that most bounties are too small for someone unfamiliar with the problem to bother investigating. 10 dollars for Mighty Mouse support won’t even cover the cost of buying the mouse. We’ve seen lots of money thrown at Nouveau, so perhaps its a matter of getting the word out better.

  • Anonymous

    My opinion:

    • Go ahead and use ads, if you want.

    • Don’t have annoying ads, and don’t have ads that support something you or a significant number of your visitors don’t believe in. (For instance, don’t advertise proprietary software on a FOSS site, or have Flash ads.)

    • Don’t complain if people block your ads. Asking nicely for people to whitelist you seems perfectly fine.

    Also, one suggestion: take a look at Project Wonderful, which has a nice, community-based approach to advertisement.

  • jono

    For those of you who thought my text above the ads may break the policy – I have changed it. Thanks for the feedback. :)

  • blop

    Firefox+adblockplus+5 subscriptions+filterset.g == bye, advertisements. Even on open source sites which is good. :mrgreen:

  • http://www.colino.net/wordpress-1.5/ Colin

    At the Claws Mail project, we don’t use ads but a donation account and some Cafepress goodies. Doesn’t pay the bills, but we have a sponsor that hosts us for free…