This week, FurAffinity decided that it would update its advertising policy to include “mature” ads on pages that included mature/adult work. It didn’t take very long for the backlash to come, which is pretty much what happens whenever FA tries something new. More users and artists distanced themselves from the site — if they didn’t leave outright — and more than a few furries tweeted their displeasure. As of Monday evening (when I’m writing this; I know that the story will have progressed quite a bit by the time it’s posted), they’ve rolled things back to retool the mechanism that serves ads, but I’m not sure they’re going to ever get the community on board with hard-core porn banners with explicit language.
One of the most fascinating things to me about websites these days is that there still isn’t a better way for them to make money with their content than ad revenue. And while I have all the sympathy in the world for an Internet company struggling to figure out how to make their site profitable, I also have less-than-zero interest in being served a bunch of advertisements for crap that I don’t need to buy. Especially when those ads include flashing, sounds, motion or whatever other mechanism they can conceive of to get to pay attention to them instead of the reason I’m on the page.
FurAffinity (and IMVU) is going to be in trouble if they’re going to be more aggressive with ads in the future. It’s just proving what most of the community thought about FA being acquired in the first place; that the site is being taken out of the hands of the community and put into the control of outside interests that see us more as commodities than anything. Of course, IMVU needs to find a way to keep the lights on for FA, so to speak — they’re in the business to make money, and at the very least FurAffinity needs to pay for its own operation. I get that. But a website that relies on advertising revenue, in my experience, compromises the value of its content by making that content increasingly painful to get to through the thicket of revenue-generating stuff. I know this is a slippery slope argument, but I could easily see FA becoming more trouble than it’s worth to navigate, stuffed with annoying (at best) or virus-laden (at worst) ads that make it impossible to have a good time looking at community-created adult material.
But here’s the thing that us folks who like browsing websites has to keep in mind: in our capitalist society, nothing is free. If we’re not paying for the sites we browse in money, we pay for it some other way — with the time it takes to navigate around pop-up or pop-under ads, or with the attention those ads draw from us. Sometimes, we pay for it with information we give those sites, who then turn around and give that information to third parties who, in turn, use it to target us better for advertising. It would be a good idea for us, as readers, to think about how we’re paying for the sites we visit. These guys have to make their money somehow — either through donations and charity, through a paywall, through advertising, through our personal information. Once we determine how a website charges for its services, we have to make a decision on whether or not we think that payment is fair.
Like most Internet-savvy denizens, I fortify my web-browsing experience with Flash blockers and anti-adware. I’ve been burned by Flash ads automatically downloading viruses to my computer and I’m not interested in taking chances with any more. If a website shows me potentially interesting and unobtrusive ads, I consider it fair payment for accessing their content. The Ad Blocker goes off. And in some cases, where I feel like I get enough value from a website and they offer me the choice, I’ll just straight-up pay for access.
That’s what I did with writing.com, where the advertising had brought me viruses a few times. It’s for that reason I can’t direct people there in good conscience, even though there are a few great writers and stories in the interactives. The interactive community is kind of the dirty sewer of the site, though, and the website operators will only get the worst kinds of businesses willing to run ads for those pages. Because of the content of those pages — which includes eighteen different kinds of fetishy stuff — only porn sites and disreputable places will pay to advertise there. So it’s either put up with those awful ads or pay for access — and since I like the interactives and have been going there for years now, I feel it’s a better value to pay with money.
I think FA is in the same position. There are all kinds of terrible stuff in the adult sections of that site; hard vore, crushing, watersports and scat-play, Sonic fan art (just kidding, don’t be mean to me Sonic fans!). I’m not sure that they’d be able to get too many sites outside of the community willing to advertise on those pages, and sites and services within the community probably wouldn’t be able to pay the rates that “professional” places would.
So they’re stuck in this place. If FA is going to be a furry site run by a non-furry interest with the aim of making enough money to justify its existence, it’s either going to have to turn to some sort of formalized payment plan, an aggressive advertising policy, or trading our personal information. Instead of reflexively shouting down any way it tries to raise revenue, maybe we should think about what we would be willing to trade for our porn-browsing experience. Money? Ads that aren’t quite so terrible? Sensitive data? Once we figure it out, let Dragoneer know. We actually have a chance to barter with the operator of the site; that’s not something many audiences get. Using the opportunity to make the site better, instead of bashing it, would be a great thing.
I have a lot of sympathy for Dragoneer and the predicament he finds himself in. I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to the demands of IMVU (which I assume is to make money, but might be something else to be fair). He suddenly finds himself in the middle of a fight between the demands of capitalism and a populace that really doesn’t give a shit about it. Good luck getting out from between that rock and a hard place.