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FurAffinity and the Realities of Capitalism

24 Jun

Fandom 150This 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.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on June 24, 2015 in Furries

 

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7 responses to “FurAffinity and the Realities of Capitalism

  1. Danny Boson (@Singedrac)

    June 24, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    I always thought FA got most of its revenue from begging for user donations.

     
  2. November (@Novemurr)

    June 24, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    There should be NO sympathy for Dragoneer or anyone associated with FA. The community poured its heart out for ten years in donations every time the website asked for it, and countless people have offered coding, technical, and community support and they were always turned down. Instead, FA got sold to IMVU. We’re in this predicament because Dragoneer and his staff manufactured this crisis. It’d be easy to say that it’s their problem to deal with, but now it’s the users who have to suffer, who never should’ve had to consider paying for a service that could’ve been self-sustaining.

    Don’t ask the community to fix yet another one of FA’s problems. They’ve already done enough.

     
    • Footpad

      June 24, 2015 at 2:03 PM

      All of this is true except for the last paragraph. In all respects — software maintenance, hardware acquisitions, staffing, accountability with donated funds, public relations — Dragoneer’s stewardship of FurAffinity has been questionable at best. Then, almost literally, he sold us down the river, and made a healthy profit doing so. I feel no need to thank him for anything.

      However.

      The question that matters isn’t whether Dragoneer deserves anything from us, or how much we’ve already done. The question is: going forward, how do we best maintain and develop the role that FurAffinity has played in our community so far?

      I would much prefer not to enable Dragoneer in his errors. At this point, my best hope to see FurAffinity die in favour of a different site that’s responsibly and competently run, and serves all the niches that FA did. But, if that’s not feasible, and a paid-subscription model is what it takes to keep FurAffinity running, then we shouldn’t let our pragmatism be outweighed by our distaste for Dragoneer’s past mistakes. [1]

      (As opposed to his plausible potential future mistakes, which we just have to factor into our judgement as best we can.)

       
      • Jakebe

        June 24, 2015 at 2:25 PM

        Oh, there are a number of other issues with FurAffinity that I thought I’d leave aside — just because I really wanted to focus on the reality of transitioning to an ad-supported website. There are a lot of issues I have with Dragoneer’s handling of things, from promises made and apparently not kept, to a general pattern of unclear communication, lack of transparency with finances/resources, and user experience. It’s gotten to the point where I’m more or less a lurker on FA. If I have something to say or writing I’d like to post, it’s going to Weasyl and SoFurry.

        That being said, I’d like to at least browse FA without having to worry about being forced to look at distasteful ads or banners that could contain viruses. If the option were available to pay for that, I would.

         
    • Jakebe

      June 24, 2015 at 2:22 PM

      I’m approaching this issue from the perspective that FA is going to be the fandom’s top art/writing repository now and in the future; if people get fed up enough with Dragoneer’s handling of the site and a viable alternative is flocked to, then all of this is moot. 🙂 I’m also putting aside pretty much everything other issue people have regarding Dragoneer and IMVU, because that’s a big vat of quicksand I’d be stuck in all day. 🙂

      What I really wanted to say is that if FA hopes to generate revenue through advertising, they’re more than likely going to be limited in the kinds of ads they can put on adult pages of our particular nature; this is an issue that a lot of ad-supported adult websites have to deal with, and their audience has raised similar complaints. This is a doorway into a broader conversation that I think folks should be having, which is how we’re “paying” for the sites we use. Nothing is truly free, and we pay for things in ways other than money. If that’s not acceptable to us, we need to be aware of that and move ahead accordingly. If that means leaving FA to frequent another website, then that’s what it’ll have to be.

       
  3. B. Candycrush (@bogglesnatch)

    June 24, 2015 at 5:02 PM

    I’ve been watching the rise and fall of art sites since before Yerf was Yerf, and as far as I can tell the reality of furry art sites is this:
    1. Furries don’t want to pay for anything. They react with anger to any kind of paid tier or pay-to-play system, because it’s seen as dividing the community between haves and have-nots.
    2. Everyone hates ads, including furries.
    3. Furries are extremely demanding in terms of human resources. They generate a lot of drama that requires constant attention from moderators, and any decision made will offend approximately 50% of them.

    As far as I can tell, there is no way to make a furry art archive profitable. They’re all basically charity operations. Anyone who runs one is spending a bunch of their own money in exchange for making other furries hate them.

    The upshot is a furry archive will always eventually end up under-staffed and under-powered for the load it’s under. As furries from FA move to other sites, they will only accelerate those sites’ demise. I recall being told by someone involved with Weasyl that the worst thing that could happen to them would be a sudden mass migration from FA. Welp…

    Dragoneer handled pretty much everything in a very clumsy way, and my sympathy for him is limited. But I think it’s only fair to note he had an impossible task.

     
  4. Fey

    June 24, 2015 at 5:32 PM

    The really dumb thing about all this drama is that IMVU already has a way to monetize FA’s content. They’re doing it right now actually, by requiring a cease and desist letter from artists in order to remove unauthorized infringing works from their digital marketplace. This is deliberately slowing the process down while they rake in the cash.

    I don’t understand why it is so difficult to get an image recognition algorithm in place and cede control over these works to the artists, who would then be free to toggle on “Share this artwork on the IMVU marketplace” for a share of the profits. Artists get money from their work, site gets a percentage for operating costs, IMVU furries get to have pictures of saucy dogs on their digital walls or whatever.

    Youtube has proven IMO that when given the option of receiving royalties for their music, artists are likely to allow their work to be used by third parties in ways they themselves would never consider. FA is a community of people creating boatloads of new content every day, and IMVU’s grand scheme is porno ads? Is this 1998? Get with the program.

     

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