Poll and Feedback: Proposed Advertising Policy

Since the beginning, I’ve resisted having paid ads on Daylight Atheism. But I’m wondering if the time has come to change that, and I’d like to know what readers think of the idea.

I’ve been thinking about this because, lately, I’ve been getting a more-than-usual number of e-mails from strangers who want me to promote their projects or give them financial help. The other week, there was one from a liberal Christian pastor who deplored how right-wing Christianity has become and wanted my help to raise funds for a documentary he was making that would, he claimed, get Christians back to “what God and the Bible say”. (That one went into my “unclear on the concept of atheism” file.) This week, there was one from an atheist group asking me to spread the word about a new secular charity they’re starting, and one from a P.R. agent for an indie film that he boasted was sympathetic to the atheist viewpoint, among others.

I want to do my part to help build the secular community, and I’m always willing to support worthy efforts toward that end. But I realize that I put my own credibility on the line when I endorse one of these projects, and I’m wary of asking anyone to spend time or money on an effort I personally know nothing about. (Also, I’m a little annoyed by the emotionally manipulative language in some of these appeals – in particular, the film promoter, whose e-mail read less like “We think this is a great film that your readers would enjoy,” and more like “If you don’t see this movie, the Christians win!”)

It occurs to me that the best way to deal with e-mails like this would be to have paid ads, so people who write to me seeking publicity could just buy one. But until now, I’ve never had ads on this site because I personally find them distasteful. I know that some bloggers have them to defray hosting expenses, which has never been an issue for me – Daylight Atheism is my hobby and I have no problem paying the bills for it. But it would be a neat and simple way to handle requests like these, and it could be useful if the site ever does grow to the point where hosting would become a financial burden on me.

I haven’t made up my mind about this by any means, and I’m hoping for some feedback about it. I’m still considering how I could implement ads if I do have them. One way would be to have small textual or image ads in the sidebar (no animated ads, I promise that). Another would be to have “sponsored posts” like some other sites do, though I worry if that wouldn’t keep a sufficiently clear separation between my opinions and paid advertising. So, what do you think?

[poll id="6"]

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Fargus

    I said I wouldn’t mind either type of ad, though I would definitely prefer sidebar ads to sponsored posts. If you maintained approval over the content of both sidebar ads and sponsored posts, and there were a sufficiently clear line demarcating which posts were your own and which were sponsored, I don’t think that I’d have any problem with you doing what you need to do to pull in a bit of money to help you provide high-quality content to us.

  • cag

    With Firefox and AdBlock Plus, the ads just do not display. If people insist on using Windows and the default browser with the default setting, they will get ads.

    As an aside, many computers get slower with age. In many cases this is due to failure to check the box to delete temporary internet files when closing their browsers.

  • cag

    Looking at what I wrote, it was a little ambiguous. There is a check box for deleting temporary internet files. In IE (from memory, someone with Windows please expand) it is under “advanced” towards the bottom of the list of items. In Firefox & Linux (Ubuntu 11.04) it is Edit-> Preferences -> Privacy -> “Permanent Private Browsing mode”.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    cag

    Can’t find any of that in Firefox. Using v. 4.0.1. There is a Tools > Options > Privacy tab, but no box for “Permanent Private Browsing”.

    As for ads, Adam, I say you do whatever you think you’d like to do, as it’s your blog. I always wanted to have paid links for books to Amazon under their Affiliate program, but WordPress wouldn’t let me.

    I got that same email from the liberal Christian pastor, so I’m not sure that’s not some form of spam.

  • Nathan

    I’ll admit I hate ads, but if you need revenue, you need revenue. Do what you wish; it’s your site, and I’ll almost certainly continue reading with or without the ads.

    I would request that any sponsored posts clearly be called out as such, although suspect you’d do that regardless.

    Nathan

  • Brian M

    No opinion as I never even “notice” blogsite advertisements.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Deliberately not read any previous comments. My vote? I have no opinion either way, as what you do on your blog is entirely your choice. This is your space, not mine or anyone else’s and thus far you have attracted a large, diverse and intelligent readership. I suggest you trust your instincts and allow such access to your forum as you feel comfortable with.
    I do not expect anyone to be a paragon of perfect rational decision making, and nobody can please everyone (especially not every atheist) all the time.
    e.g Hemant’s “chip in” for vandalised churches. Seems a no brainer to me, but some people had a problem with it, so I can respect that, it’s a diversity of views all of which have a rational basis for argument either way.
    Actually as long as you continue to write as eloquently as you do you can host adverts for Ken Ham as far as I’m concerned (I’ll just assume they are meant ironically).

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    As others have said, it’s your blog, you should do what you want, and we trust you…

    However, you wrote this post to ask for your readers’ input, so here’s mine. I always feel a tinge of mistrust of blogs with lots of ads in the sidebar, and tenfold so for sponsored posts. Absence of advertising suggests that the writer feels completely free to speak her/his mind. [A link to buy your book, now that would be different!] Therefore I clicked the “detest” box in the poll, although that’s putting it a little strongly!

    As for all the worthy causes you would like to support, I think you do much more for freethought by just writing what you write, than a trickle of advertising revenue for indie film projects could ever achieve!

  • kennypo65

    Do what you deem necessary, it’s your baby. I’ll keep visiting anyway. Like I said in my friend request, “I read daylight atheism religiously.”

  • Dark Jaguar

    Cag, I’m afraid you are a little misinformed. A large amount of stored web cache doesn’t slow a computer down one bit. If your virtual memory file is locked, there is really no appreciable difference no matter how much hard disk space is taken up.

    What actually slows down a computer is memory resident programs. Computers don’t naturally slow down so much as users keep installing resident applications. Most of the time, the users aren’t aware so much is resident. A program sitting on a hard drive is harmless, basically invisible, but one that is actively running takes up resources. An example would be the large number of icons sitting next to the clock under Windows (any version). This can also occur in a Mac, but the modern version of the Mac OS clamps down a bit better on “extensions” so it isn’t as common a problem.

    The “startup” folder used to be where these programs would put shortcuts to force them to start when Windows starts up. This is no longer the case in the vast majority of these programs. Instead, they hide themselves in numerous “auto run” sections of the registry. MS would do well to start clamping down these areas as well, backwards compatibility be damned (most games, pretty much the only legacy thing I tend to care about, don’t use auto running to operate anyway, and none of them legitimately need it). My advice is to learn about these things. There are programs like Autoruns or Hijackthis (I recommend both) which will search numerous sections of the registy for auto starting applications. However, they find everything, from drivers to services, some of which are really necessary. A bit of knowledge of what you are doing is required if you want to start using them.

    If you do, you’ll find that Adobe applications in particular love to stick auto running programs in there, like “auto update” and so on. When I speed up someone’s computer, I almost never even bother with browser cache. It’s never needed. Deleting these auto starting commands from the registry speeds up the computer to factory release condition (and often better, due to bundled useless software companies like Dell like to include).

    Another good example are browser addons. These are things like the “helpful” little toolbars so many companies like to include in their installers. I would always select “custom” or “advanced” install when installing a program so you can say “no” to installing those tool bars. One MAY actually be helpful, but a lot of the time I see people with somewhere between 3 and 5, which do little more than drastically slow down the browsing experience. It’s actually rather laughable how much work the browser makers put into slicing off a millisecond here and there on page load time when it all is blown to bits by the majority of user’s penchant for installing any add-on a web site requires them to install to see the cute puppy picture they were sent by a coworker. I kid, but really I do understand. I’m pretty ignorant of car repair, and I’m sure I make just as many dumb mistakes taking care of my car.

    Back to the topic at hand, I’m very wary of “sponsored” posts. You are an upstanding person, but the reality is that it’s hard to trust any opinion that’s being funded. Being open about it is certainly the least I’d want, but it’s something you should think about. Consider how easy or hard it may be to post something against a group that regularly pays you for discussion about something for them.

    I don’t mean to sound self righteous, even though that’s exactly how I sound right now. It’s just something to be wary of, and the sort of thing which got Scienceblogs in such an uproar some time ago.

    Paid non-intrusive banner ads are fine by me. There I’d just be concerned about finding ad providers that don’t provide weird or inappropriate sponsership, like “Why atheists are all liars, a stunning book that will open your eyes by Christenson McGee”.

  • jane hay

    Fine with me – I almost never read the ads on any site I visit anyway. Oh, wait a minute – I hate jiggling jumping popup ads. Other than that, have at it.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Just in case I didn’t make this clear in the post, I’m not contemplating advertising because I need the money. It would certainly be a nice bonus if Daylight Atheism was self-supporting, but paying for hosting is no burden on me at the current traffic levels.

    Rather, I’m considering advertising because I’m getting so many requests to help promote secular projects that I don’t know anything about. Those e-mails leave me torn – I don’t want to ignore worthy efforts because I’m not familiar with them, but I also don’t want to stake my personal credibility on helping every stranger who contacts me. I feel that accepting advertising would strike a good balance between these.

    I always feel a tinge of mistrust of blogs with lots of ads in the sidebar, and tenfold so for sponsored posts. Absence of advertising suggests that the writer feels completely free to speak her/his mind.

    I couldn’t agree more, Peter, and that’s a large part of the reason why I haven’t accepted ads until now. I can make whatever promises I want, but I realize that accepting ads from people and projects I might want to write about gives me a conflict of interest I never had before. This will in some respects be minimized, because if I’m accepting an ad from a person or group, it’s probably because I wouldn’t have written about them otherwise. Still, the potential is there. The best I can do is trust that my readers will swiftly notice and call me out if they think I’m going easy on someone because they’re a sponsor.

  • cag

    Spanish Inquisitor, Firefox 4.01 Ubuntu (Linux) might work differently than the windows version, as I remember previous Firefox versions did not have that wording, more like (from memory) delete temporary files upon closing.

    Dark Jaguar, older computers with limited memory and a small hard disk are affected. A friend’s computer would have Norton run all night scanning the hard disk (never finished). It took hours to clear the Temp file as there was limited space for Virtual Memory. Thanks for the information, not so applicable to Linux but useful when a windows user asks for help.

  • http://www.kurmujjin.com kurmujjin

    Ebonmuse,

    Only you can gauge whether or not some advertising fits with your purpose. I voted to accept either. Having said that, ads can be intrusive and annoying, so you will need to keep feeling your way along with polls or just attention to feedback.

    You are an excellent writer. You also seem like someone who could make a living at it, serving two purposes, 1.) education of your readers and 2.) devoted life’s work. You are certainly entitled to that if you choose it.

    One option, if you want to keep this site “pure”, is to start a second blog that is related in nature, but incorporates advertising from the beginning. Have you visited problogger.net?

  • RipleyP

    To read the blog for me is a privilege as I offer no input to the blog beyond airing my occasional comment. As such I have voted for sidebars but not sponsored posts.

    I accept sidebars as a price I pay for the privilege of reading. I care not if said advertising profits the blogger or not. I accept there should be reward for effort and if the reward is helping the greater community then that’s even more special.

    (Of course we could go into a lovely debate concerning altruistic rewards being a factor that denies the existence of altruism but I digress)

    Sponsored posts are more of an issue. I am concerned that it may be seen to potentially lose the individuality and impartiality (of course there is a touch of bias as we would prefer you didn’t sell us holy books where possible).

    Sponsored posts can easily blur that impartiality even where there is no bias created, appearance is the key.

    As for advertising being the solution to your problems well I lack the knowledge to provide any opinion.

  • TonyP

    So if you’re just looking for a convenient way to deal with those requests for endorsement without accepting responsibility for actually endorsing them, then it seems to me that you’re overlooking a really simple alternative. If you’re prepared to have clearly labeled “sponsored posts”, then why not instead have clearly labeled posts of your own, similar to your weekly link roundups, that simply list the requests you’ve had recently (or at least the reasonable ones), stating clearly that they are not vetted, that you may not have even read their material, and that you are not actually endorsing them but just giving them an opportunity to be seen. You’ve explained pretty well in this post what your concerns are, so you should have no difficulty presenting these things while clearly holding them at arm’s length.

    It costs nothing to try it out for a while anyway.

  • HA2

    I don’t read this blog very religiously, so take my comments with a grain of salt.

    I would NOT like ‘sponsored posts’. It would feel too much like you’re letting other people “borrow your voice” and would make it seem, to me, like you endorse the posts. It would be like having a guest blogger.

    I would not at all mind sidebar ads. I wouldn’t think that you would start catering to the ads in your writing; they wouldn’t bother me, because I’m pretty used to ‘ad somewhere off to the side’ being the way the internet functions, and I would understand that such things are not necessarily endorsed by you.

  • allein

    Not a regular poster but I read a lot. I blame you for my recent obsession with Mumford and Sons. Thanks for that. ;)

    I don’t mind sidebar ads so much as long as they stay out of my way (videos that play automatically and those ones that pop up with every accidental mouseover drive me insane). I would just hope you wouldn’t change the layout too much. I like how your page is like reading a normal page of text rather than the 3-inch wide strip of text down the center with a border of ads and links on either side that so many blogs seem to be (this is one of the few I read on a regular basis and that’s part of the reason). If you don’t actually need the money I would vote for no ads at all, though. I like TonyP’s idea of occasional posts akin to the weekly link roundup.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I’d probably read the site no matter what you do. However, you would start getting annoyed grumbles out of me if the ads interfere with the content. That is my view of advertisement; as long as content and ads are kept separate and do not interfere with each one another then there is no problem.
    I hate pop-ups, those ads that hover around or expand over the whole page, ads that popup when you hover the mouse over keywords in the content, or ads that play sound (these all get in the way of enjoying content.) Having sponsored posts would definitely be an overlap of content and advertisement and would make me grumble a lot. Perhaps sponsored guest posts would be better, since these would be pre-approved by you as something that you agree with?

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Also, for people using AdBlockPlus or other ad-blocking software:

    Not seeing ads is great, but be aware that since your browser doesn’t load the ad, it doesn’t count as a hit for the advertiser and whoever owns the webpage doesn’t get paid for your visit. I love AdBlockPlus, but I set it to disable for websites that I want to support. I feel like I’m bilking them out of their advertisement pennies otherwise (though if they ever start using obtrusive ads as mentioned above, screw-em)

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    I voted for “detest paid ads of any kind”, because it was the strongest option despite not being literally true. What I detest, in particular, are (1) flash ads, animated ads, and sound-playing ads, (2) ads which stand out dramatically from the site color scheme with absurd contrast and/or brightness, (3) ads selling products totally irrelevant to the content or nature of the site. Typically, any ad obtrusive enough to distract me will be blocked.

    A large amount of stored web cache doesn’t slow a computer down one bit. If your virtual memory file is locked, there is really no appreciable difference no matter how much hard disk space is taken up.

    You should be more careful about giving advice, Jaguar :). That’s not wholly accurate, either. Firstly, caching (especially excessive caching) does slow down the browser. The more content cached, the greater the amount of disk I/O performed. It’s done anyway, because it’s considered typically a net gain compared to the long delay of requesting recent content again from the network. Further, the greater the cache size, the longer it takes to access any particular item — although with a good algorithm based on lookup by sorted hashes, the increase is by constant factors instead of linear.

    Secondly, the “virtual memory file”, more commonly called the pagefile (or paging partition as is typical in *nix), is always locked by the operating system. You can’t commit arbitrary reads or writes to it because that would be a giant backdoor undermining system security.

    Thirdly, for mechanical hard disks the amount of space occupied on the disk does impact performance (although mildly, generally not by more than a constant factor of ~1.5). A spinning hard disk, unlike a solid state device, is not true random access. It takes non-trivial time both for the disk to spin and the heads to move. The more concentrated the data into a narrow set of contiguous sectors, the less head movement and the better the performance (especially on sequential reads or writes).

    The imperfect design of mechanical hard disks is also the reason why file fragmentation (the spreading of the blocks of a file across non-contiguous sectors) notably influences performance. When you can access any sector in equal time in a fully random matter, that obviously doesn’t matter anymore.

    Note that even solid state devices are flawed; they still tend to get moderately better sequential reads and writes compared to random access. This is partly due to the low-level organization of the hardware, where every storage bit is not directly wired straight to the output bus (that would be infeasible). It’s also due to the better ability of the drive controller to predict, arrange, and queue the access sectors for sequential requests.

    What actually slows down a computer is memory resident programs. Computers don’t naturally slow down so much as users keep installing resident applications. Most of the time, the users aren’t aware so much is resident.

    That’s true, although fairly tautological. Instances of programs currently loaded are called processes. Not all programs have the same resource usage patterns, and each process is also independent. It’s extremely wise to actually identify what is using RAM or CPU via a process or task viewer first, before you begin arbitrarily nuking random tray apps that may or may not be doing anything of significance. One of the most common culprits for massive waste of resources on Windows is anti-virus, though. I’ve often found such programs pegging an entire CPU core to max and draining most of the I/O capacity of a disk at the same time, all for a false delusion of “security”.

    Importantly, there are plenty of programs that run in the background totally invisible to the system GUI. These are typically called services (daemons in *nix). You can only see these with a process viewer or administration tools explicitly designed to handle them. They can also eat a very noticeable part of the system performance. (For example, the indexing service, system restore, and windows defender.)

    The “startup” folder used to be where these programs would put shortcuts to force them to start when Windows starts up. This is no longer the case in the vast majority of these programs. Instead, they hide themselves in numerous “auto run” sections of the registry.

    There are quite a few, but most of them are never used by anything. By far the most common key for programs to insert a startup value is HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRun. That requires admin access to write to, as do many of the alternatives, so you can avoid these completely by refusing to install software as an administrator. (For the vast majority of programs, if it doesn’t install as an ordinary user, it’s poorly designed.) There’s a corresponding key HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRun which only affects the relevant user.

    Believe it or not, some of the ancient Windows 3.1 startup location still worked as recently as Windows XP. (These include autoexec.bat, win.ini, and some others.) They’re essentially never used by legitimate modern programs, so I tend to simply delete those files outright. (Admin access is needed to overwrite them anyway, so just run as a normal user and the problem disappears.)

    The most troublesome scenario is always when an installer creates a new NT service (load the administrative panel services.msc to see those). These can be registered to run with system-level access, equivalent to root on *nix, where there are no permission checks at all. I am always suspicious of anything that wants to install such a service. Typically, the more advanced rootkits will use a service because it can register silently with unlimited powers, and isn’t required to be listed anywhere or even to appear as a separate process (it can piggy-back as a thread inside an existing process). This is yet another dangerous case to consider when installing or running anything as an admin user.

    If you do, you’ll find that Adobe applications in particular love to stick auto running programs in there, like “auto update” and so on.

    It’s not only Adobe. Sun, Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, Google and several others deploy those third-party permanently running update applications. They’re largely useless, unfortunately. For every bug fix and security fix you get from one of those, there’s ten more lurking down the pipeline. The only secure solution is to stop using poorly designed software that doesn’t take security seriously*. This idea that you can win an arms race with for-profit crackers is ludicrous.

    * You might want to know how secure software is actually made. Firstly and most importantly, you design the product with a limited and well-defined feature set, that is not ridiculously ambitious or perpetually incomplete. Secondly, you hire developers to implement it who are familiar with security flaws, less likely to introduce them, and more likely to find them. Thirdly, you regularly audit your software. Fourthly, you work hard to increase the independence and reduce the coupling of your code with poorly tested and/or poorly designed components elsewhere on the system, which tend to have their own problems. Fifthly, you leverage the security capacities given to you by the operating system itself intelligently and as fully as feasible. Sixthly, you set up closed-doors cracking contests with bounties for the discovery of issues.

    Unfortunately, all of that reduces profits in exchange for a better product. Consumers don’t care about security, and don’t even know what it means let alone how to measure it. As with anything else, nothing is likely to change here so long as people remain so ignorant and unconcerned with the matter.

  • http://forums.penny-arcade.com/ Jeep-Eep

    Sidebar ads. Anything else would be pants-on-head stupid.

  • Dark Jaguar

    Thanks for the additional information, many should find it useful. I was just giving a bare bones thing there. Allow me to explain myself a little.

    On point one, my main argument wasn’t specifically about browsers so much as the system’s speed in general. That is, I was saying that a large cache file isn’t going to affect the system’s overall performance. I can see it having an effect on browsing of course, and then there’s the security issue. Your example of searching the hard disk being slowed down by large cache files is a good point to make. To expand on anti virus programs, any sort of large volume search is slowed, and it isn’t just the cache to be wary of, but the slowly building collection of “system restore” states as well as the uninstall data for various Windows patches over the years.

    On point two, I don’t mean the system locks access by anything but itself to the file (which is of course true). I was referring more to a “fixed” size for it, thus preventing the OS from shrinking the virtual memory as hard disk space becomes scarce as it does when it’s size is dynamically adjusted by Windows. This is only really an issue as hard disk space gets slim.

    Your third point is fine, that small amounts of space mean less time to get the reader from one side to the other on the platter, but generally speaking that’s not nearly as noticeable as file fragmentation, which in turn isn’t nearly as noticeable as memory hogging applications, at least from my experience. In fact the last of those 3 is far and away about the only thing that makes any appreciable difference to the end user.

    Oh by the way, personally I’m really looking forward to the day when magnetoresistive random access memory becomes marketable. That seems to eliminate just about every single weakness of every storage medium, except maybe erasure by exposure to magnetic fields.

    You make a good point on using some method of watching programs to find out which ones are taking up the most resources. I use process explorer. Anti virus… Norton is still the worst offender in my book. That thing is crazy. I’ve lately been using MSE from Microsoft and haven’t had any issues with it at all.

    Yeah, there’s a lot more companies than adobe that add stuff, though lately their lack of security has got them a lot of attention. Services aren’t too much trouble compared to some of that stuff, since I can always turn off a service (autoruns can remove them outright too). The most annoying programs are the ones that check to make sure their auto starting nonsense still auto starts every single time the program is launched. I’m looking at you Quicktime. Granted, the quicktime quick loader doesn’t really take up many resources, but it’s annoying.

  • Korey Peters

    As an AdBlock user I don’t really care what you do for ads. I think TonyP’s idea of simply posting the requests is right on the money. Put them up and we can decide for ourselves. It seems a great solution.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Thanks, everyone, for your feedback. The poll is now closed, and as you may have noticed, DA has its first ever ad on the sidebar. This is an experiment; we’ll see how it goes. Further comments are welcome.

  • Discoverer

    This site belongs to you, not to the advertisers. You needn’t feel conflicted if they can’t get their message out through you, any more than they should feel conflicted by not loudly displaying links to your latest posts.

    If you come across their activities, and they genuinely resonate with you, then that’s the only time they should expect you to take up their cause.

    It’s okay to put this aside, though, when you need money — a situation no one should blame you for as long as you were to still pick adverts carefully — but you have said this is not the case.

    That’s how I feel about it, anyway (granted, not with a lot of reflection) so you may feel differently.

    On a personal note, the ad-blockers for my Chrome browser are either too clunky or too invasive to use, so I have to put up with advertising whether I like it or no, which is not usually a problem on sites that are already busy…but an oasis like DA? Color me skeptical….

    (still up to you, though!)