Google launched a product that picks up the torch where Readability stumbled with its first truly interesting, innovative feature: Contributor.
Like Readability, Google Contributor allows you to contribute a small monthly fee to participating websites you care about. Choose whether you contrite $1-3 per month, visit the sites you care about, and in return you see no Google ads (mostly) and get a warm feeling in your tummy.
A key difference here is that Google avoided Readability’s mortal mistake by getting partners on board for the launch. It’s also bringing in more via invitation and accepting applications (check the bottom of Google’s page).
As the web continues to splinter into niche but sustainable communities and content creators, I think Contributor might become a big deal. We finally have the perfect storm of internet culture and technical innovation to make crowd funding and micro-transactions not just possible, but two-way-street useful. Publishers have a tough time convincing users to leap the tall hurdle to sign up and subscribe to every. individual. site they care about. But being able to pay a single, Netflix-style monthly fee to a large shop like Google, and letting Google divvy up the proceeds between all the sites we care about is game changing.
I do have a few complaints about this launch. My major complaint is I’m worried Google is setting too much of a precedent by locking the initial contribution amounts to $1-3; you have no way to pay more. The Google and Facebook business approach of giving away everything for free has perhaps irreparably decimated consumer entitlement to free software and content. I think the option to pay more would help move the needle a little.
A minor complaint is how few partners Google got on board for launch—Mashable, Imgur, WikiHow, Urban Dictionary, The Onion, and Science Daily. I expect this program gains traction, though, so the partner list should expand rapidly.
Finally, I wish Google would have gone farther when it comes to the ‘no ads’ benefit. While it’s true you won’t see Google-powered ads on participating sites (as far as I know, ads powered by other networks will still appear), the Google ad spot doesn’t entirely disappear; you’ll just see a pixelated box in place of the ad and a message of “thanks for being a Contributor.” Hopefully, a future iteration of the program will help publishers remove that ad slot entirely for contributors, offering a much better reading experience.
I’m excited about Google Contributor, and I am pleasantly surprised it actually came from Google. I applied immediately, as both a user and publisher (even though Finer Things in Tech doesn’t run any Google ads, at least not yet). I hope to be able to write up something about my experience with it soon.