Ever since I’ve been able to, I’ve read a lot. Fiction, non-fiction, reference books, collections of statistics, atlases, encyclopedias - basically anything I could get my hands on. The first book I remember reading was L-1011 TriStar and the Lockheed story - not what your typical 6 years old was picking up, but for those who know me, it probably helps answer a lot of questions. A fun day during summer break was heading to my local library to read as much as I could.
When the internet, hyperlinks, and the world wide web started to become a thing, what excited and intrigued me the most was the potential to read. Pictures were slow to load and of low fidelity back then, and videos were embarrassingly tiny and pixelated. What appealed to me about the internet was the written word, and that’s as true today as it was back then. My own personal limitless library, on-tap, whenever and however much I wanted.
In the early days, I’d fire up my text only browser and enjoy a mostly unencumbered reading experience. When browsers arrived which displayed graphics and pictures, things initially stayed the same. But then it happened. Ads appeared. And things started to get bad. Cluttered reading layouts, intrusive banner ads, pop-ups, pop-unders, animations and glacial load times, sometimes locking up your computer completely.
It was around this time I started to look for ways to get around this new ad-driven mess, and web syndication turned out to be my saviour. Unbeknownst to most, almost all websites which update or post content regularly (like this one) support something called web syndication, typically via RSS or Atom, the two most common formats. Each site that supports web syndication publishes a feed which you can subscribe to. Within this feed are either the entire contents of the update (or post), or a summary of it. Different applications (aka software) can be used to aggregate these feeds into one interface or view, tracking what was read, what’s new, and most importantly, notify you when something new is available to read.
Besides these benefits, web syndication offers the user a stripped down viewing and reading experience, most often, text only with some in-line imagery (or video embeds). Most importantly, no cluttered reading layouts, intrusive banner ads, pop-ups, pop-unders, animations or glacial load times. Web syndication is awesome, and it’s how I consume most of what I read online (for those who are interested, my preferred app for Mac and iOS is Reeder, and my syncing service of choice is Feedbin).
There is a problem, though. In my quest for a circa-1995 online reading experience, I’m inadvertently avoiding a lot of the ways the creators of the content I’m consuming earn a living. Where possible, I support them through alternative means, but it’s not always easy or straightforward. If only there were an easier way.
Here are a few of the content creators I follow, the ways in which they monetize their content, and in the absence of something cool like QUID, how I choose to support them (or not).
iPhone in Canada Blog
I originally started going to Gary Ng’s blog as a way to find relevant iPhone information and tips for users in Canada, pre-official iPhone release. His site has evolved into a curated tech news, rumours, and tips site, with a heavy focus on Apple stuff, all from a Canadian perspective (I’m Canadian, so… that’s a good thing for me). While his website is now unfortunately named, he does such an excellent job, I often forgo any other Apple news source and read his site first. Since I primarily read via my RSS reader, I don’t see the ads he serves up, so I’ve chosen to support him and his work via deals on products and services he sometimes promotes via StackSocial.
John Gruber often describes himself as a columnist, with a heavy focus on Apple and design. Inventor of Markdown, he’s also one of the early promoters of a style of blog informally known as a “linklog” where his posts lead directly to the web URL, with perhaps an accompanying quip or opinion on the content the reader will enjoy the other side of that link. John’s best content are his editorials where he’ll take a topic or news event he’s passionate about, and write at length about it. He serves up “tasteful” ads that are minimally intrusive, and do not consume one more bit than is necessary. His RSS feed will post sponsored ads every so often (so I will see those), but they aren’t tacky, and they are short and to the point. In the past, I’ve purchased memberships which offered me a private ad-free feed, but there was never an easy way to consume this feed in my preferred RSS aggregator, so I stopped. John also sells a t-shirt once a year or so (which I’ve purchased in the past), but this isn’t an income source for him. I listen to his podcast, too, where he does a in-episode read sponsorship read that is not canned, and different every time. Because they’re not pre-produced, they feel more authentic, and can be somewhat interesting. Whenever I get the chance, I’ll patronize one of his advertisers, if I need whatever it is they’re selling.
Early to the blog game, Jason Kottke has been creating and serving content since online 1998. He won a Bloggie Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 (whatever that it). Jason posts a random collection of whatever he finds online that is interesting or informative. In years past, I always found his posts super interesting, and decided to become a member via Patreon. There were some extra perks promised by becoming a member - a newsletter, for one - but I didn’t support his work because of this. I did so because I really enjoyed what he published and wanted to show my support in a tangible way.
Omar is a Product Manager at Microsoft who currently works on OneDrive. I can’t remember how I stumbled across his blog - I was probably searching for a review about something and Google led me to his site. He doesn’t post all that often, but when he does, his reviews are always on-point. Oh, that’s what he does. He reviews things he buys. He has expensive taste, but nearly everything he reviews is either something I need, or something I want (but not necessarily justify buying). He runs his blog as a hobby, but posts Amazon affiliate links for most of what he reviews, which means he gets a small taste of each purchase. When I can, I buy using one of his links, as a small token of thanks.
Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Ben goes *deep* on whatever he writes about, and he’s incredibly smart and insightful. What does he write about? I’ll let him explain it. “Stratechery provides analysis of the strategy and business side of technology and media, and the impact of technology on society”. That. There’s a free post via RSS about weekly that I subscribe to. Because his posts are information dense, and some of the topics he covers aren’t that interesting to me, I don’t always read his work. For that reason, I don’t subscribe to Ben’s more frequent writings ($10/month or $100/year), but there are articles in his archive that I wish were available on a pay-per-read basis at an affordable rate. You know, like what QUID makes possible.
The Lefsetz Letter
I learned about Bob Lefsetz through Howard Stern. He’s an American music industry analyst and critic, but when he’s not covering the music industry, he writes about pop culture, in an informative and interesting way. What started as an e-mail newsletter (and continues as such) has transformed into a regular blog about whatever is on Bob’s mind at the moment. I support his work by simply reading it! Bob hasn’t bothered to monetize his work, as far as I can tell. There are no ads, no subscription fees, no merch, and no memberships to speak of. Just the written word, uncluttered and unencumbered. It’s exactly what made me fall in love with the internet in the first place. “How to monetize a blog” does not appear to be a term Bob has ever searched for. If there were a way to support Bob’s work, by perhaps tipping him a few cents or a dollar per post, I would. But, I can’t. Yet.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by him, no matter how on point or awesome, are solely his own and do not express the views or opinions of his employer.