Google's vast Internet empire lies on a foundation made of ads, but pretty much nobody likes to see ads. This is why Google is experimenting with a new way to let people get rid of the ads while supporting the websites that provide them with the content they gobble up every month.
Google's little experiment, called Contributor, has already gotten a few major players to on board, such as Mashable, Imgur and The Onion. How Contributor works is users agree to pay a monthly contribution of $1, $2 or $3 to the website of their choice to continue receiving access to their favorite content. In return for this contribution, the website will not show any ads to the contributing user. Instead of an ad in place, they will see a "thank you" note accompanied by a grayscale pixel pattern where the ad normally goes. In some cases on mobile, the ads and the thank you notes disappear altogether.
"Today's Internet is mostly funded by advertising," says Google on the Contributor page. "But what if there were a way to directly support the people who create the sites you visit each day?"
Google, which takes an undisclosed cut of the monthly contributions, will deliver the thank you notes through its existing advertising channels. The monthly contributions, Google says, will pay for the cost of the ad space. Users who participate in the experiment submit their contributions through their existing Google accounts. For now, the experiment is on an invitation-only basis and Google says it will just have to see where it goes.
Analysts and technology enthusiasts praise Google's decision to "out-innovate" its competition and think of new payment models that continue allow publishers to monetize their content. Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, says Google deserves credit for its audacity in trying out a new business model.
"Google derives most of its revenue from advertising, so the fact it's testing a non-advertising model is fascinating," Moorhead says. "It could only harm Google if Google isn't the company who reinvents and leads the next-generation business model. Google, as intermediary, can still get paid a certain percentage of the transaction."
Others, however, such as VentureBeat's Gregory Ferenstein, thinks Contributor is just another ploy by Google to prove that people actually prefer ads than paying for content. People have for so long gotten used to free content offered on an ad-supported Internet that they would not want to pay for anything they once were able to get at no cost.
"If Contributor is a success, it will not only be a shock to Google, but also be an historic first for modern human civilization. I seriously doubt that Google is betting that such a tectonic shift in preferences will take place," Ferenstein writes. "No, Google is very smart. It knows that the best PR messages are the ones that speak the language of choice. When Contributor fails, and I suspect it will, Google will be able to refute privacy critics from a moral high horse. Google gave the public the choice to opt-out of ads, and they didn't buy it."