Bloggers, and content creators in general, have always been looking for ways to monetize their activity, whether it’s with advertisements, paywalls, product placements or sponsored content. In the age of cryptocurrencies, browser mining is offering another alternative. There is a lot of controversy around browser mining though. We all remember the CoinHive controversy last year and the impact it had on ThePirateBay’s reputation. It still has good advocates, however, and the arguments in its favor might surprise you.
What is it exactly?
Now here’s the catch: as opposed to the scandals that have been raised in the past, with browser-based mining the user is supposed to agree to let their computer mine, as they want to support the content creator. Everything should be transparent.
Browser-based mining: A user-centered point of view
In theory, users should have the same user experience as they used to, minus the annoying pop-ups, pop-unders, and other sponsored content. The extra work performed by their processor shouldn’t create any noticeable lag. Some websites let the user set the number of cores to be used or the CPU usage percentage they want to allocate.
Some users might even consider generating money for themselves this way, but these systems aren’t designed for this. The amount of money generated by such a low and resource-efficient activity would be unsubstantial. The only benefit here is for website owners with a large user base.
Security is probably a big concern for most people, however. As users, we’ve gotten used to pop-ups for which we literally have no control. It’s also well known that these pop-ups and ads not only slow down the device and ruin the user experience, but can also potentially have various malwares. That’s actually one of the main reasons why users choose to use ad blockers, although they might feel guilty for not supporting the creator. In this regard, having a smooth experience while being given the possibility to allocate some system resources to the mining program could be quite a convenient alternative, while not necessarily less secure than the classic implementations of advertising.
What about content creators?
Browser mining is definitely a very attractive way for content creators to make money. As with classic advertising, this depends a lot on the size of their audience. More users means more money, but they will also need the users to stay long enough on their website.
But rather than implementing the script themselves, there are already solutions available, such as SpareChange or CoinHive. These platforms develop the whole solution in order to offer website owners the same kind of service regular advertisement platforms would, in exchange for a commission. This is actually one of the main issues with browser mining: these companies really strive to develop the best and most ethical solutions, but they can’t really control the way website owners implement them. That’s what happened with CoinHive, which does encourage its website owners to be as transparent as possible. But as we saw with ThePirateBay, they may not follow these guidelines. The worst part is the fact that this would go unnoticed most of the time: users won’t necessarily check their CPU usage or even see the link between a particular website and the sudden high peak of CPU usage. These kind of events would create bad publicity for browser mining. The fact that it’s associated with Bitcoin, which already raises a lot of eyebrows on its own, doesn’t really help.
Another issue is the competition against other major actors such as Google. Google makes most of its money through advertising, and browser-based mining is a direct competitor. Not only do most people want to choose the stability and reliability of the solutions offered by Google and other big names in the tech world, but any misuse related to browser mining would receive bigger media coverage, which would harm the reputation of the technology.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that cryptocurrencies have never been synonymous with stability. Their values are highly volatile, as we noticed this year (the bitcoin value went from around 1,000 USD in January to 19,000 USD in mid-December before dropping to 12,000 USD a week later). Building a solid business model isn’t an easy task with that much variation.
Browser-based mining, and client-side mining in general for companies, have a lot of potential. The Blockchain has come a long way and is becoming more and more accessible. From a user point of view, having a smoother experience and some control over how we support the content creator is a very positive thing. However, the main challenge for content creators will be effectively communicating with the end users in order to appear a legitimate solution. Overall, Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies don't have the best press coverage, and a lot of it has to do with the cases of abuse related to these technologies. As for content creators, no one can be blamed for choosing popular and reliable methods such as Google AdWords rather than a technology based on volatile cryptocurrencies. In short, the future of browser-based mining depends a lot on the future of cryptocurrencies themselves, and also on the communication around the technology.