OB Ads?

I have not accepted any compensation for anything I’ve done on this blog.  But folks keep offering to pay me to put their ads on this blog.  I wonder: am I being too prudish?  Presumably the more money I make blogging, the more I’ll blog.

So let me ask you all:  how many readers would think less of me or my writings if had a special Ads sidebar, but promised that ads would not influence what I blogged?  How selective should I be; am I implicitly “endorsing” the advertised products?  And how much should I charge?

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  • are you worried about selling out? If not, then try to squeeze as much as you can out of them.

  • Tim

    I would personally prefer that this blog remain ad-free, but only marginally, and it would not make me visit it any less.

    I read your notes in my RSS reader most of the time. Would the RSS version also be affected?

  • I wouldn’t think any less of you, and I don’t think you’d be implicitly endorsing anything. I don’t know what you should charge; but I second Zach above: get what you can!

  • retired phlebotomist

    Gotta sell the top banner space where the sirens are.
    And I’ll be curious to see who buys.

    • 2999

      I agree. It would be fascinating to see what the market says about the demographics of this site.

      Also, I have AdBlock activated, but I’ll make an exception for this site.

  • Larry

    I wouldn’t think any less of you for putting up ads.

  • If Adblock Plus can remove them, ads probably will not make me visit less often.

  • I won’t think any less of you, but I hope you’ll be going for reasonably quiet, non-animated ads.

    Optimally, you’d be choosing ads for things that OB readers are reasonably likely to want to buy, rather than just selling space to the highest bidder.

  • So let me ask you all: how many readers would think less of me or my writings if had a special Ads sidebar, but promised that ads would not

    Go for it. I am having a blast on this blog!

  • Isn’t your promising that ads would not influence what you blog part incompatible with your belief in EMH? 😉

  • MattW

    I read posts in Google Reader, and rarely visit your actual page. In the back of my mind though, an ad-less blog does seem “better” in some way, though I can’t think of any actual reasons. If it were me it would depend on how much I could get from the ads.

  • No, I wouldn’t mind ads. It’s not necessarily endorsing the advertised products, but doing so might actually be a good way to go. A policy along the lines of “I won’t display an ad unless it’s for a product/service I know is good” is helpful to everyone – readers get ads for products that can be expected to be of quality, resulting in more clicks on them, resulting in more money for you. (This is what the Penny Arcade guys do, though I’m sure there are others.)

  • Ben

    As long as the adverts are relevant to your content. i.e. something readers may actually *want* to click on. Which would be a win-win, yeah?

  • Larry Sheldon

    Abusive adds (jiggle, make noise, pop-up, etc) will get blocked.

    If I have to block some every visit, I’ll stop visiting.

    I’ll leave the influence on your writing to your integrity.

    Which of course is a factor in what I choose to read.

  • kræmer

    I think reasonable choices include:
    1) tasteful ads (text or graphical) for things you’re willing to implicitly endorse.
    2) obviously random text-based ads (e.g., google).
    3) no ads.

  • AntiAntiCamper

    uhhhhh, is this a trick question?

    look at all the moralists that showed up for this query.

    as long as the ads don’t give me epileptic seizures, who the &^#%$* cares?

    i don’t have a bias against ads.

  • Blunt

    I’d think less of you.

    1) This page takes long enough to load on certain computers; don’t add anything unnecessary to it.

    2) You blog enough as it is; you presumably don’t need a financial incentive to blog more. You also don’t need pressure to blog when you really have nothing of value to say.

    3) I’ll be rolling my eyes and thinking ‘Gee, I guess integrity really does have a price.’ Promise what you want, but having ads on your blog will affect how/when/about what you choose to blog. Maybe not in the beginning, but eventually… Both parties in this ad business have expectations, and eventually someone will want to change their expectations. Enter disagreement. Enter compromise, if a co-dependent relationship has been established. Enter the sale of your integrity to blog what you want when you want.

    Hey, you asked. 🙂

    • magfrump

      I would be okay with you putting up ads as long as:

      a) the ads were unobtrusive

      b) there was an open comments thread to discuss the products, and the ads removed if the products were determined not to be worthwhile (ideally with advertisers continuing to pay and returning to defend or redeem their products after improvements or new studies)

      I don’t know how willing advertisers would be to put their products up to direct scrutiny, but insofar as they are willing I think that is a signal that would be appreciated here, and could actually help match people to products.

  • Geoffrey Brand

    Take the money…

    There are positive externalities…
    I will get some benefit (psychological pleasure) knowing that you are getting paid.

    As long as the ads are passive. Active annoying adds reduce the pleasure of any website.

  • mattmc

    Are you asking whether we think you could “overcome the bias” these ads would create?

    I suppose we could also ask whether you would allow us to create ads in our comments. 🙂

  • spriteless

    Wait, there are sites that don’t already have ads?

    • spriteless

      Well, I guess it comes down to whether you feel you have the energy to spare to keep the ads from influencing you or not, or if you can find ads you already approve of.

  • bahrgest

    Marginal Revolution had an anti-meat add I didn’t like, but mostly I don’t care.

  • I think an ad sidebar is a bad idea.

    It is a bad signal. It tells readers “I’m writing this stuff to make money,”
    when you’d like to signal “I’m writing because I’m passionate and smart and an Expert who you can Trust.”

    Instead, I’d suggest you just setup an Amazon affiliate account and then whenever you mention a book, insert a link to Amazon (with your affiliate ID). That gives you in-context, almost invisible advertising that will likely be much more effective than an out-of-context, in-your-face ad bar.

  • bcg

    If an idea has to be a certain level of “interesting” or “cool” right now before publishing it for free will make it worth publishing, then the money will reduce that level and the stuff on the site will now be less interesting and cool.

  • Peter Twieg

    4 trillion out of 5 trillion ems agree that Polaris is this millisecond’s hottest vacation spot!

  • Benquo

    As long as the ads themselves aren’t intrusive (e.g. with sound or pop-ups or too much distracting video) I’ve got no problem with them — if they’re well-targeted enough they may even enhance the experience!

  • Vladimir Shklovsky

    I have no problem with you putting up ads. I don’t think this site will be generating so much revenue that it will noticeably compromise the quality of your blogging. If this site does one day become so popular that you’re legitimately motivated by what will keep the money flowing… kudos.

    I may form a negative impression of advertisers I think about while reading OB.

  • Neil

    I have read most your writing on this blog for a long time, I would love the opportunity to compensate you in some way, more than happy to put up with some advertising. Take the money!

  • I have no problem with ads as long as they are unobtrusive. A lot of respectable bloggers have ads, including Tyler Cowen.

    Ignore the slashdot crowd!

  • Makes more sense to put ads about your prediction market consultancy, your prediction market conferences, etc., stuff related to this blog.

    Makes no sense to sell ads for enlarging penises, etc.

  • Brian

    Choose them wisely as crazy noisy dancing adds signal cheapness and dumbness.

    However, I’m fine with ads and want you to be rewarded for the content you create. In fact when I buy books I prefer to click through from a blog so a blog author I respect gets a share.

  • Chuck

    Questions about ads aren’t about money:

    Hanson is merely signaling his blogs success as a status play.


  • fmb

    This collection of comments might not be representative. You’ve earned (or at least generated) a lot of credibilitiy with your current readers. Probably the biggest effect is on potential new readers, though. If you’re planning to live forever, small impacts on readership growth could be very important. Maybe only really popular bloggers will get unfrozen.

    That said, I basically agree with the majority of the other commenters. A blog with tasteful ads might even be a positive signal.

  • promised that ads would not influence what I blogged?

    What do you think of doctors who take money from the pharmaceutical or device industries, but promise that it won’t influence their practice?

  • Singularity7337

    I would never come back.

  • Non-animated ads that you’ve screened for interestingness seems like the optimalish move to me. Of course it depends on how much money you’re being offered.

    • Blunt

      Why does it depend on how much money you are being offered?

      Now if you were choosing between, say, a life-saving kidney for your child and money…

      • Prolorn

        “Why does it depend on how much money you are being offered?”

        Why wouldn’t it? If offered sufficiently high compensation, I’m sure Robin Hanson would run any legal ad.
        Enough donations to an appropriate charitable cause could offset any harm from a simple ad, surely.

        Hmm, maybe even illegal-but-ethical ads, for absurd compensation… ? 😉

  • Constant

    I can speak only for myself. Insofar as I am able to introspect, carrying ads signals nothing to me significant about the blogger. I read all sorts of blogs, a lot of them with ads, and a lot of them without.

    Of course, I’m not everyone.

    As far as the ads actually affecting your content (I don’t mean the appearance of an effect, I mean an actual effect), you’re already affected in what you say by how you make your living. If you add sources of income, if anything that will likely reduce the influence of any one entity on you. Probably not by much.

  • Jedermann

    If ads will stop you from giving up blogging (as you threatened to a few years back) I am all for it. Presumably blogging could be a viable place for top academics in the future if not now. It would be an interesting experiment to see whether you could get your advertising revenue exceed your salary. One site indicated that 100000 visits per month will generate $75k per annum. I have no idea whether this is accurate, but your site appears to get just under that number of visits.

    • That’s the mean income of bloggers with at least 100K visits/month or more.

      Median is $22K, and I don’t know the mean income of bloggers with an actual visitor frequency of, say, 50-150K visits/month.

  • Noah

    I would much prefer you display only ads that you do endorse. I would actually be interested in items you found worthy.

  • Douglas Knight

    but promised that ads would not influence what I blogged

    I’m surprised that you would promise that.

  • Bill

    1. Use an auction market to lease the space.
    2. I am not troubled with advertising, BUT, if the advertiser gets personally identifiable information about the visitor, I do object.

  • Bill

    Also, consider that if you are awarded based on hits on the site, or clicks on the advertising, will you do anything to increase traffic and avoid anything that reduces traffic. Will you do less controversial writing because an advertiser might withdraw. And, again, will you be tempted to sell data about the viewer.

  • I usually read this from Google Reader, so I naturally assumed you already had ads.

    Placing ads on a website can sometimes diminish the integrity, but it doesn’t have to. Someone mentioned setting up an Amazon affiliate account. I’m not sure how Amazon does that, but if it allows you to make a small amount of money by linking to books you were probably going to mention anyway, that seems reasonable.

    Even inoffensive ads on the side might not be a reasonable idea, as long as you had some control over them to make sure they’re tasteful and relevant.

  • Greg Lee

    This has to be a joke or test to see who’s been paying attention: “…promised that ads would not influence what I blogged?”

    One of the themes of this blog is that we are influenced by many more things than we recognize or acknowledge. How can RH make a flat promise like this ex ante?

    • Aron

      That’s the ongoing joke. We can identify biases in our best moments, but we haven’t the machinery to avoid them generally.

  • Autodidact

    Tasteful ads are fine by me. I hadn’t even noticed, for instance, that Marginal Revolution has ads.

  • I agree with the calls for non-animated ones.

    I strongly disagree that you should screen them for interestingness or relevance at all. I’m pretty sure you have better things to do than monitor ads for people.

    • Matthew Fallshaw


  • retired phlebotomist

    There’s been some real junk advertised on MR. Don’t think it harms them.

  • Pavitra

    I agree with Gavin’s argument from signaling.

    I want to believe that I’m Very Rational(tm) and would not be swayed in my opinion of the site by whether it has ads, but realistically these things do make a difference. In fact, I believe that about 70% of the people who commented to say “go ahead, I don’t mind” are mistaken about how they would respond.

  • snarles

    Ads would damage this site’s perceived credibility greatly, by (ironically) introducing the suspicion that your writing, as well, is biased for the sake of self-benefit. It is vital that you maintain as best you can the image of an academic purely interested in knowledge for altruistic reasons.

    And you blog more than enough already; increasing the rate of blogging will result in greatly diminished returns.

  • Yorick

    Ads aren’t terrible, but two important words: no Evony.

  • Doug S.

    I often simply don’t notice whether a site has ads or not.

  • Vince

    Go for the ads. Take the $2US a month you’ll make from them and buy a cup of coffee. You deserve it.

  • phane

    As long as you don’t have ads for Evony.

  • phane

    …I see I was beaten to it.
    I’d also recommend against “Single mom discovers one simple trick to whiten your teeth!!!”
    For some reason, that’s the most common ad these days.

  • Dave Hedengren

    Ads are fine by me.

    Man my teeth are so yellow and the only tricks I can find are from married moms…

  • Cliff Styles

    Is this a signalling problem? As far as I am concerned, if the anonymous market is willing to give you money for a bit of space on your page, that’s a signal that we’re both smart, given the quality of your content.

  • I’m with Katja…your time is better spent not worrying about specific ads

  • Torben P

    I wouldn’t mind. Not the top bar, though, right?

    I think you’d be silly not to take the money.

  • botogol

    Robin you need to think about what you want to SIGNAL

    NO ADS signals ‘I am an academic – my ideas, and the aesthetics of my blog that I use to convey them is more important to me than money’

    ADS signals ‘I am an academic (and a pragmatist) and a few extra dollars will always come in handy’

    What else will your decision signal?

  • John Maxwell IV

    This is bizarre speculation, but I wonder how practical it would be to sell ads on your blog without ever seeing them yourself. For example, by having someone else or your readers choose them (maybe look into Adpinion) and then running Adblock.

    My guess is that the money you make from polite and sensible ads would outweigh the loss of credibility that would occur, particularly if you were to, for example, donate all of it to the Singularity Institute.

  • John Maxwell IV

    Oh yeah, you said something about ads causing you to blog more. Is blogging a tap you can turn on and off? How many of your posts come from you saying “OK, time to write a blog post” and how many come from whatever you happened to be thinking about during the day?

  • J

    “how many readers would think less of me or my writings if had a special Ads sidebar, but promised that ads would not influence what I blogged?”

    Wouldn’t think less of you, and most of us would shrug off a preposterous claim like “ads would not influence”. We’ll continue to judge you based on content.

    I suspect most of us are happy with the color of our teeth, already ripped (a month ahead of schedule!) if we’re interested in such things, and well aware that it’s always a good time to buy gold. You might as well go ahead and cash in.

  • Do it, you’re the one who’s losing money by writing here for free, not us, so I can’t raise an issue there. But I’ll just say that anything that noticably alters page loading time would be repelling.

    Potential advertisers are almost certainly reading these comments, so you probably won’t have to worry about Robin’s endorsment, the advertisers will know where they’re not wanted!

  • Sure! As long as the advertisements are for things that you would personally endorse, I think its a service to your readership and to yourself. I suppose the question is whether you’d be tempted to change the content of your writing in order to attract a different readership with better advertising potential, or whether your personal standards on the things you would endorse would be affected by the money advertisers offer.

    With that said, I view your blog through an RSS feed, so I probably wouldn’t see much of them anyway!


  • Granite26

    As long as the ads stay in their boxes, go for it!

  • If you do adds do not be selective

    Once you start filtering out things you are in some way endorsing others. It is simpler to explain the adds as something that makes you some money but you do not control.

  • tony

    do it

  • Ads are fine if you choose them carefully. Adding an embarrassing weight loss ad like the one on Volokh right now would cheapen your site (and insult your visitors by telling them they’re probably fat).

    • Oliver

      Now that you bring this up, I would actively encourage garish ads here on OB if we got unintended, humorous juxtapositions on a consistent enough basis.

  • Matt

    Certain Google ads will determine which ads get put up on your site based on key words or phrases, hence no conflict of interest.

  • I don’t think the problem is with specific adverts biasing particular opinions. For example, if the prostate cancer therapists threaten to pull their ads you will just shrug and tell them to advertise elsewhere.

    The more subtle issue is with getting sucked into media whoring. Currently you blog when you have something to say, and if the point is important but not inflammatory and doesn’t make a splash in the blogsphere, so what? Once you have ads you will notice readership numbers more. There will be a temptation to blog when you have little to say, just to keep the numbers up. There will be a temptation to be that little bit more controversial and edgy, to tempt the inbound links. After one year nothing much will have changed. Five years later you will jump the shark.

  • If it causes you to blog more at the cost of devoting less effort to writing books, I’m against it. You blog enough that additional blogging is unlikely to be valuable.

  • q

    You could accept ads in things that have negative externalities affecting you, as a kind of pigovian tax.

  • I would be okay with text ads, though I’d probably be annoyed by banner ads and most certainly with those that play music, jump around etc.

    With Google adsense I guess you could land about $0.25 for every 1000 pageviews. Evaluate if that will make you any reasonable revenues given your monthly pageviews. If not it’s just not worth the effort.

    • OB has been getting 130K pageviews per month with no growth since June, according to OB’s own page counter which comes out to $32.5 per month at $0.25 per 1000 pageviews. That hardly seems worth it. People must be offering much higher rates to Robin. Without knowing the cost-benefit tradeoffs here, it seems impossible for anyone to answer Robin’s last two questions except Robin himself.

      As for the first question, I think everyone will think less of Robin if he puts up ads. They’ll still think highly of him on an absolute scale, but it will be less than if he didn’t put up ads. It doesn’t matter that they say they won’t think less of him, because as Robin said previously, most human expressions are about signaling, not truth.

      • 2999

        I think everyone will think less of Robin if he puts up ads.

        I think you’re seriously overgeneralizing. This is the kind of thing that can vary a lot between people.

        You should have a pretty good reason for supposing that everyone here who says they wouldn’t think less of Robin is deluded and you understand them better than they understand themselves. Is there any evidence you can cite to support this view?

      • Let me explain myself, because my intended meaning probably wasn’t clear. When people say that they won’t think less of Robin, I think what they’re signaling is that they value Robin’s blog highly, Robin deserves being compensated for his work, and they care enough about him to put up with being annoyed by ads.

        But if Robin actually puts up ads, that signals that he values the extra money highly (i.e. is poor or greedy), and/or that he doesn’t value the time and attention of his readers (as highly as if he didn’t put up ads). Even if you want to see Robin compensated, there is no way to block out the implications of his actions in your brain.

      • Too bad there is no edit function here. I should add that people are signaling not just caring enough about Robin to endure the ads, but caring enough to actively encourage him to put up ads.

  • Brandon W. Holmes

    So long as the ads don’t interfere with reading the site I say go for it. You shouldn’t be ashamed to monetize your work.

  • loqi

    Here’s another vote for text ads. I agree with Katja that screening is counter-productive – and as far as credibility is concerned, transparently automated ad selection (e.g., Google) is the way to go anyway.

    Alan Crowe’s concern about traffic whoring seems legitimate, though. Assuming you currently keep tabs on the popularity of individual posts, you may want to consider shielding yourself from that data as a way of breaking the feedback loop between specific content and monetary reward.

  • I’ve got no problem with ads. I would have allowed them on my own blog with no charge, but wordpress.com doesn’t allow that.

  • q

    how do we know you’re not a bot anyway?

  • asd

    I think the core group of readers wouldn’t be much affected by suitable ads, but newcomers would probably think less of you than they would if there were no ads.

    Personally, I think slightly less of you for raising the subject at all. Signaling that you need money is risky business.

  • Karthik

    It may seem an ironic piece of advice, but do it only if you are absolutely convinced you have no use for the money, and if you can convince a majority of your readers of the same. Because if you do have a use for it, it can affect the frequency and hence the quality of your output because you may write something for a reason other than the inherent desire to write about it. In my view quality is more important, and if I were to see ads on the side bar, I for one can never be certain anymore whether you are writing for the kickbacks or because you wish to say it.

  • scott

    Take the money. False pride to do otherwise. You aren’t wealthy enough to be arrogant. You aren’t intelligent enough to know the answers. Enjoy life.

  • Mike Rappaport

    I find it a bit odd that you ask for our opinion of this. If you can make some money, and it does not interfere with the mission of the blog, then why not? What are you trying to signal here? I can’t figure it out. But a post on this would be interesting? Of course, then we would have to figure out what you were trying to signal with that post.

  • I just read this today. Might be of some help – http://www.blogherald.com/2009/12/02/3-odd-reasons-why-i-dont-read-your-blog/

    Parimala Shankaraiah

  • Andrew

    Go nuts with the ads. It’s easy to block them 🙂

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  • Why not use the space for socially productive purposes? Perhaps your site could help find a lost child through your network of blog followers. I’m sure you can come up with many other worthwhile causes. I find it remarkable that in the 90 odd comments, not one thought of this!

  • Everybody is trying to sell me (or all of us) something, I’m tired of that. You have never sold your blog, you’ve always shared your thoughts and ideas. You started out writing in your blog becuase it meant something to you and that was all. Keep it that way. Let sales people know that some things will never be for sale.

  • Erich

    Ads would not change my OB consumption. I enjoy the content here and greatly appreciate the effort you exert to provide this material to the public at large.

  • Stuart Armstrong

    I have not accepted any compensation for anything I’ve done on this blog. But folks keep offering to pay me to put their ads on this blog. I wonder: am I being too prudish? Presumably the more money I make blogging, the more I’ll blog.

    I’d prefer you blogged less, but blogged better (your best articles are incomparably good, but a lot of them are like drive-by shootings: a random spray of bullets at some subject, without getting out of the car or stopping to see what you were aiming at). Since adds would make you presumably blog more, I’d be against them.

  • What would be an unfakeably honest signal that ads would not affect your editorial? I can’t think of one, but I bet there’s one out there…

  • mac

    are you a professor or an entrepreneur? Are these mutually exclusive?

  • I would think less of you as a free-market economist if you refused to put ads on your blog.

  • gwern

    I do not care. As the others say, as an economist I almost expect you to – at the very least – recoup hosting costs. And since I have good ad-blockers, it will never affect me.

    Nor will I feel particularly outraged as I only contribute occasional comments. If LessWrong or Wikipedia were to start running ads, though…

  • Oliver

    Robin, now that you’ve asked, I’d only really care if ads significantly hurt your page load time and browser stability. By this I mean: please, please use flash sparingly. Please.