The Vending Machine of the Future

There’s a pretty huge problem facing the Internet. I may have a way to start solving it.

On Sunday, The New York Times ran a piece discussing at length the issues currently being faced by the media industry.

“Oh no,” you might be thinking, “another article discussing the failure of print? I already know about that!”

Not exactly. This Times, (haha, see what I did there?) the focus was on the online sector, with sites like Buzzfeed and Mashable the examples used to back the thesis that questions the longevity of online news. Mashable, at the beginning of the month, announced lay offs of some high ranking editors, and Buzzfeed missed it’s 2015 revenue projection by 32%. For two behemoths, both looked to by those looking to break into the industry of online media as potential soft landing spots in an industry mired in uncertainty, this has come as distressing news. The reasons for these unfortunate signals are many, but The New York Times, in the first article linked, points to the availability of ad blockers for mobile browsers, and the potent power of Facebook with its encapulsating grasp and its strong desire to keep users on its site as opposed to following links to external content.

I’ve thought about this downtrend, as plenty of more informed others have, extensively. As the Times article points out, users of mobile devices have moved toward interactions where they are merely checking app feeds with the goal of consuming as much content as they can in as short of a time as possible. Things that can get in the way of that are advertisements and anything else like surveys or newsletter signups that a user can identify as a ploy to make them a pawn in an internet revenue game. As younger people grow, taking that awareness for ingenuity and money making business gimmicks with them into the world, it’s very difficult to imagine a world where these methods for making money can survive.

Everyone pretty much wants the Internet to work like this (and this is pretty much how it works right now): as a vending machine, where all the pretty content is displayed for you, and all you have to do is push the right buttons, and it is delivered to you, for no charge (save the monthly subscription fee to your provider).

Media sites have tried to monetize the delivery of this content, as mentioned above, with ads, surveys, email newsletters containing ads, and plenty of other means. One would think that the subscription model would work quite well, as we do like to shell money out on a monthly basis for access to unlimited content, as we do for video streaming. This hasn’t really translated, or it doesn’t seem it has, to online media, as the inputs to the conversation are so numerous, the thought is always “I can get this information somewhere else, without this $10/month charge.”

Many sites are funded by venture capitalists, looking to cash in on the “millenial media boom” as termed in the above-linked Vanity Fair article, and I thought this could translate to the public when I suggested that Gawker conduct a crowd funding campaign, like a Kickstarter, to pay off the Hulk Hogan verdict. To some degree, I think, people will spend their own money when it seems “cool” and “beneficial” to the world as a whole. If marketed properly, perhaps there is some viability to this solution of raising funds for a media site, but that isn’t the solution I am proposing here today.

To remedy this situation, one must keep the vending machine analogy in mind, and think about how selfish it is to be constantly standing in front of it, pushing button combination after button combination getting fat on the acquisition of information we partake in every single day of our lives. There are actual, live human beings on the other side, filling that machine with content every single day. They are just like us, with bills to pay and goals to meet, perhaps even with a family to feed. Perhaps the mean we use to get to the vending machine, our technology, has led us to be deluded into thinking the Internet is some magical creature stocking that machine full of content for us to digest, but that isn’t the case. (at least not yet? *Gulp*)

The Internet is a special place for all it gives us, like the access to thoughts from all over the world, the connectivity to our family and friends, and the place for our own voice, just like this site, when we ourselves want to be seen and heard. It would be amazing for that continue forever, unobstructed and untainted by corporate interests and greed, but sometimes you have to be realistic, and really think if that will be allowed to continue to be the case. by those in higher power like the service providers and the companies holding controlling stakes in some of the suffering media sources.

The solution I think would really work is some kind of credit or token system, a consummable form of currency that would be used up when one wants to read an article or gain access to a certain piece of content. I’ve heard about a “pay per view” kind of system, where a user’s credit card would charged a small fee for access to an article, and some sites have even started charging a small fee to recoup ad revenue lost to ad blockers, but rhe token system would be different for one main reason: it would be tied to your monthly service provider bill. For instance, let’s say $50/month gets you your regular high speed Internet, but now it also grants you 100 credits to be used on the “Internet vending machine” whenever and wherever you please. A 2,000 word article or less with video costs you 2 tokens. A hour long documentary costs you 5. A Buzzfeed listicle costs 1 token. A Mashable video review of a new tech gadget deducts 3 tokens. Need more tokens? Take it up with your provider as you would with a higher data plan with your wireless carrier.

Now this idea would be largely, actually hugely, dependent on the ability of the stakeholders involved to figure out a way for content providers to get paid from service providers based on tokens used on the site in question. It’s eerily possible to imagine a world where certain ISPs have deals where things like “no token access to Netflix for your first year!” and “half token cost to The Verge for your first six months!” exist. There is also the question of moving sites like Netflix, already super profitable based on its subscription fees, to this model. Perhaps video streaming is on too solid of ground to be messed with. I think we can all be ok with that.

Of course, corporations would make out nicely here, and frankly this kind of world is slightly scary, but hopefully this would lead to a stronger and more stable job market for content creators, and less layoffs in an extremely important industry.

A big retort to my argument is going to be that it fattens up already massive corporations like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner, giving them more power over what you can gain access to. Yes, I admit that there could be some serious moral issues here, like letting your provider know of the content you are consuming. However, why not remedy that by treating the privacy of content viewed as sacred as your Social Security number and home address, infinitely more sensitive information that your provider already has? In doing so, an end user can experience the Internet in peace, and the provider merely makes its money and shuts up.

This just a thought, but could be a potential solution to the declining health of media. Maybe this has been discussed at length in board rooms somewhere, in which case this writing will be a preview, rather than a solution. Whatever the case may be, let’s hope for a route that continues to provide valuable content and journalism, that doesn’t come with such selfishness on the part of the consumer.

I would welcome your discussion with me on this, whether here in the comments or on Twitter: Peter Sarian. Thank you for reading.

Dear Gawker,

This must be hard. Your very existence, ironically, has just been threatened by a story you posted on your site. This one is to be exact (it’s SFW now): Usually, you post these audacious things and enjoy a lot of click traffic and some tweets from the inner circle of the Internet (you know, the one that seems to get to decide what is cool and what is not cool in the blogosphere). But not this time.

This time, you went too far. Regardless of Hulk Hogan knowing or not knowing if he was being filmed, or the reason for him suing you not being this tape but another, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that any reasonable human being can agree that you crossed a line here in your pursuit of viral content and constant relevance.

Now, we do agree on one thing, and that is the enormity of the $140 million settlement awarded to Hogan by the jury. Seemingly on the heels of Erin Andrews’s $55 million victory in another privacy invasion case, we have learned that white people’s privacy is worth more than black lives, but I digress.

So, you’re going to appeal, and you are confident that this large amount will be reduced drastically, or perhaps entirely, if the appeals court buys the arguments made in Nick Denton’s response here. Even so, a verdict any larger than $50 million would certainly not be ideal, to put it in the lightest of terms. For example, in 2014, you guys made $6.7 million in profit against $45 million in revenue. At least Denton sold a minority stake to semi-prepare for this outcome, but it doesn’t seem like it would come anywhere close to putting a dent in that 140mil, evidenced when he said, “We don’t keep $100 million in the bank, no.”

Regardless of the final verdict, right now you have to pay a bond of $50 million under Florida state law when appealing the case. That’s a good amount of money, and it might clean out your rainy day fund. (Are we wrong? Tweet us if so!) Perhaps you even already paid this $50 million, but in any case, the team at PortaBloggy has a solution for you. It might take some pride swallowing, but please just hear us out.

You guys should totally just crowd fund this. Like, as in, make a Kickstarter right this second, and just see what the hell happens. You have nothing to lose and only money to save if this works out. Will it be embarrassing that you have no other options? Probably. But you know what is more embarrassing? Shutting down because you published (parts of) a sex tape.

Maybe you’re a tad skeptical, but this idea works for a few reasons. 1. Some people are actually taking your side, and would you believe it, they actually like having you guys around! Give them a chance to show you how much they care by giving them this contributing opportunity (Maybe hire them after as freelancers also?) 2. This (sort of!) follows Kickstarter’s rules for a project, that a. projects create something to share will others (you continue to exist and share content), b. projects must be honest and clearly presented (never been a problem for you guys), and c. projects can’t fund-raise for charity, offer financial incentives or involve prohibited items (depending on how you view yourselves at this point, the charity thing could be a slight issue, but I think you can argue your way through that one). And finally, 3. You can’t pay this money and still exist in your current state. Just be honest with us.

So please guys, save money and save yourselves, and crowdfund the Hogan verdict.


The PortaBloggy Staff

Introducing Chipotle Roulette

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a series of PortaBloggy “Life Hacks,” centered around the digestive system and ways to get creative with your #2 time. Enjoy! -PJS

This past Wednesday, I decided to play a dangerous game. I ate Chipotle at 2pm, and I had a flight at 8:30pm.

In light of the recent E. Coli outbreak and questionable food safety at America’s favorite slightly classy fast food restaurant, I figured it would be fun to eat it for lunch, and then fly halfway across the country that evening. This was to be the ultimate test of my intestinal fortitude, using perhaps one of the best methods for doing so in the 21st century. I was being a millenial. I was being a blogger. I was being irrational. People have written long form pieces and even books about less interesting topics. Pondering this, I ordered, then devoured, my double-chicken-guacamole-Tabasco-added-on-top burrito bowl in about 15 minutes. It went down great. I wiped my mouth with the brown recycled napkin. Now, it was time to play. The name of the game? Chipotle Roulette.

For the rest of the afternoon, I ran some errands and packed the rest of my items. At around 5pm, my friends and I headed to the train station to catch the AirTrain to John F. Kennedy International Airport. Everything went smoothly; from checking in at the automated kiosks, to clearing security, to finding seats together at the gate.

As we sat down and placed our luggage by our feet, my friends announced that they wanted to get something to eat. I, having eaten such a high volume of chicken, white rice, and black beans, decided to skip this meal, and volunteered to hang back with everyone’s bags. This actually turned out to be pretty stressful. What if my digestive system decided now was the time for the unruly gang of ingredients to be purged from my body? I reached for my phone to tell the guys not to be long when a text came in from one of them: “We’re getting Chinese, want something?” I thought for a minute. While not hungry, I could certainly eat, especially a little pork lo mein perhaps. The side benefit being, the stakes in this round of Chipotle Roulette had just been raised and compounded significantly. I responded with my order, and in a few minutes four young men were chowing down on some Chinese food at Gate 7 in the JetBlue terminal of JFK airport. Dignity optional.

We finished our meals and boarded the plane without issue. I grabbed my seat on the plane, proud of my body for still holding the garbage I had put in it without complaint. The flight was pretty smooth, aside from the delay in taking off due to a backlog of planes waiting for runway space. After four hours in the air, we landed in Denver, and this round of Chipotle Roulette was won by me, handily.

My goal in writing this is to inform PortaBloggy’s readers about this fun, self-imposed challenge that can be issued at any time. Have it for lunch before a work event taking place that evening. Have it for the dinner before going out drinking for the night. Will you have to go or will you not have to go? That is the question. The answer is yours to find out. May the guac be ever in your favor.

Also, PortaBloggy would like to announce a business relationship with and our own endorsement of Chipotle. They get more diners, we get more readers who find themselves on the toilet after their meal. It’s a win win here, so please, head over to your neighborhood Chipotle and PortaBloggy, in that order.