Juicy Bits of Revenue without Paying for It

The New York Times has finally released some information about their upcoming pay-ramp which begins March 28th. I’m excited to see what happens but another part of me feels like there is a missed opportunity to explore new ways to change advertising so newspapers doesn’t close off to the web but can still increase revenue.

At SXSW I had the opportunity to catch up with Kurt Huang, founder of ThankThis, and test the latest iteration of his startup called “Juicy Bits.” I should start with a disclosure: I’m an advisor to ThankThis. But this post will not be a “pitch.” Rather, it’s a call for participation with a startup that has cuffed its ears and is listening for advice.

The original concept behind “Thank This” was to create a “Thank” button publishers would place on their content. Happy readers would click the button and a brief ad would be shown that would create funds for both the publisher and the charity of the readers choice.

In short – it’s a social action button for good. When you take an action the reader gets points that can later be redeemed and the publisher is able to get funds to further its mission. At the moment the ads are text based google ads, but in the future they could be “deal of the day” ads, etc.

You can still see an example of these buttons on my personal blog (click into a post). Feel free to give this blog post a “Thank” and experience this first version of ThankThis.

There were two big problems with this first iteration.

  1. Convincing publishers to put in an untested button.
  2. Aside from altruism what is the incentive for the reader?

The next pivot of Thank This turned the social action into a social sharing button…. for good! Instead of shortening a URL with Bit.ly you could shorten it with Thank This and get points. This circumvented the need for publishers to get started and also motivated folks to curate content – because they would Tweet or Facebook the URL. But it required an iFrame experience which some folks don’t like. You can see a Thank This curated link of Spot.Us here.

An important thing to note about this iteration and others is that the main thrust of Thank This hasn’t changed. In both cases the button is a social button for good that, when clicked, shows an ad and creates points (later turned into money) for charities and content creators. The main difference is what the ad is wrapped around and why people would click the button. In the first case to support a publisher in the second case because a trusted Twitter friend shared the link.

The latest iteration “JuicyBits” abstracts the Thank This button one step further by creating a reader for Twitter. Think of it like a version .01 of a different kind of TweetDeck.

Here’s the feed for Clay Shirky. It shows all the recent Tweets by Clay that contain a link. If you click on the boxes below you’ll be shown the content he linked to, stripped of ads. It’s actually a nice reading experience. If you like that piece of content you can click “Thank This” and it will create points for you, the Twitter feed that originally shared the link and the content creator. All points can be redeemed to support a charity or the publisher and all points are tracked based on Twitter’s authentication API and the URL that generated content.

I personally like this latest iteration the most. The reading experience is arguably better than the iframe from the second iteration. With enough development it could almost replace TweetDeck or any other Twitter Reader application. That’s actually what I think is the biggest hurdle. It’s a matter of closing the gap between Twitter.com’s web interface and this one. The big hurdle right now being I’m only able to read one Twitter account at a time.

Give this Twitter reader a whirl yourself. The best (cleanest) feeds have stars next to them on the home page of the Juicy Bits reader.

And here’s why you should give it a try. Thank This is a startup with a concept I stand behind. The idea is to create an engaging advertising experience with the right incentives so that people will consume and share content the same way they do right now on the open web, but it will create revenue for publishers. Kurt and myself are under no allusions. We don’t know what people want. Is this the right direction to go? Could a site like this, if improved, ever become the way you catch up with your friends content on Twitter. Or is Thank This barking up the wrong tree?

This is a beta project. The concept has lots of potential but we need feedback to get started. And here’s the best part – just using the Juicy Bits reader can give us that feedback. Kurt will be watching where people click, how they use the site, etc. That will inform future iterations.

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