Mine4erf beta test
Ads are probably more trouble than you think
In a news post a long time ago, I mentioned that admins and logged-in Tools don't see any ads on the site, but I asked the team to code my user (balder) as an exception. That way I'll always be "eating my own dogfood" and keeping an eye on just how crappy our ads really are.
As I write this news post, I'm watching one (or more) of our sidebar rectangles repeatedly making calls to some .tv domain, trying over and over to show a video in one of our ad slots.
Our ads are not supposed to do that. They're not allowed to show in-banner video. I've talked with our current ad company about it several times.
They are also not allowed to play any audio. They are not supposed to take over your screen. They are not supposed to "stuff" ads from other providers (i.e. resell ad space to other ad companies, by refreshing the ad slot over and over). They are not allowed to show political, religious, adult, or multi-level-marketing ads. They are not supposed to give you a fake virus message (or a real virus). They are not supposed to make your phone go to the Google Play or Apple store.
Many of these things still happen. When they do, that's a problem that I created for you, and it's my problem to solve. So it has been my part-time job for the last nine years, tracking down these kinds of things and trying to make sure they never happen.
We've been through about thirty different ad providers since 2014. I've had countless emails and conference calls with the ad companies and the affected users. John, Red, Brendan and I have tried lots of different, often fairly sophisticated things. For example, you might notice that our sidebar ads will time out after one minute and become Amazon affiliate banners. That's one thing we've tried that worked a little and didn't reduce revenue by too much.
But because of the nature of how ads are sold and served, we generally can't do anything to control what the ad does on the browser's side. We have to rely on the ad companies themselves to root out malicious actors and undesired ads. They do that, and they work hard at it. But for them, it's a game of whac-a-mole that can never be won for good.
Well, I started 2018 with some goals. And one of the biggest is "solve ads forever."
Ads are probably more necessary than you know
My ideal solution would be to kill ads forever, for all users. I don't want them on my site, or my screen. I'm sick of fighting a war I can't win.
Mostly, I really, really don't have time to mess with this anymore. If my time spent fighting ad-related fires causes even one extra skipped update in a year, then the cost of lost pledges (and the hard-to-count cost of letting you all down) has to be counted against our ad revenue.
Unfortunately, ads are still a lot of money. They're the only way to monetize the 97-99% of readers who don't subscribe or buy merch. It's important to have some revenue that is *not* tied to updates. And ads don't require capital costs and fulfillment, like selling a T-shirt or a deck of cards. They're one important pillar in our business model.
So when I look around for something to replace that pillar, I don't see many good options. Affiliate marketing doesn't come close. I've dug pretty deep into selling our ad inventory directly. It's just way more work for way less money. I've carefully considered things like the Basic Attention Unit, but it won't work for Erfworld, and I seriously doubt its longterm viability. I considered the "reduce ads but snark at people who use AdBlock" strategy. I hate AdBlock, but I understand why people use it and I can't say I blame anybody who does. Penny Arcade once ran a Kickstarter to get rid of ads on the site for a year. I won't even start with that. Just, no. I've even gotten pitches to sell our (hashed) user data.
Quadruple flippin' no.
In many years of looking, I've never seen a plausible "maybe if we did this, it could replace ads" idea.
But! I'm still trying. Here's our new best shot.
Mining is a thing in Erfworld. Maybe it can be a thing for Erfworld
In the final week of 2017, an idea came up with the web team that made us all say, "That's not obviously dumb. Let's test it."
John mentioned that he's been mining cryptocurrency, specifically Ethereum ($ETH), for some time, netting him a couple of bucks a day even after accounting for electricity costs. Quick maffs, and it didn't take an implausibly high number of people mining crypto for Erfworld to approach what we make in ads.
There were lots of questions and concerns around this idea. I'm always extremely cautious about asking Erfworld readers to do anything. We talked it through, researched, talked some more, built something simple, and bug tested it. In early January, we asked the IRC channel-goers to try it out, and I dogfooded it with them. I've been running our crypto miner daily since then.
It definitely worked in alpha. We mined enough Ethereum to be worth it. Not everybody's computer could manage it, but nobody's computer broke, and there's no reason it should have. We learned some things that let us make a plan. Everybody who participated in the test got sent some goodies (thanks Renter, Bandaid, Danielle, Omnimancer & sdub!) and I created the Special: Digging badge for them:
You can get this badge if you mine even one share in our mining pool. You'll be mining Ethereum to our wallet, but mining gems for yourself.
Gems - collectible, minable, sellable for Shmuckers
Part of trying out this idea was to make sure it wasn't too big a distraction for me or the team, and would fit into everything else we're trying to do with the site. We were already working on collectible units (users could already collect 3D things, like Fred the stabber and the Decrypted Orly), and we'll be rolling out those before too much longer. By December, we had also built and tested stuff like a marketplace to sell your units and ways to organize your collection. (Another goal for 2018: create more uses for Shmuckers.)
When the alpha test for mining worked, we said "let's make some gems to reward the miners first." This gem mining thing is a beta test that will help us prove that stuff can be generated/bought/sold/arranged on the website.
Here's what they look like:
You can generate up to 10 (fake) gems by clicking the button. Click and drag to rotate the 3D scene, click on any gem and use keyboard commands to arrange it in the scene. We fussed over the color names and lighting, to make them pretty.
Natural allies with the Digging special
You will notice there's a Marbit in the middle of the scene. That is one of the figures that Lauri Ahonen completed before he moved on, and we happen to have a Gobwin figure done by him, too. They're both very cute. In Erfworld, they're both also natural allies who mine for gems.
Since we're asking you to be our natural allies, it seemed natural to make you a Marbit or a Gobwin as you mine. As soon as you have found your first gem, you will be assigned to one of these tribes for the duration of the contest.
Gems have a point value. Whichever tribe mines the most valuable hoard during the contest will win. Everyone who mined at least one gem for the winning tribe will get a badge and a collectible unit of the winning tribe's type.
There will also probably be some prizes for the top miners of each tribe, but let's get through this initial test before talking about those.
Gems are found by Luckamancy
Mining cryptocurrency is telling your computer to solve hard math problems, in hopes of finding a share of a valid solution (that's not a perfect analogy, but close enough). Like real mining, crypto mining's a combination of work and luck. Letting your processor work as part of our mining pool will earn you shares in the miner, more or less at random.
When I run the Erfworld miner with a GTX 1070, I average about 20 shares an hour. For every hour that your miner finds at least one share in the pool, you earn a spin. The spinner looks like this:
For every share you mined during that hour, you get one chance in 1024 of finding a gem. So even if I run my miner constantly, I would only expect to find one gem every 2 or 3 days. As it is, I mainly run it at night when I'm not using the machine, so I am only getting about one gem a week.
Tools at all levels get a free gem to start
To kick this off, we're giving everyone who has been a Tool in 2018 a free spin, with 1024 chances to find a gem. Claim your spin by clicking the Mine4erf link on your user profile:
Once you find your gem, you'll also find out what tribe you are mining for. If your tribe wins the February contest, then you'll get the unit of that tribe (even if you don't mine). Tribe assignment is random, and weighted to favor the tribe with the lower score.
Sell or buy gems for Shmuckers (just not your only gem)
There is now a marketplace for gems. Gems can only be sold for Shmuckers. The one catch is that you can't offer a gem for sale if that it would leave you with no gems. This will keep the market from being flooded by free gems during the beta.
Some additional notes and rules
Other than the free spin for Tools, the gems are strictly a reward for mining. We've created many pretty gems for ourselves in testing, but we're wiping out our collections (I'm not crying, *you're crying*). Any gems on the market, including any sold by the Titans, will be the result of a fair spin on shares mined in the pool.
The only possible exception I can see is if Xin or Lillian wanted to design a gem and put it up for sale or bidding. Titan-created gems might become an occasional and special thing in the future. But programmatically generated gems for sale by us never will be.
Speaking of auctions, there is currently no built-in way to solicit bids if you're selling a gem. We may build an auction system later, or maybe not. My advice for getting the best price for your gem is to put it up for sale at a ludicrous price so it can be gawked at, then post in the Gems4sale thread in the forums. Reach an agreement with a buyer, and you can re-list your gem at that price and send them a private link.
What if this idea is stupid and fails?
I have to say, even if nobody mines Ethereum for Erfworld, this was worth doing. We've learned and coded a lot of things that will apply to unit collection. The gems are pretty. This is going to be fun, whether it's enough to kill the ads or not.
But if it does finally let me strip all the ads off this website? I will just be like...
Personally, I'm going to keep mining every night, and not just for the sake of dog food. I can't wait to get my real spins for my real gems. (Bandaid and Renter and John have earned some, too.)
So head over to the mining page for instructions on downloading and running the miner. If it's something you want to try out, then we'll see you in the mines!
It occurs to me to wonder if people might want the option of making their miner badges private, so as to avoid the withering scorn of those members who are opposed to crypto currencies on environmental principle.. I’m posting from my phone, and so won’t check this out until I’m at my desktop. I have to admit, the thought of getting a fourth badge is temptingly intriguing.
IF YOU’D JUST MAKE ME SHARPEST TOOL ONE TIME I WOULDN’T BE FACED WITH THESE ETHICAL QUANDARIES!
Interesting idea, and I think I'll give it a try.
As to adblock, I can understand that someone that needs the ad revenue doesn't like it, but the same problems that make is such a pain for the folks at Erfworld is even worse for the end users that are abused by those ads. At least you have some control over the ads, while our only response is to adblock them or suffer whatever they want to do to us.
I've been hit by some of those accursed driveby download ads that install malware on your computer when they load, even if you don't even mouse over them, and I'm not going to let that happen again.
Erfworld has a policy that they only allow family friendly ads that play nice, but as they've said, somethings bad ones slip through. That's why I won't whitelist anyone, because that kind of junk ALWAYS finds a way to slip through on any site. I love Erfworlds policy, and I trust them, it's just that I don't trust the ad providers since they've proven time and again to be unreliable.
So I am willing to look at other means to help them stay afloat and keep making their great stories. I'd go the patreon route if I didn't have such a restricted income. (Something I've been trying to deal with for a while, but so far no real job offers. Sure I've had b.s. ones like move to the other side of the continent for barely above minimum in a very expensive city but only IF we actually decide to hire you, and other similar unreasonable offers.) But that's my problem, not yours. Of course I do share the love and spread word of this comic, but what fan doesn't. :)
I'm babbling too long, but I hope I've been understood. If I have to try and shorten it down, I guess it would boil down to Erfworld has good reasons for disliking adblockers, but the users aren't jerks, we also have valid reasons for using them.
Been reading Erfworld since day one on GitP. Loved every second of the comic. Unfortunately not a tool, but only for lack of resources, and I'll be remedying that as soon as I have the chance. Made an account to make my thoughts on this known.
I absolutely cannot support cryptocurrency, and I think it's a bad idea - obviously I'm not a fan of the environmental fallout either, but frankly I'm more worried that the thing is going to crash or the bubble is going to pop or that there's going to be some damn adware in the mining client that gets into your fans' computers, and then you're going to be in a bad place. I trust you to the ends of the Earth, Rob, I just don't trust Etherium.
To be perfectly honest? I don't know what your exact issue with the Penny Arcade approach is, but run a Kickstarter. Or an Indiegogo, or what have you. Do it each year. I would donate happily, as would many others, I know. You're going to turn a lot of people off with this (you already have turned some off, I see). I understand where you're coming from, but this isn't the way, for whatever little my opinion counts.
Of course, if I'm wrong, more power to you.
Excited for more Erfworld.
I never realized how, uh, upset people got over bitcoin. I never got into it because of technical issues that I didn't want to deal with and the massive bubble that it is.
So I will help for a while, but probably just enough to get assigned to a team, and to get maybe a 2nd gem. Also, I had to cancel my tool-ship in December, so no freebies for me.
I think this will be a great/good short term solution; however I don't think it has a good long term viability. We will see.
Just FYI for the e-coin == energy-waste people.
I wont run through the numbers or talk about the propaganda in detail here, but if you really care about energy consumption: "Immutability is not a waste of energy. Christmas lights are a waste of energy"
I like that you are innovating.
I don't see much point in giving the power company and vidya card makers money so I can give you money when I am happy to just give you money in a much more direct and efficient manor.
Also on the wider cryptobucks issue, why haven't they made the proof of work involve looking for primes or folding protein, etc?
I'm sorry, but... no. just no. for all the reasons already stated by other posters.
For both selfish reasons (I'd like to be able to upgrade/replace my own computer sometime soon, including a reasonably priced graphics card) and more general, my sincere hope is that cryptocurrency dies in a fire ASAP. Alas, it seems likely that we will all perish in the same conflagration - whether that's an overheated GPU market, overheated planet, or both.
On the larger topic - it's good to see Erfworld is exploring other streams of revenue. It might not ultimately get rid of ads, but regardless - it sounds like plenty has been learnt from this experiment already! I'll certainly divert some of my GPU time toward this :)
@cudmaster / @DukeBG - To address your understandable criticisms of crypto in general: Cryptocurrencies do exist that specifically incentivise and support scientific research :) Namely, look into Gridcoin, which rewards BOINC computations and is secured through low energy Proof of Stake, rather than wasteful Proof of Work. Participating CPU / GPUs are directed toward processing the exact things you mention - folding proteins, looking for primes, studying the human microbiome (World Community Grid). Worth looking into if you have an interest in / already donate your computing time to BOINC!
@cudmaster they have. curecoin does folded protiens
And not every crypto is energy wasteful. I support Burstcoin myself, it only requires you to preplot your hard drive with 2/3rds of the equation, then you get the last bit from the server. Energy used is about the amount needed to read a hard drive. https://steemit.com/crypto-news/@outerground/burst-coin-mining-with-your-spare-hard-drive-capacity-low-power-and-geared-for-small-miners
and since we onto it, steemit is a cryptocurrency that you "mine" by making quality posts that get upvoted. A viable option would be to post your news articles also on steemit, and ask people to upvote you there. Or make steemit only posts, like some extra content.. or allow non-tools to access older toolbox bonuses through steemit.
I can't say I'm a fan of this.
The problem you're having is, at its core, a variation of the tragedy of the commons. Open access to your and your team's creativity leads to not the majority of people not paying for it, letting you starve (or stop being self-employed and instead switch to an office job or something).
The tragedy of the commons can broadly be solved in two ways. Either through communal cooperation (Toolbox donations) or by charging for access (yes, ads are a way of charging people money, however indirectly).
A bitcoin moiner shifts things from charging everyone to asking for communal cooperation. It does, however, try to trick people into it by exploiting several shortcomings in the human psyche.
This is a bad thing.
What you're doing is basically disassociating cost and benefit by adding two layers of obfuscation: first, electricity cost is hard to attribute to a single device. This makes it harder to track just how much money we donate through the miner. Second, adding an extra currency (you donated x gems worth) makes it all but impossible to do a reasonable cost-benefit analysis.
Your calculation about you being able to profit from mining by comparing electricity to mined hashes is not only severely flawed (you're missing equipment depreciation, for starters), it also won't hold true for anyone paying higher electricity costs. It's fluff that doesn't address the above concern.
Besides the cost-benefit disassociation, every hash gives you a 1/1024 chance to get a gem: so you can get lucky or unlucky. In other words, you've added gambling to the equation to make it more insidious. You may feel the chances you give are fair, but that doesn't change the core nature of it.
In short, think of casinos. Think of big gaming companies offering lootboxes. These are your bedfellows with this miner as they exploit the very same psychological flaws. You may think yourself fairer than them, and you probably are, but are these really the people you want to be grouped with?
Apart from the moral issues, there are also some economical ones. I've alluded to it before, but direct donations might be more efficient for some people than running a miner (they are for me). The second one is that this at best a short-term solution. Cryptocurrencies are proped up in value because they offer an unregulated investment market, leading to an inflated valuation: they're a textbook investment bubble. Sooner or later the bubble will either collapse under its own weight or be popped by governments, ending your run. Third, you're asking people to donate because people are not donating enough which rarely works out well.
My computer is about 8 years old, so your GTX card is literally 10-20 times faster than mine (I got only 192 cores). Using a vintage graphics card like that would be a waste of energy. I read about how Bitcoins are currently mined by FPGAs that were created specifically for this task, which is why mining Bitcoins with normal PCs is worthless and I believe that this is going to happen to any other cryptocurrency in the very near future as well. Maybe you might want to consider buying such an FPGA as well and switch currencies every once in a while?
Anyway, I hope you can mine as much money out of this as possible.
I take it that Project Wonderful didn't sound all that intriguing either? I never tried it but the system sounds real nice, so if you don't use it then it probably has very little revenue, right?
@JoShoeAh, what makes you think I don't know about Gridcoin, heh? I've been running BOINC for years, of course I do.
The thing is, and I guess I didn't go into it in detail in my previous comment, is that this is literally, just the roundabout way of donating money. You're mining Etherium and chosing donating it to Erfworld. Now, you can also mine it for yourself if you chose. And then you can look into how profitable it is for yourself. And then you'll find out that unless you have a modern-ish video card (like GTX 1080 / Titan, etc), you're likely not even making even with your electricity bill. Don't even think about mining on the integrated motherboard Intel video chipsets (greycat's comment).
And that's the problem. You can look at comments like JadedDragoon's. People won't realize that they'll still be paying, that nothing changed about their spare money; it's just that the payment is going to be hidden in the electricity bill. Coming likely much later.
Electricity cost, of course, can be very different in diferent countries, so anecdotal data isn't even worth bringing to the table. And of course, a person's increase in the electricity bill might not become that big – but so would their contribution to erfworld's crypto-money earnings then be too (likely even lower).
Also: an actual grievance. On the /mine4erf page, in the FAQ-ish section about anti-virus software, please change
evil people sometimes try to hide miners in their stuff so they can get magic Internet points using their ensnared PCs
evil people sometimes try to hide miners in their stuff so they can earn money using their ensnared PCs
Don't downplay this. Don't call this "magic Internet points". You yourselves are doing this as a revenue stream. So this passage feels very dishonest.
That article seems to have one point - that energy spent on cryptocoins secures their value. This is true. Fiat currencies are secured by energy expenditures in military and police. But governments were going to do that anyway, so fiat currencies can free ride on it. And, in fact, cryptocurrencies rely on this too, because users need to be protected from a man with a gun asking for your password. So immutability is a waste of security and energy, when trusted third parties are available.
The quote itself is just an insult to all of us, including Balder. Christmas lights are expressions of art. Erfworld is an art that uses energy because it is hosted on a website. Is Erfworld a waste of energy? You get far enough down the chain of calling something a waste because you don't like it, and nothing worth living for is left. To avoid getting called out for strawmanning, I posit that Christmas lights do have value in terms of happiness, decreasing SAD, and social signaling.
So when criticizing cryptocurrencies, it's best to do it by comparison -- and cryptocurrencies use 5 orders of magnitude more energy per transaction than do credit card networks. Christmas lights use about 5.3 TWh of energy annually in the U.S., and is shrinking due to efficiency increases. ETH uses about 14 TWh, and is rapidly growing. It's designed to avoid efficiency improvements. And Etherium is still small compared to Bitcoin. So, let's address the biggest energy problems first, and then get to smaller economic problems like Christmas lights and art, please.
I have what I feel to be a legitimate and serious concern about this strategy, not for the end-user (us), but for Erfworld.
Cryptocurrencies are horribly vulnerable to speculation flux, meaning the cryptocurrency Erfworld has mined could go from $100/ea to $10/ea overnight. I mean, what was it, two weeks ago when Bitcoin dropped three quarters of its value?
This isn't a problem for the end user, we're just going to be mining and (hopefully) getting gems as per normal, it's just that Erfworld will be out the money if the market shifts. And because Cryptocurrencies are on speculation, that can happen really dang quickly. And if it does, that's a huge problem, because suddenly someone is going to have to make up for that lack of money that was expected, which is probably going to come out of Balder's pocket, because he's honest and honorable and noble like that, despite the fact that it would probably ruin him financially.
That's what I don't want to see. This is an enormous risk on Erfworld's part.
Having said that, you have a point about the ads. I've had to resort to removing the exception for ads on Erfworld's website (you were one of two exceptions I have ever made, by the way, because even though I can't financially donate, I do want to support however I can) as a result of the invasive ads. Granted, running on Linux made it far more obvious for the clickbait crap, since I don't have a windows driver on my computer to update, but between the audio and video and attempted hijacks and redirects... I've had to turn AdBlock back on. I'm sorry, but as much as I want to support you guys, it's just not an option for me anymore.
Here's where I'm supposed to have some brilliant idea that will magically make all the financial problems go away... unfortunately I don't have one. I at least try to make a point of proposing a counter-solution when I disagree with a proposed solution, because just being a naysayer doesn't really help anyone. But I can't think of a legitimate way to generate revenue either.
I do have an idea, but it's probably so far out in left field that it is doubtful that anyone is able to cop that fly, but if we're slinging crap at a wall and hoping a crap golem will spontaneously form, here's my contribution:
Extra History is a side-show of the Extra Credits youtube channel. They got their start by being given some advertising revenue by Creative Assembly to talk about Roman History when their title Total War: Rome II came out. They just called up the Extra Credits crew, told them "Hey, we got some extra advertising budget. We could throw up a few web ads, but instead we're going to throw you some cash, and you can teach about Roman History. Doesn't matter what, you don't even have to mention us, just talk about Rome." Being the cool people they are, they expressed their opinions in their. Since then, Wargaming has come to them, both with one for their World of Tanks (in which they talked about the Battle of Kursk, one of the biggest tank combats in history) and World of Ships (in which they talked about the sinking of the Bismark).
Why do I mention this? Because it shows that there are companies out there willing to think outside the box for advertising, and these companies are right up your alley. Let's face it, most of your fans are gamers. These companies are relevant to the interests of your readers. So, devote space for direct advertising from them, plug them instead of random ads, because at least here you can be sure that the ads a) won't be audio/video, b) will be relevant to the interests of at least the majority of your readers, and c) will help contribute to the end of shady ads by bypassing the ones that are engaging in master-class naughtymancy. And best of all, if you are setting it up personally, you can make it part of the page rather than an ad portal, meaning AdBlock won't block it any more than it would block the permatweets on the right side of the page. So everybody wins. Maybe.
I dunno. I know it's a long shot, but I worry about cryptocurrency's inherent instability hitting Erfworld really hard at the worst possible moment, Murphy's law still being the primary governing force of the universe. I wish I had a better answer, but unfortunately, I'm not a Titan, I'm not even a particularly good Moneymancer. But Cryptocurrency, by my experience, has the Backlash trait, which has the potential to bankrupt your treasury and potentially force the disbanding of everything you have accumulated, and my Loyalty trait is high enough that I feel bound to point this out.