Do I have your attention yet?

For the past six months I’ve been using Brave browser exclusively for my personal browsing on my work laptop. I used to have multiple user profiles set up in the standard Google Chrome browser but I wanted an excuse to be using Brave more and I was tired of our corporate Slack messaging tool always opening work web pages in my personal Chrome profile. Brave is based on the open source Chromium which is the foundation of Chrome browser but comes without the Google tie ins and “call home” stuff that increasingly creeps out a lot of people as Google increasingly loses its “Were not evil” shine in the public eye (rightly or wrongly). Since Brave added support for all Chrome extensions it was pretty much a no-brainer to make the switch - very strong ad-blocking, device tracking blocking, etc, etc.

As a bonus Brave has a built-in method for rewarding the 60,000+ publishers already using the Basic Attention Token. The very latest version (currently only in the developer channel) will actually reward users for viewing ads - if you want to see them - and then you can spend those rewards on micropayments to publishers, use them to view other content ad-free, or even cash out from the system. The latter may seem like an invitation to fraud but the reality is the amount you get paid is very small. And since they are not actually giving you money, just tokens in the system it is much easier for Brave to track bad-actors. They seem to be reasonably confident they are doing well at that so far.

This is all still very much uncharted territory but the idea is that by including the content consumers economically in the publisher-advertiser relationship it can blow wide apart the whole notion that everything we see is subsidized by ads over which we have no control, and that virtually no publisher can reasonably expect consumers to pay directly for content. Now Brave can offer consumers an easy way to earn enough credit in the system to make small micropayments to their favorite publishers, and for publishers to offer consumers a choice of ad-supported content or micropayment supported content. Advertisers will provide the bulk of money in the system, although consumers can choose to put additional money into the system should they desire to.

Even better the ads that Brave will show - if desired - will completely shield the privacy of consumers because all the data to determine which ads are shown is confined to the browser itself. So the ad-matching framework is decentralized and there is no opportunity (that I know of) for ad-tracking by external entities. This fits in perfectly with Brave’s user centric privacy model.

Yes the Basic Attention Token is actually one of those new fangled “cryptocurrencies” but due to the nature of the system the average user really doesn’t have to know anything about it at all. BAT is really just an accounting system that offers transparency, accountability, and fungibility of users attention throughout the system and across the world.

Will Brave succeed? I don’t know - as I mentioned it is still early days. As of January Brave was claiming over 5 million monthly average users but so far they don’t appear on websites that track browser usage because it is still pretending to be a regular Chrome browser. This is so that sites don’t start blocking Brave before it has established a large enough user base to make that an unattractive and unpopular proposition.

As far as I know there aren’t many high profile publishers using the Brave system at all - The Guardian, Washington Post, Slate are but so far they aren’t talking about it. They are just registered and able to collect tips from Brave users. When the Brave ads roll out beyond the developer release it’ll be interesting to see how that dynamic changes. I will say In the two years I’ve been tracking it Brave are definitely increasing in profile very quickly. I will be very surprised if Brave is not firmly on the browser map by the end of the year vying for a fifth place with Opera.

I don’t think it will be big publishers like The Guardian that drive the next level of growth - it’ll be the long, long tail of micro-publishers - aka “bloggers” - that are not well served by the other ad networks and probably make very little money anyway. Switching to an alternative ad-network may make sense as Brave have lower overheads and will bring a network of early adopter consumers willing to tip them for content. Add to that issues with Google and others demonetizing some sites they see as risky (rightly or wrongly) and you’ll pick up more people with an incentive to try something new. Brave have also been clever by directly supporting payments to YouTube channels so when you’re watching your favorite vlogger you can send them a tip and it goes to them and not YouTube the website (aka Google).

Oh and it helps that Brave have a very substantial war chest of money (tens of millions of dollars) earmarked for “user growth” which they achieving by giving early adopters who install Brave a small amount of credit to tip content publishers. I’ve already tipped more money using Brave than I ever spent in my life for non-video online content.

And it also helps that Brave have a mobile browser app for Android and iOS too which they have largely been marketing as a way to save on bandwidth and cut down battery use due to the ad and script blocking features. However eventually it seems like Brave could also offer a sensible mechanism to deliver ads to mobile since if I’m ever going to voluntarily watch ads on mobile it will be if someone is paying me to watch it!

Written on March 26, 2019