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Ben Lovy
Ben Lovy

Posted on

Ads In Your Linters

There has been some discussion on Reddit and likely Twitter/HN/elsewhere about this topic, but I hadn't seen it come up here yet.

The problem: standard, a widely used and highly opinionated linter for JavaScript, recently started including advertisements served straight to your terminal when you install the tool, as reported by ZDNet. Check out that article for a screengrab of a banner that gets served, pushing LogRocket.

Naturally, this is controversial. One one hand, some of these OSS projects are underfunded, and need to monetize more effectively if they hope to continue providing value. On the other hand, there's now ads in your freaking terminal too. Do you want these clogging up your CI/CD logs? Is this yet another step towards the dystopia of cyberpunk hysteria? Or, is it just not a big deal? We can choose to use or not use this product, and should do so and move on without getting up in arms.

How do you feel about this practice? Will you be removing standard from your toolset as a result? How should the ecosystem as a whole handle this idea?

I don't write a ton of JavaScript, but when I do I generally have used standard. I'm still not sure whether or not this news will change that preference.

Photo by Darren Chan on Unsplash

Top comments (48)

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rumkin profile image
Paul Rumkin

I think this is not controversial decision it's an adware. And community should fight back such practices.

I made two proposals to NPM to prevent such behavior and to enhance UX for developers who want to monetize their work:

It's better to protect against such things in the future.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

I wish I could extra-like a comment - that's the sort of proactivity required. I have no experience with npm governance - what does the proposal process look like after this point?

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rumkin profile image
Paul Rumkin • Edited on

It was the first time I participated to NPM community, so maybe I'm missing something. But in short words idea section, where my proposals published, is for discussion and voting for some raw ideas. And as I've just figured out I needed to promote mine better. Well this section is for discussion only and has no restrictions or requirements.

Also you can create an RFC, which requires more strict form, and then make a PR to npm/rfcs itself. Its' README describes the process in details. RFC will be reviewed by NPM contributors and it seems a better approach to make things done.

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kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman

My not-so-metered opinion is that all ad tech should burn in fire. TV ads, internet ads, mobile app ads, even billboards off the highway. This is no exception.

I suppose I object to ads on a philosophical level. (Especially in the US where physical ads are everywhere.) Ads are someone's attempt at enticing or tricking me into doing something I wouldn't normally do. It's the same as spam email.

People will commonly say: but ads are a way to pay for the service/app. To which I say: instead, make an app/service that I want to pay for. If it adds enough value to my life, I will pay for it. If it doesn't, then I probably won't miss it.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

If it adds enough value to my life, I will pay for it.

If only this were true for everyone else as well, perhaps it'd be more viable. Seems the unfortunate truth is that advertising tends to work, despite our cognizance.

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kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman • Edited on

Yes, I seem to be a minority there. I have never bought anything through an ad that I can recall. The only interesting thing that ads have done for me (once in a blue moon) is announcing a new product that I happened not to hear about.

Otherwise, if a company wants me to buy something, they just have to make a solid quality product. And it will bubble up to the top when I am looking/researching for that kind of product/service.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

That's just it, though - I feel I could make the same statement. I think I subconsciously make product decisions based on just living in an ad-saturated world, even if I'm not actively making that connection in the moment, which is part of why encroaching on the terminal sounds so odious to me. It's subtle, which makes it nefarious.

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kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman • Edited on

I agree. And I take active steps to block ads in my entertainment (including paying for no ads), web browsing, and app choices. They don't yet have spam-filtering sunglasses for physical ads, though.

Edit: But yeah it just seems wrong to have ads at the level of the terminal. I'm still aggravated with Microsoft for gathering telemetry at that level.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Do I smell a unicorn?!

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qm3ster profile image
Mihail Malo

Doesn't this suggest we end up "paying" more than we'd agree to, when viewing the ads?

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

I think the idea is that advertisement as a concept becomes less important.

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kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman • Edited on

And it's kindof a vicious cycle when you are intending to influence or trick someone. Ad tech is pioneering the way for how mass surveillance/profiling/phishing should work.

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dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

I don't like the idea at all, but I think the experiment ending in qualified failure is about the best outcome that could have been hoped for. The solution is obviously unworkable at scale; Feross gets a little funding to soothe the sting of making the internet mad at him for a day; and more people are paying attention to the sustainability issues endemic to the open source scene.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Yep, it does seem like this case is tying up in a pretty satisfying manner. However...

more people are paying attention to the sustainability issues endemic to the open source scene.

This is definitely nowhere near a new problem, or a new conversation. I'm very much an outsider, but it seems like increased awareness and conversation isn't as effective as it could be about actually shifting the status quo.

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dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

Increased awareness is certainly a marginal improvement at best. But I don't think there was ever any chance of ads in standard being the lucky pebble that turns the struggles and discontents of maintainers, contributors, and users into the kind of avalanche that might reshape the politics of software development.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Hah, well, true enough.

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I don't like it, but this is a case where I'd also point to this library being MIT licensed and it is nice that if enough people disagreed with their approach, they could fork it. The beauty of open source.

I think it's about thoughtfulness here. I wouldn't be opposed to a Wikipedia-style annual fundraising effort made possible through this kind of message in the terminal. E.g. Once in a while they hit you with a prompt to donate. You're free to ignore and it's transparent that this will happen once and a while and it's a reasonable approach to sustainability.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

they could fork it

True enough - someone just went and did it for GIMP, taking offense at the (rather unfortunate) acronym. Curious to see how that goes for them. The danger is always fragmentation, but a tool like standard (or GIMP for that matter) is so entrenched that maybe it's the right option - just let people make their own choice, without having to sacrifice much utility.

Do you happen to know how well the Wikimedia folks do with that approach? I agree, it's respectful, unobtrusive, and undeniably necessary, but it also seems like a never-ending uphill battle for their operation just to stay afloat. I can absolutely understand product developers not eager to jump on that train. Wiki's web of products are the end goal whereas standard is just supposed to fit into your set of tools somewhere along the pipeline so you can get the actual job done.

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jwkicklighter profile image
Jordan Kicklighter

Here are my thoughts:

  • Putting ads in an open-source project is fundamentally against the mindset of open-source.
  • If you cannot maintain an open-source project, you don't have to. Pass the baton, if that's what it takes. I wouldn't encourage this, but it's always an option.
  • We as a community can and should do better at supporting the big open-source projects (or at least the ones without corporate backing).

For that last bit, product ads are completely unacceptable. That said, and this may be controversial, I don't see a problem with a maintainer adding a message somewhere mentioning that there is a way to support the project through code/money contributions. Many developers may not consider how much time/effort is saved by these projects, and small messages provide an opportunity to educate and promote change. Ads to use a company's product are in no way acceptable.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

We as a community can and should do better

The next step is how, exactly. It seems the majority will always use free software for free, but time and skill are never going to become less expensive. I agree, I fully support maintainers publicizing ways to contribute, and I also agree that ads of this style are unacceptable, but asking kindly is still clearly inadequate. How do we incite a larger percentage of users to vote with their wallets, not just their downloads?

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jwkicklighter profile image
Jordan Kicklighter

Perhaps the answer isn't getting more individual users to contribute monetarily, but encouraging businesses to? How you start that practice, I'm unsure.

Maybe we also try continuing the trend of encouraging users to contribute time into the project. By lessening the burden of the core maintainer(s) while simultaneously paying them cash from businesses benefiting from the tech, we attack the problem from both sides.

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jeikabu profile image
jeikabu • Edited on

I'm not privy to the sentiment on the interwebs, but my reaction is: "ewww...". As a guy with bills I can sympathize with the devs, however. If there's a way to go ad-free for a recent contribution (be it monetary or a PR), can't blame them too much. The old versions are presumably still ad-free, and if it was open source I assume it's been forked.

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rumkin profile image
Paul Rumkin

I'm strongly agree with you, if developers would check their dependencies, we would never have got to the dependency hell we got today.

And TBH there is no problem with open source monetization because there never had been such social contract. For me it's all about unspoken agreements and what happens when people break them.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited on

I'm glad they ended the experiment.

That said, I feel like a similar feature that requires an opt-in from the user might actually be worthwhile. I'd suspect that a number of developers (myself included) wouldn't mind deliberately opting in to an occasional non-intrusive terminal ad, especially one displayed during a download progress screen, because we'd know it's financially supporting the project.

However, for that to work:

  • Again, it would HAVE to be opt-in only. You should be able to change your mind whenever, and just toggle a flag in the settings to opt-in or opt-out.
  • No tracking. Ads are the same for everyone; possibly match categorically to what's being installed.
  • No cluttering logs.
  • Clean and non-instrusive; text-only. Clearly marked as an advertisement.
  • No additional actions to dismiss the ad.
  • Ads should be screened to weed out scams and creepy stuff.
  • Keep ads relevant to development and productivity.

The way they appear to have done it, it was an idea with some potential, done badly.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

As thoughtfully implemented as this, I may even have happily opted in. The issue has never been about whether these projects need financial support, of course, but these details matter.

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dylanesque profile image
Michael Caveney

Abso-fucking-lutely not. The last thing any of us needs is more noise in our console output.

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ajinspiro profile image
Arun Kumar

My opinion is against ads. Monetization should be like pay-to-use, not by showing ads. Nothing is free, if you want to use a tool, you have to pay for it - that is only legit. Putting ads to hijack user's attention and keeping them thinking about random products is not good.

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gayanhewa profile image
Gayan Hewa

OSS development is in majority of the case under funded. Most of these Type I initiatives are done purely for personal gratification. Having ads is fine in my personal opinion, but we can introduce better ways to monetize these efforts.

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lexlohr profile image
Alex Lohr

Simple solution for open source creators who need ad revenue: have a really great documentation on your side and add the ads there and not in the terminal.

And the first (and maybe only) ad you should add is a link to Patreon or something similar. People will give you money if they are happy with your work they use and you ask politely.

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deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author

Ah, thanks Neil! I'm perennially behind the times, it seems... and not at all surprised, but a part of me feels its a matter of time before a similar experiment hits npm.

 
deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy Author • Edited on

it may be worth the damage to the brand to discover new paying customers.

I imagine this was already the calculus employed when making this decision in the first place. I'm curious about where the tipping point is. Is there a point where this choice happens so frequently that the community stops bothering with the backlash and just accepts it as cost of doing business?

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johnb21 profile image
Johnb21

The nice thing about open source is you have people who can fork a project and remove the things they don't want. I am not entirely sure how this would be something that could last too long because standard will just get forked and everyone will migrate there.

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