And the rising economy of Basic Attention Tokens
It takes courage to surf the web in a surveillance society, and often the source of that courage is strong encryption. Historically, strong encryption has remained out of reach for the average user. Is that changing now that tools like the Brave browser are making encryption accessible, while also enabling web access to be safer and faster?
When so much of our activities are based on internet connectivity, Brave embraces the vision of the expanded web browser. In telling Chrome to fork off, they’re charting a different course for an app (i.e. the web browser) that we spend many hours a day using. Can Brave carve out lost time amidst our surfing, saving us minutes if not hours? They claim they can, because their software is faster, and the removal of ads dramatically speeds up the browsing experience.
This issue of Future Tools builds off our first, which looked at Keybase, and our third, which focused on Tor (and the so called dark web). Like Keybase, Brave makes the use of encryption easy, and also operate their own cryptocurrency. Brave also makes it easy for people to use Tor, connect to the dark web, or just protect your surfing and web history.
Metaviews member Corvin Russell posted a comment on our Tor issue mentioning the Brave browser. Similarly Metaviews member Felix Stalder has been regularly tweeting about Brave. This is partly why I see so much value in the Metaviews network. Together we help each other become smarter.
2019 was a crazy whirl of breakthroughs for the San Francisco based startup. In 12 months, Brave officially launched its browser following a long beta, it’s rolled out its Basic Attention Token to a score of countries, and it’s enlisted 350,000 publishers on its Brave Rewards platform. Just last month, Brave browser’s user base hit 10 million—admittedly, that’s not a patch on the billion plus users of Google’s Chrome browser, but hey, they took a decade to get there.
It feels disingenuous to call Brave a browser, when it’s ambitions seem to extend well beyond what we’d associate with web browsing. Instead this is a company that seeks to disrupt the disruptors. They want to change the business model for the media industry, and they see the web browser as the vehicle to do so. Or at least start.
Brian Bondy is another Mozilla veteran and is based in rural Southwestern Ontario. They started Brave five years ago, and are now finding their stride, while offering a timely vision of how the web could work.
On the one hand, this includes privacy by default. On the other hand, this means an advertising system that incentivizes people to view ads, rather than compelling them to.
Which is why I have trouble describing Brave as a browser. Is it software? Is it an attention marketplace? Is it an ecosystem? Is it a society? Perhaps the answer depends upon the value of currency?
We’re still in the relatively early days of cryptocurrency and the digital transformation of money, yet we may be reaching the point in which some of these emerging systems scale or fail.
In Brave’s case, they’ve created their own currency, $BAT, or Basic Attention Token, which is itself based on the Ethereum blockchain network.
BATs are rewarded to Brave users for a growing range of activities, primarily viewing ads, but also promoting Brave and encouraging others to use the software, or network, or service, whatever it is we believe Brave to be.
While anyone can create a currency, that currency’s value is reflected in the ability to earn and spend that currency.
On the one hand, Brave is trying to transform the media industry by both changing how ad networks operate (so as to be consensual and respectful of users privacy and attention) as well as how content creators get paid for their work. This also incentivizes people to use Brave, as content creators won’t receive payment unless they too are part of the network.
On the other hand, Brave is also increasing the value of their currency and the reach of their network by establishing partners who will accept $BAT as payment.
All of this sounds great, but it does raise the question of how such an economy or marketplace is playing out. Part of what is confusing or sketchy about the emergent cryptocurrency market is that there are so many of them.
While Brave certainly appears to offer an interesting value proposition to advertisers, web surfers, and content creators, who are the people embracing and using it?
No surprise that the early adopters of cryptocurrency driven distributed systems tend to be other proponents of cryptocurrency driven distributed systems. Nothing wrong with that as it reflects a growing ecosystem, in so far as there’s substance to be found somewhere.
However when part of the mandate is advertising and funding content, the crucial question is what is the content being funded.
The question of who uses and benefits from such a network is crucial when deciding whether to support it.
Brave is certainly worth keeping tabs on, especially as they move forward with their cryptocurrency plans, making it easy for users to not only use $BAT, but other currencies as well. Though that may create conflict with their users who desire privacy or anonymity.
Although Brave is not the only option for finding courage. There are many alternatives, with more emerging daily.
Brave is a “fork” of Chrome. I.e. it shares some of the same software with Google’s web browser, which is open source. What’s great about open source software is that anyone can create a fork. Thankfully many people have.