Doubling down on horrible: An advertising for the rest of us

David Karp wanted to make blogging software that didn't suck and didn't require any writing. Y'know, like Twitter, but without so many words.

[Wordpress] for me, who doesn't really enjoy writing, it wasn't the right tool.

- David Karp

As a self-respecting person in his 20s, he also understood that ads, mostly traditional advertising sludge that is the soylent green of huge sections of TV, radio, print and the Internet, are not exactly the worst thing in the world, but still something to run in the opposite direction of as fast as humanly possible.

Question: David, where is all the money going to come from?

David: Unicorns.


Seven-ish years later a horrible idea emerges which technically doesn't fall into the world of traditional advertising, but still is horrible:

Highlighted Posts:

"Today you’ll have a new option to Highlight those extra-important posts. For one dollar, your post will stand out in the Dashboard with a customizable sticker to make sure your followers take notice!"

Tumblr's move to ads wouldn't normally be noteworthy because everyone could see it coming a million miles away. So, what is notable? Mark and the gang at Facebook decided they wanted to take the idea global.

The system that fosters the noise and engineered the opaque algorithms to find the lost signal will now let you pay to inject noise back in. So good, no wonder it's number one.

People’s lives are being run by stupid algorithms more and more,” Lanier says. “The only ones who escape it are the ones who avoid playing the game at all.

Some people compare this kind of behavior to the way some people treat hamsters, but I've never met anyone who ever treated hamsters this bad.


On a grander scale, and also wrapped up in this, is my belief that advertising, as an industry and practice, does far more harm than good in society. And a belief that advertising comes from a deeply unethical place, and that fundamental orientation distorts everything it touches.

- Peter Merholz

2012 is shaping up to be the year of paid inclusion.