Value for Who?

Over the last couple of years it seems that just about every website that publishes news has integrated a service called Outbrain for reasons I can't quite understand. As one would expect, Outbrain is an advertising platform that puts links to stories from other websites in front of your face in the hopes that you'll click on the asinine drivel that would better fit tabloid sites. Publishers clearly go to great lengths to make the "promoted links" appear almost native in a bid to get people to click and, as Outbrain has been around a decade, people clearly do just that. But who benefits from this arrangement?


Of the sites that I visit for news, be it world or tech, a little more than half make use of services like this. Most of the outgoing links point to content that does not seem to benefit the company using the service and generally makes the content I've just read appear less valuable. Given that most news sites are part of vast media empires, why not have a small development team create a parent-company-specific version of Outbrain that links to posts on other sites based on a series of tags/keywords/whatever so that readers are encouraged to "stay local", as it were? This wouldn't be terribly difficult and it seems to be a common cross-advertising mechanism employed by some of the Canadian news sites that I frequent.

There's no denying that news sites need to earn money in order to remain operational. There's no denying that subscription revenues are generally insufficient to make it possible to ditch the advertising network hooks. This said, there's no denying that by keeping people on the same or related "sister sites" would make it much more likely that people will click the links, load the pages, and be presented with advertisements. I visit the sites I visit because I know the quality of the writing and have confidence that what I'm reading is generally accurate. I won't visit random links that are "promoted" by an external advertising entity because there is no reason to trust that the stuff I'll read will be worth the investment in time and bandwidth.