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Bubblr’s Steve Morris on fixing the internet’s economic model

The chief technology officer discusses how his company is developing an alternative funding system for the web.

Steve Morris believes the economic model underpinning the internet is broken. The problem, says Morris, is that the adtech ecosystem that supports many of the world’s largest websites is too opaque and prohibitively expensive. As chief technology officer of Bubblr, he is developing an alternative economic model for the internet that is designed to make it easier for businesses of all sizes to reach their customers. We spoke to him about Bubblr’s plans.

Can you set out what you see as the key problems with the internet’s current economic model?

First of all, adtech is profoundly inefficient and expensive. Research has shown that up to 50 per cent of your programmatic ad spend is going to middlemen. The vast majority of small businesses have never spent money with the largest players in the industry because it’s too complicated and too expensive. The other major issue is fraud. Online advertising fraud costs businesses as much as $8.2bn a year, and is estimated to grow to $100bn per year in a couple of years.

Fundamentally, the adtech model is broken. That’s before we even get to the moral issues about the way it works in terms of using and abusing your behavioural data. People have become more and more aware of how insidious that is. I would suggest it is the root cause of fake news, misinformation, online hate and radicalisation. Much online content is more interested in getting clicks or eyeballs rather than giving you the information you are looking for.

Could you tell us a little about your vision for Bubblr?

We’re providing the toolset to build a just internet. An internet that decentralises profits. An internet that consecrates citizens’ rights to privacy. An internet that levels the playing field for businesses – and combats social and cultural division.

Our flagship, patented search protocol is a critical element in that toolset. Our anonymity-first internet search mechanism reimagines the way we search for goods and services. We pair users and providers exactly – while keeping all searchers anonymous and all providers equal. Citizens can search for goods and services, pick providers and engage with them – without ever sharing their own personal information. They don’t even need to register. All providers pay a flat subscription fee to use the service. We don’t take any commission on sales. As the platform is deliberately designed for easy use, big companies don’t get an upper hand with larger ad budgets or sharper digital marketing skills.

In a nutshell, this means citizens’ data can’t be exploited for advertising. Providers can’t be extorted for big advertising budgets. 

Our proposition is designed to be sustainable and work for three different cohorts: the consumers who want to search and find out stuff; the businesses who want to be able to access marketing leads; and then content providers who want to be rewarded for producing quality content.

We’ve created a patent that will allow us to create solutions for multiple different industries. However, our first application of this tech will be our ad-free network.

Before the internet came along, the way to get marketing leads was Yellow Pages and classified ads in local newspapers. What our technology delivers is essentially a supersonic version of classified ads – a cross between classified ads and Tinder. But here the consumer is king. They don’t give any personal information; they don’t even have to register. A bit like using Tinder, they can swipe left and right. They can search for stuff and find who they want to engage with, without giving any personal information away.

So mobile devices are profoundly different to desktops and all the traffic is moving towards mobile. So the way we deal with that is different. We don’t want to use the keyboard. We don’t really use search boxes. What we want to have is just mobile controls. We’re just using tap controls to do very, very specific searches for what you want. We don’t take a commission from sales; advertisers simply pay a monthly subscription fee to be listed.

What are the next steps in terms of making this vision a reality?

We’re in the process of changing from being a UK start-up to a US-listed business. Our next stage now is to move on to the next exchange, which we expect to be Nasdaq. We’re also in the process of raising significant investments. Rik Willard, now our CEO, initially came on board as our chief strategy officer. The first thing he said was “you’re doing this wrong”. Okay, how are we doing it wrong? Rik said: “Forget about developing these apps yourselves. What you need to do is to build an open-source platform to rally together the open-source community who will be able to see applications far beyond what we’re able to imagine. That’s how we can bring this vision into reality.” So we’re in the process of doing that now. We intend to establish a separate ventures arm to engage with and contribute to the open-source community. 

How do you plan to make money from open-source development?

The big advantage we have is we’ve got patents on it. So as soon as somebody monetises an application by using our technology, we benefit from the licence fee. We’re revamping our platform right now. So the first iteration of the launch of the open-source platform, which won’t be complete but will be enough for people to start using it, will be at the end of Q2 2022. Watch this space.

Thanks Steve – and best of luck.

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