Salon Wants to Borrow Your Computer to Mine Cryptocurrency

The liberal news outlet, seeking new revenue, is now asking its ad-blocking readers to donate their computers’ processing power to help mine crypto cash. Strange times, indeed.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

If you want to read Salon and you don’t want to deal with ads, you’ll have to agree to get into the cryptocurrency business.

On Sunday night, the famously liberal site began testing a new formula: If non-subscribers using ad-blocking software want to read the publication, they’ll dedicate part of their processing power to help Salon mine Monero, a popular cryptocurrency.

“We want to be able to take a little bit of control back,” Salon CEO Jordan Hoffner told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “And I can’t wait for someone else to come up with a solution for me. So we did it ourselves.”

As digital advertising revenue has brought in less revenue than many digital media organizations have hoped, some outlet have begun experimenting with how blockchain technology can improve and help fund newsrooms.

Mining cryptocurrency is essentially a way of agreeing to share your computer’s processing space on the “blockchain” platform, the technological backbone of cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrencies rely on processors to solve complex mathematical calculations to approve transactions, which is how users to win or “mine” currencies. Larger user pools—like the one Salon is experimenting with—increase the chance of solving the equations and winning currency.

According to the company, Salon has enlisted or “pooled” readers’ computers to mine Monero, a privacy-focused coin, and other cryptocurrencies.

The site laid out what it views as strict rules of operation: It would only mine cryptocurrencies while users are on the Salon page, and would require users to opt in every 24 hours.

Though Hoffner would not release specifics, the CEO said mining cryptocurrency will yield a number of benefits for the publication’s actual journalism. Longform reporting would be encouraged, he claimed, as the outlet could potentially mine more currency if users spend longer periods of time viewing the site.

Hoffner said that the site would build a portfolio of cryptocurrencies, and then “figure out what we want to do with it,” eventually turning some into dollars.

Several experts like New York University finance professor David Yermack said that although the idea was interesting, there were obvious drawbacks.

He pointed out to The Daily Beast, via email, that mining has the tendency to slow down computers, using a lot of energy, and could put wear on an individual’s machine by using extra processing.

Further, it may not be a particularly lucrative revenue stream.

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A small network of users with ad-blocking software installed likely would not yield significant returns or compete with larger, more advanced crypto-mining operations. Advanced and increasingly sophisticated cryptocurrency mining operations have thrived in countries with access to cheap power (Hoffner said he was aware of the potential environmental impact of encouraging Salon’s eco-friendly readership to use more energy).

“Overall, this is a pretty inefficient way to mine cryptocurrency compared to locating next to a hydroelectric dam or geothermal source of abundant, essential ‘free’ electricity,” Yermack said.

Salon CEO Hoffner said the company has not experienced security issues, and is not worried about the current user experience, noting that the website first tested the mining tactics on its own staff, their friends, and their families. Hoffner further noted that he did not experience a considerable slowdown.

“I was listening to Sonos, doing a Powerpoint presentation, chatting on iMessage, and watching a YouTube video all at once, and I saw no discernable difference,” he asserted.

The CEO emphasized that the company—one of the oldest digital-media news publications—needed to experiment to stay afloat in an increasingly volatile media market.

“We’re trying something innovative to combat a problem that's going to get bigger and bigger,” Hoffner said. “Maybe it's works, maybe it doesn't, but it's worth a shot.”