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Making Money Online: What Works?

When the internet first started taking off in the early 1990s with online portal services such as AOL and CompuServe, it soon became clear that this new ‘online’ medium was providing something traditionally dominated by television, newspaper and radio. Reach. As internet access grew and opened people’s eyes to its possibilities, the reach provided by the information superhighway gave rise to marketing, promotion and sales. The internet was a place to make money online, and if you did things right, you could make a lot.

From side hustles to full-time freelancing, from posting as a hobby on social media to being a full-time influencer, the internet is continually opening new avenues from which to make money. As time goes on, that which was novel and unique becomes mainstream, often diminishing the ability to make as much money as before. So what’s an unexplored or unconventional method to make money online? What works?

Making things easier. This is often regarded as an axiom of entrepreneurship. If you can make people’s lives easier, you’re onto something. Email made it easier to communicate. The iPhone made it easier to browse the web. Uber made it easier to get a taxi. The creator economy is expected to grow considerably, and while it’s understood that being a content creator isn’t necessarily easy, particularly with many influencers burning out, money making opportunities continue to present themselves on social media. So how does one make life easier?

Stream clipping is a trend that’s helped a lot of people monetize their YouTube channels. It works like this:
Step 1: Find a content creator that does regular several hours long live streams.
Step 2: Watch these streams and identify key moments of interest. These could be funny interactions or important announcements.
Step 3: Compile these clips into your own video and upload.

Despite accusations of profiting off someone else’s content, the stream clipper provides a service high in demand. Not everyone has 3 hours spare to watch a full stream but they’re still interested in the best parts. Also contrary to accusations of being a lazy way to make money, it takes a lot of work. The clipper needs to watch the full stream, decide which moments make the cut and then edit. It’s very time consuming.

Some viewers even lobby for stream clippers to get paid by the original content creators. Their argument is that the stream clipper provides a marketing service for the creator. In many cases the argument is valid. Videos compiled by clippers often get more views than the live stream itself, which arguably helps, not harms the creator’s outreach. Given the popularity of watching bite-sized chunks of multiple hour-long streams, stream clipper channels often amass large followings and are able to monetize their channels. As simple as it sounds, however, a strong work ethic and talent is required to make it happen. Only those stream clipping channels that show the most interesting aspects of a long stream are likely to succeed.

Part of the reason why we’re in the throes of the AI revolution is because of AI’s ability to make things easier. Need an article? Ask ChatGPT to write it for you. Want a poem? Get Google Gemini to compose one. Need a YouTube thumbnail? Get an AI art generator to produce one. When it comes to making money online, the AI boom has placed us in a similar situation to the Dot-com bubble of the late 90s/early 2000s.

At the height of the Dot-com bubble in the year 2000 when venture capital money was pouring into internet tech startups, there was an application that one could download onto your desktop called AllAdvantage. It’s tagline was Get Paid to Surf the Web. A viewbar that served ads was placed at the bottom of your screen while you browsed the web. As long as you were actively surfing, the viewbar would serve ads and you’d get paid for it. With a referral scheme in place, some users were able to earn thousands of dollars per month.

AllAdvantage toolbar from the year 2000.
AllAdvantage let people earn money by surfing the web during the late 90s/early 2000s.

As is happening today with AI, people would try to game the system. Applications were built specifically to squeeze money out of AllAdvantage, one of which moved your mouse cursor every few seconds to simulate human web browsing. AllAdvantage would become one of many victims of the Dot-com crash, however attempts to game the system has always remained. Enter SEO manipulation. The launch of Google Adsense in 2003 was equivalent to a gold rush for people who knew how to manipulate Google’s algorithm; what is now referred to as ‘black hat’ tactics. Huge earnings were made through link exchanges, blog post commenting, keyword stuffing and cloaking. Huge amounts of web traffic was driven to newly created sites with the sole intention of maximizing ad revenue.

Although Google has clamped down on these tactics over time with frequent algorithm updates, AI has opened up a new frontier of SEO manipulation. People openly discuss how they’re building niche websites using AI content writing tools, populating their sites with hundreds of pages and articles, serving ads and affiliate links, and managing to rank highly on Google’s search results within a matter of days. A similar phenomenon is occurring on social media platforms as people are relying heavily on AI to generate video content. Thousands of channels are being created, replete with AI-generated content, some of which succeed in getting millions of views and are rapidly monetized. It’s generally understood that this AI ‘gold rush’ period for content creation won’t last forever. Just as using the same SEO manipulation tactics that worked in the 2000s is likely to result in penalties to your website, so too is an over-reliance on low-quality, inauthentic AI-generated video content likely to result in diminished channel reach.

Some money making methods, however, are enduring. One can find a bargain and then sell the product for a higher price on eBay. One can purchase a domain, hold onto it, and sell it to someone looking to build a brand around that name. Despite the possibility of AI putting certain jobs at risk, numerous online freelancing opportunities will remain available. There tend to be short-window opportunities to make a considerable amount of money, exemplified by cryptocurrencies and NFTs, however these opportunities can be fraught with risk. Less risky is the leveraging of AI to create website and social media content, however as more people attempt to take advantage of AI’s capabilities, the intensity of the ‘gold rush’ diminishes. As new platforms and methods of interaction emerge, opportunities will continue to present themselves to make money online. Ultimately, some methods of making money online will continue to work, while some will work for only a short time.

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