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It can be easy, in the era of just a handful of megaplatforms, to forget that the internet used to be a much more decentralized place, where things went viral across disparate platforms and websites and forum threads, rather than within a single one.

But with a small handful of exceptions, the advertising riches never really materialized.

There are many reasons for this — for one thing, it’s tough to sell a high-quality ad experience to executives at Coca-Cola when you first have to explain what a meme is and why it’s “viral.” On top of all that, there are reams of porn, hate speech, copyright infringement, and more porn floating around on these platforms, easily accidentally placed adjacent to a company’s studiously inoffensive ad.

(Other experiments in monetization, like premium options, never caught on: It’s tough to generate revenue when your most active user base is too young to have a steady income.) Even once the timeline became open to advertising, it was tough to find clients willing to brave the sometimes-porny waters of the Tumblr Dashboard.

Since it joined Yahoo, the site has started displaying low-quality “chum”-style ads in between user posts on the Dashboard.

Twitter steers a huge portion of online culture, and has become an essential water cooler and newswire for journalists, tech workers, and otaku Nazis, but still has trouble turning a profit.

Twitter itself shuttered its service Vine after just four years, even though the six-second-video social network had created more ubiquitous catchphrases and viral videos than any other social network over the same period.

What makes these sites so friendly to creative expression?

To begin with, there’s a focus on frictionless, near-immediate sharing — making posting hassle-free.

Reddit, the so-called “front page of the internet,” has been unable to fully capitalize on its enormous audience and influence, even after being purchased by Condé Nast (which it then spun out again; Condé Nast is very careful to specify that it own Reddit, though its parent company Advance Publications is a majority stakeholder).

4chan, whatever else you might think of it, is probably the most influential single website of the last decade, but its owner Hiroyuki Nishimura has said he is likely to shut it down.

There are signs that the internet-culture machines are finding ways to make themselves sustainable: You Tube is not shutting down anytime soon, but pre-roll ads weren’t doing the job, and now it has a premium subscription service in order to collect revenue directly from users.

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