Those of you familiar with my ramblings here on Chrome Unboxed are likely keen to the fact that I am a huge fan of Dark Mode’s on just about everything. Ever since the late 90’s and the release of the NeoPlanet browser, I have favored draping a dark look on my browser and that look is something I favor to this day.
From YouTube to Chrome OS and everything in between, if I can have a dark theme in front of me, I do. Even now, my mobile is skinned with the Nova launcher mimicking the look of Pixel 2 with the dark theme enabled.
So, when the creator of the Morpheon Dark theme for Chrome emailed me this week asking if his story sounded interesting enough to share, I immediately gave him my full and undivided attention. The short answer is YES, Jeremy’s story is not only exceptionally interesting but the Cinderella story that is Morpheon Dark carries with it an even deeper message about the not-so-happy side of open-sourced software such as that found in the Chrome Web Store among others.
As I contemplated how I would share Jeremy’s story, I struggled with how to properly deliver the happenings with the pureness and genuineness that he spoke it to me. Therefore, with his permission, I give you Morpheon Dark’s history as it was given to me.
From the source.
Part 1: The Story
I have been a Google Chrome user since launch, but due to its early lack of themes and extension support, was primarily still a die-hard Firefox user. But once Google rolled out theme support in 2009, I decided I’d try to convert fully.
One problem with my transition was the early available Chrome themes. Mainly, the lack of any simple & minimalist black themes, like I had used for years in Firefox. Rather than wait, I decided to do some research and create a theme for myself. I never really bothered to publish it on the theme store, I just had to drag the .crx file I had made off my USB drive to any new computers I used.
However, in early 2011, I was selected as one of the very lucky few who received the first Chromebook, the CR-48.
By then, Google had rolled out Chrome Sync, and in order to use my self-made theme, I had to register as a Chrome developer and post my theme online.
Now. I cannot stress enough that I did the ABSOLUTE minimum amount of work required to have my theme published. I added no real description, hastily resized photos, no contact info, etc. Basically, I just wanted to sync my theme to sync over to my new Chromebook. And then I went back to forgetting about it.
Over the years, the theme had zero updates (excluding any changes Google required developers to do over the years to keep their themes active), and one that let it scale correctly with any resolution. And that’s where I left it… back in 2011.
Until last year, when I received this entirely random message on Twitter.
Apparently, despite my lack of contact info, this person figured out my Twitter name was the same as my Gmail. Tracked me down, and took the time to write this (not yet possible) request.
But, out of curiosity, I found my old Google Developer login, and hopped on to check the theme… and what I found blew me away. I had over 1 million active users and 4000+ 4.5-star reviews.
Somehow, just over time, my theme had somehow floated to the top to become the most actively used chrome theme in the world. Today, with 1.8 million current users and nearly 7,000 4.5 star reviews, it still is. In the last 3 months, it has been installed in every country in the world in which Google Analytics tracks.
I decided to set up a website for support requests, (Morpheondark.com), and last November, after losing my job, I threw a couple Google ads on there, and manage to get $6-10 a day from them. My theme has been consistently in the top editors choice list, as well as the #1 in the dark theme category since.
That’s insanely impressive considering Jeremy just wanted to make a theme that worked for him. Even now, there are themes in the Web Store created by developers who do this for a living and their installs fail to come close to that number.
After a little back and forth with Jeremy, I asked him if there was anything he would like to add to this amazing story. His answer was equally as humbling as Morpheon Dark’s rise to fame.
Because of the massive popularity, Jeremy has been frequently approached by companies wanting to monetize his theme. Now, don’t get me wrong, monetization isn’t a bad thing but the method is what matters. What these “companies” were offering with their “partnerships” reveals the shady side of advertising, data mining and even the methods in which some will go to get malware, adware and spyware onto the devices of millions for their own personal gain.
Part 2: A tale of Caution
I will share a short excerpt from one of the companies that approached Jeremy about “partnering” with him to leverage his theme’s popularity.
My name is (rep name) and i represent Oxygen media Group . We would like to build a partnership with your company and we are here to increase your revenue by adding our google home page product to monetize your visitors with google brand name. Am attaching our google home page product details in this email . Please have a look and let us know if you are interested to partner with us .
Waiting for your reply
Okay, so this could be a third-party advertising company that manages platforms like Adsense or others. We get emails daily from these ad management companies and many of them are legit, they’re just trying to get their piece of the pie by playing middle-man and taking the workload off of the publisher.
I said “could be” but it isn’t. Here’s a simplified look at what companies like this are really offering.
What you’re seeing is a spoofed Google Search page and its purpose could range from data mining for targeted advertising to infinite redirects or even highjacking your browser and holding your device hostage until you complete certain tasks or even pay for a “fix.” The more malicious versions of these types of “applications” have even been found to snatch personal data like email addresses, credit card info or even social security numbers.
Most of us have been victim to these types of spamware, adware and such over the years and unfortunately, users aren’t even safe on many reputable sites. Sadly, some of the worst are children’s websites where you would assume you’re safe from these types of intrusive apps but advertising is a billion-dollar business and many companies will go to great lengths to get your data and use it to serve you demographic-specific ads.
Developers of browsers like Chrome, FireFox, MSFT Edge and more are continuing to improve their platforms to protect against these types of unwanted attacks but your computer is only as safe as you make it and makers of malicious and intrusive software will keep finding new ways to get their code running on your machine. If not directly through we browsing then by other means like extenstions, web apps and yes, even themes.
Many companies, like the one that contacted Jeremy, are legitimate entities with the intention of mining your data and selling it to advertisers. The problem is transparency, or the lack thereof.
“Install our custom search bar and we’ll make sure you never miss the best deals.”
Translation: Down in the tiny fine print that no one reads are the details of how we’re going to sell your data to third-parties and use your personal browsing history to show you what WE want you to see.
Before you crucify me, yes, Google does this very type of targeted advertising but they don’t do so without your permission. I know that very few of us actually read the TOS when we allow access to our devices but it’s there and Google uses the info to offer pertinent, user-focused content. No malicious intent, no shady practices.
Are they making money? Absolutely. Google has crossed over into the $100 Billion dollars a year revenue bracket and you can believe that at least 80% of that is from advertising revenue. Again, it boils down to business practices and the transparency of said practices.
Many makers of subtly presented adware have little concern about offering you the “best web experience.” They simply want to sell your data to the highest bidder.
The moral of the story?
Alas, we are all left to our own devices when it comes to downloading themes, apps, extensions or what have you and the “buyer beware” rule applies in great force.
The best rules of thumb are to never download or install anything unless you know exactly what you’re getting. As much of a pain as it may be, take time to read the fine print. You’ll be surprised to find that some of your favorite applications are taking more of your info than you’d expect but you let them.
Speaking of fine print, if there isn’t any, run away. Developers that lack detailed info about their apps including change logs, contact info or possibly a website usually fall into one of two categories. The first being lack of support which isn’t a crime but it really stinks when you find a great app just to see it abandoned by its creator.
The other? That would be the ones who have malicious intents. If an app has a serious lack of info, I’d steer clear just to be safe.
I say all of these just to come back full circle to Jeremy and the Morpheon Dark theme.
In the last few months, I have been approached by several “questionable” companies, most asking me to “partner” with them, redirected home pages, or some other form of crap. The latest company to reach out estimated $5-9k a month. Sure, I could destroy my theme and rake in some much needed cash, but, despite a recent divorce (and being in between jobs.), as well as the need for a car that isn’t dying, I still refuse to monitize on a product that I know is popular because it is minimalist.
I’m sure this story has happened countless times to developers, but it was eye opening to me as just a tech guy. I realized THIS is why we can’t have nice things. This is why so many great and simple apps over the years have become bloated with ads, bundled with Java, hijack your home page, etc. It’s simple greed.
And my dislike for that is exactly the reason I ended up making something for myself – and then somehow became something that a lot of people use and enjoy.
Jeremy B. creator of Morpheon Dark
I lack the ability to expound on Jeremy’s sentiments here so I won’t even make an attempt. All I can say is that Morpheon Dark and Jeremy’s story is awe-inspiring but not as much as the reflection of humility and integrity in his words.
If you’d like to check out Morpheon Dark and support Jeremy’s vision, you can do so at his website found at the link below.
Jeremy would never ask for himself but after a bit of coercing, I was able to get a Square Cash link from him. I am not pandering for tips but at the same time I feel that with 1.8 million installs, there are likely some that would like to show Jeremy their appreciation and even assist in the continued upkeep of Morpheon Dark.
Below is a link to send Jeremy a little something to show your support of you are so inclined to do so. It is his Square Cash link and any and all tips will go directly to him.