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Oliver Sauter
Oliver Sauter

Posted on

Learnings from integrating WebMonetizations in Memex

Why WebMonetizations

"A lie can travel half-way around the world before the truth has its pants on" - Mark Twain (Source)

For us, scaling WebMonetizations means that there is finally a way for online creators and curators to be paid for their contributions to the global knowledge pool.
It's a critical instrument in creating economic incentives for the production and distribution of quality content.
Without these incentives there is no chance to counter the sheer amount of low quality information currently polluting global discourse.

For Memex, a (social) bookmarking and annotation software, adding WebMonetization is a great match because our users are content creators like bloggers, youtubers, students and academics, and consumers that value high quality information and already pay for many services and publications.

With the help of GftW we were able to build our MVP for sharing, following, co-curating and discussing collections of pages and annotations, and enable curators to be paid through the WebMonetization standard.
Here you can see how this integration looks like in the wild:

The innovation of WebMonetization

In my understanding, the reason why content micropayments never scaled was at its heart a UX problem:

  • Consumers needed to sign up and pay for different newspaper subscriptions even if content is consumed irregularly
  • Niche websites, blogs or social profiles couldn't be supported because the costs of them integrating and maintaining a payment system was too high
  • (Semi)proprietary micropayment tipping services like Flattr or Satoshipay brought some improvement because it enabled consumers to tip even niche blogs but introduced new UX hurdles due to decision paralysis: "Who do you pay? How do you decide? Do I have to press everytime I want to support someone? I forget it way too often."

In a previous post I dove a bit deeper into the different types of online payment models and their pro's and cons.

WebMonetizations is a leap forward to previous experiments, because its streaming approach significantly reduces the amount of work a user needs to do in order to pay their favourite creators, and it's very easy to implement as a creator. Interledger's decentralised technology underpinning the payment infrastructure makes the service and creator landscape accessible to new players in a permissionless way.

(Current) drawbacks of WebMonetization

1. Limited Revenue Models

As of now there is only one revenue model that can be implemented with WebMonetizations and the flag-ship wallet Coil: Time-based automatic tipping/streaming. This enables consumers to pay creators based on how long they are exposed to their content with a fixed rate of $0.36c/hour.
It's a great start because it does not require user action to pay for content but limits the capabilities to implement more diverse revenue models for creators, like subscriptions, one-time purchases & tipping. Not being able to implement subscriptions or tipping is our biggest blocker to make more use of WM in Memex.
Also Coil's $5/mo fixed subscription price does not leave the flexibility for consumers to pay more to more people with loading more funds into their wallet. The $0.36c/hour fixed streaming rate also doesn't allow creators to decide on how much to charge for their services. Taken together, it does not allow for a necessary democratic and decentralised price discovery mechanism.

2. Technical limitations

Right now WebMonetization only allows to monetize an entire URL, not sub content or on-demand tipping via UI elements, like tipping tweets or great responses in forums. In the context of Memex we would like to enable to tip individual people's contributions to collections like added page, annotation or replies, like you can see in this mockup:
Frame 398-1

Ideas for projects to fund and build next for the WM community

These are ideas for high-leverage contributions to the WM community that GftW could focus on funding, and the community on building.

1. Developing easy to use APIs to implement (recurring) tipping and one-time payments to certain payment pointers.

In a basic version it would already enable three use cases for platforms to implement revenue models for creators:

  • A proto-subscription feature that allows the creator backend to check if a tip for this period has happened
  • On demand tipping (of granular content or individual contributors of content within a page e.g. forum posts, tweets, replies). With Memex we could for example implement the ability to tip individual annotation creators.
  • Product sales of various (information) products or courses

2. Extending Coil to on-demand support paying for granular content within a page.

By adding the ability to tip granular content to Coil, it would offer a wider ability to support granular content without the service or website natively supporting WM, like a tweet, forum post, reply. A bit like Brave does it. Ideally this part of the Coil software is open source so that those injections becomes part of the shared payment infrastructure. Sharing this part also has the advantage of sharing responsibility within the community to update the injection approaches to different services that are expected to change (like the Twitter UI)

3. A way to pay creators that are not in the network yet.

There is the classic chicken-egg problem to be solved. Who comes first: The creator implementing WM or the consumer paying with WM?
If there was a (centralised in the beginning?) database that logs and arbitrates the payments to creators, urls, domains or social accounts that haven't set up the payment pointers yet, it may create an economic incentive for those creators to claim their savings at a later point in time and start using WM from then on. The assumption is that this may also lead to those creators pulling in their communities, adding a lot more people to pay with WM.
A prototype could start with making it easy to onboard with accounts from Twitter, Facebook, Discourse, GitHub, Discord and DNS verification of website owners. Potentially it could also be a revenue model for Coil to take a share of the income in exchange for holding it.

The future of WebMonetization + Memex

We hoped on being able to use WebMonetizations to a bigger capacity in our Memex product at this point because we see so much potential for synergies between the visions and the products themselves. However we also acknowledge that this is all very early and just a first step towards a long-term collaboration and a deeper integration with the WebMonatization standard and Memex.
If we're successful with our core product, it will expose WM to a lot of online content creators and consumers willing to pay for content because both personas are part of our main audience.

As mentioned above, not being able to implement subscriptions or tipping is our biggest blocker for enabling such a deeper integration and offering the kind of revenue models (our audience's) creators need and want.

Until for WM's/Coil's features begin to offer these payment modalities we can however prepare the steps in that direction with the following work:

  1. Help designing the subscription and tipping flows for Coil through feedback or active design participation. If help is appreciated, feel free to reach out:
  2. Improve the UX for engaging with the existing WM+Memex integration. (e.g. by enabling curators to create WM-powered paywalls or improved onboarding to installing the Coil extension or setting up a payment pointer as a creator)
  3. Further develop the sharing and collaboration features of Memex, and the towards scalable product maturity and increased exposure to WebMonetizations.
  4. Implement a Memex-specific subscription mechanism for creators, similar to, and enable an interoperable use of WM to pay for creator subscriptions once WM's features have advanced.

Top comments (9)

blackforestboi profile image
Oliver Sauter

@chrislarry i just stumbled over the concept of pull payments for ILP via @jessevondoom’s report:

This may enable those use cases but seems not to be mature yet. Would love to talk to you, jesse, about your progress there too!

jessevondoom profile image
Jesse von Doom

Happy to talk any time. Let's make a point of it!

FWIW: my use case was hosted web software aimed at users with lower technical skills just installing and going. I did some thinking around how to smooth out some of the issues with recurring payments in the case where there's some (even minimal) hosted service. Think memex is an almost ideal case β€” think we could probably brainstorm a decent stopgap until ILP pulls are ready for prime time.

blackforestboi profile image
Oliver Sauter

Let's do it! Maybe @jamesvasile wants to join too?
We had this exchange in another thread:

How would next Tuesday 6pm CET work for you 2?

Thread Thread
jamesvasile profile image
James Vasile

I'm in! Just tell me where to meet you all.

Thread Thread
blackforestboi profile image
Oliver Sauter

I block the time for Tuesday 6pm now and will PM you a link to Zoom?

If @jessevondoom wants to join then he can, and if not there will surely be a second opportunity!

Thread Thread
jamesvasile profile image
James Vasile


Thread Thread
blackforestboi profile image
Oliver Sauter
erikad profile image

This is an outstanding summary of your learnings, Oliver. Thank you for posting. It will be valuable reading for many.

chrislarry profile image
Chris Lawrence

Ty @blackforestboi !! I can't stress enough how valuable this is from a grantee in this community. We fund these early projects knowing that there will be issues to overcome and sometimes the ecosystem has to catch up a bit. So this kind of open and reflective practice is the nutrients we all need to grow.