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Cover image for Widget and Counter Cultures — Effect of Monetization Visibility on User Behavior
Denisa Reshef Kera
Denisa Reshef Kera

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Widget and Counter Cultures — Effect of Monetization Visibility on User Behavior

Project overview

Widgets, counters and trackers make visible the social relations in a community of content creators, streamers, supporters and users of various services. We are curious to see what purpose the visibility of money, time, number of users can serve. How does is affect users' attention, interest, retention and sense of community? How it supports different relational models (sense of community, authority ranking, reciprocity, market value)? Should webmonetization remain frictionless and invisible? How does the visibility of money/time/visitors affect the interaction (willingness to join, pay, support, contribute)?

We love counters

We are looking into various counters and widgets and mapping the existing strategies, conducting surveys and experiments to understand how to translate the social relations and values into counters, widgets and dashboards. This is not a typical UX challenge, more a political and social issue of stakeholder relations and community building.

We identified a tension between content makers that receive many small donations and take part in a pool of resources (like Coil) and influencers paid by brands and maecenas (Patreon model). The transparency and visibility of attention and money works in different ways in these two scenarios/services. The goal of supporting many small investments into the content means that you need to create a sense of a pool or collective action, the counters have to communicate a community value rather than individual interactions (how much you pay per content or receive). The micropayments seem to support this experience of sharing/having a stake in a project or goal rather than one to one exchange or market based relations. The early adopters however would still like to see a possibility of one-to-one interactions and payments and this tension will be an important challenge for the future of WM. We seem to need more flexible counters that support various social relations at different stages/phases.

Another common issue with widgets and counters is how easy they become “vanity metrics” without actionable information or reduce to only one function. They signal something no one cares about or does not understand or only one, very narrow function, for example a coupon, add-free experience or exclusive content.

Speculative counters

There are missed opportunities in the counters and widgets that can support different models of sharing, ranking and pricing of the content and create various "tribal," hierarchical or market relations between the content makers and different stakeholders.

We are looking into under-explored functions of counters and widgets:

  • tips/gifts without expecting anything in return: counter signaling the generosity of content maker/stakeholder?
  • payments signaling tribute and loyalty, gesture or tradition: showing to what group of users someone belongs, comparing loyalty?
  • balanced, quid-pro-quo exchange: counter comparing what someone gives/gains from the community?
  • counters supporting selling and purchasing and exchange: market with comments and quotes? better image quality?

There are examples that show a combination of these functions, such as the bits and subs donations on Twitch: they are gifts and tips but also quid-pro-quo relations supported by markets of Twitch counters. Maybe Coil/future WM services need a marketa nd page with various counters people can use to support different community models and one to one interactions?

Project team

Dr. Lior Zalmanson is a senior lecturer at the Technology and Information Management Program, Coller School of Management, Tel Aviv University. His research interests include social media, online engagement, commitment, internet business models, creative experimentation, sharing economy, and algorithmic management. His research has won awards and grants from Fulbright Foundation, Dan David Prize, Google, Marketing Science Institute, Social Informatics SIG, among others. His studies were covered in The Times, Independent, PBS, Fast Company including numerous mentions in the Israeli media. In 2016 he was appointed as a research fellow at the Metropolitan Museum Media Lab. In 2017, Lior was a visiting assistant professor at NYU Stern, where he taught the "Information Technology for Business and Society" course. Lior is also the founder of the Print Screen Festival, Israel's digital culture festival, which connects internet researchers, activists, and artists. Furthermore, in his parallel life, he is a grant and award-winning digital artist playwright and screenwriter. His recent film (about drone operators) received its debut at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

Dr. Denisa Reshef Kera is a philosopher and designer experimenting with creative strategies of public engagement in emerging science and technology controversies. Her most recent research was on issues of RegTech and algorithmic governance as a Marie Curie Research Fellow at BISITE, University of Salamanca, and Weizenbaum Internet Institute fellow in Berlin. She used blockchain and IoTs technologies to implement ethical and regulatory guidelines into the technical infrastructures and test different methods of engaging stakeholders through prototyping. She has a global experience of a scholar researching open and citizen science projects (National University of Singapore, Arizona State University, Charles University) and she is recognized for her pioneering ethnographic work on the hackerspaces and citizen science laboratories around the world, which she described as forms of “grassroots R&D culture,” “geek diplomacy” and “science artisanship”. Links:

Research activities

We are interested in variety of counters and widgets and how they supports the relations between stakeholders, so definitely let us know if you have interesting experience, project or idea you would like to pursue. We are open to collaboration! In this phase we are doing a standard anonymized research over Mechanical Turk to get data and define better experiments with the counters. If you would like to see the survey and experiment, follow our project or contact us.

In January, we conducted two surveys with a total of 143 participants to get an insight into the paying for content attitudes. We asked the participants to share:

  • name of their favorite blogger/youtuber
  • how much they currently spend on online content
  • experience with monetizing their content
  • their age

We then tested how participants respond to content creator requests for support if the counter of the creator already indicates that he got 0, 5, 10, 100, 1000 or 10 000 USD. We asked the participants to elaborate on the reasons for paying/not paying, which we coded with the help of Fiske’s four models of social relations and defined 4 personas.
We coded the results into 4 types of relational models (CS- communal sharing, AR - authority ranking, EM - equality matching, MP - market pricing) based on what the act of paying or refusing to pay signal. This helped us define 4 personas and reasons why participants do or don’t support creators: freeloaders, patrons, peers, philanthropists.

How to collaborate with us

We are interested to see more examples of counters and interactions over widgets and counters. If you have an interesting challenge or experience to share, contact us. We would like to interview more users, content creators and developers with professional interest in the widgets and counters. Join us maybe in the last, exploratory (speculative) phase (May - June 2021), when we will work with ideas for future counters supporting various UX ideas.
If you would like us to present our project and challenges to your team, we will be happy to do so.

Reports and posts about our project

Report 1
Social relations supported by counters and widgets
Attitudes towards paying for content

Following projects inspire us:

Grant for the Web community inspire us every time we read a new report or post and we are really happy to be part of this as academic researchers. We enjoy the friendly vibe and the interactions with various projects. It is just wonderful to receive and send unicorn likes, so much more meaningful than academic citations etc. Something very unique is brewing here in terms of interactions between various communities: artists, academics, entrepreneurs, activists :-)

Helping Minority Content Creators Monetize on the Web
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