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Lior Zalmanson
Lior Zalmanson

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Sharing Funds - Sharing Values? - Final Grant Report

Our project’s high-level objective was to study the suitability of the Web Monetization model as a tool for grassroots initiatives and activists operating online. We proposed that - thanks to some of the model’s unique characteristics and particularly the visibility of the monetization process - it may affect users’ online content consumption choices in ways that are especially beneficial for independent creators and activists. Based on theories from social and cognitive psychology (i.e., self-consistency, self-perception, and cognitive dissonance), we hypothesized that users who are aware of the monetization of online content - the monetary compensation that their online browsing provides to the creators or owners of that content - will prefer to consume content that is aligned with their own views and beliefs. In addition, such users may also view their content consumption as a way of supporting the creators and the causes they support.

Project Update

Since our last report, we have completed the analysis of our surveys, designed and built an experimental setting, and ran a series of studies.
We have created dedicated posts to report our findings:

Survey results: People's views, preferences, and familiarity with online content monetization

Survey results: Ideological considerations in content consumption

Experiments results: Web Monetization encourages users’ to make value-driven content consumption choices (which also includes an overview of our theory building and hypotheses)

Progress on objectives

Our objective was to study how awareness of online content monetization affects users’ consumption choices and how this might be used for the benefit of independent creators, activists, and grassroots initiatives. The past few months were dedicated to surveying users and developing the proper experimental framework for testing our hypotheses.

The surveys helped us understand users’ overall preferences on online content consumption and monetization: Do people prefer seeing ads or paying for subscriptions? How much should platforms pay content creators? How much do people care about the values of the creators of the content they read?
We developed a set of experiments based on our theoretical framework and what we learned from the surveys. Those allowed us to study the causal relationships between monetization awareness, peoples’ values and ideology, and online content consumption choices.
We are excited to report that our studies uncovered relevant insights that, we hope, could benefit the web monetization community and encourage others to join.

Key activities

Surveys

User survey 1 - Views, preferences, and familiarity with online content monetization: Our survey results included a few interesting insights. First, we found that people generally underestimate the amount that content creators receive from platforms such as YouTube, hinting at a general low familiarity with the details of online content monetization and perhaps in general. Second, we found that, overall, people like the Coil model for dividing subscription fees between creators based on the time spent on each article or video. Interestingly, people from underrepresented groups showed greater support for models in which the money is distributed evenly between the creators, reflecting a more significant appreciation for equality and a dislike of potentially discriminating models. Third, perhaps unsurprisingly, our results showed that people dislike paying for subscriptions and would rather see ads in exchange for content. This suggests that attempts to shift people from free ad-based models to subscription fees and vice versa require time and re-education of users.

User survey 2 - Ideological considerations in content consumption: This survey focused on users’ value-related considerations in content consumption choices. People reported making ideological and value-related considerations in their online content consumption choices - e.g., preferring to consume content from creators and platforms who share their values and beliefs and avoiding those who do not. This was true across the political preferences scale but less so for “centrists”. Notably, people also reported that they see online content consumption as a way of supporting creators and causes they care about. Lastly, we found that when it comes to content by people from historically marginalized groups, its reception is very much dependent on users’ political preferences. While most democrats reported that it is important to them to consume content by people from historically underrepresented groups, republicans were significantly less likely to agree with this statement.

Experiments

We ran experiments to study how monetization awareness affects consumption choices and how it changes users’ preferences between different sources or creators. We were also interested in the effect of the contexts of the browsing scenario and whether it is political or not. Our experimental design included a simulated YouTube search results page, in which we tracked users’ choice of video given each scenario and whether or not they were in the treatment group (which included a manipulation to increase users’ monetization awareness).

Study 1: In the first study, we examined the effect of monetization awareness on users’ choice between mainstream media and non-profit organizations and as a factor of their political affiliation. The context used in this study was gun regulation - highly politically polarizing. The main result from the experiment shows that increasing users’ awareness of the monetization of online content affects their consumption choices. The percentage of people who chose to watch a video from a non-profit organization (vs. from a mainstream media outlet) doubled when users’ monetization awareness was high (from 24.8% in the control group to 48.4% in the treatment group).

Study 2: In the second study, we tested the effects in a politically neutral context (i.e., disability rights) and with different types of video sources, this time comparing mainstream media news outlets with independent creators and activists (“vloggers”). The results show that preference for the videos by independent vloggers and activists increased from 45.9% in the control condition to 60.6% in the treatment condition, providing additional support to our hypotheses that monetization awareness leads to more mindful content consumption choices.

Overall, we find that awareness of monetization leads users to update their choices. Monetization aware users prefer to consume content from non-profit organizations or independent creators and activists over that of mainstream media outlets and see their content consumption as a means to support creators. As one of the participants in our studies explained: “I chose the video that interested me the most and I also chose the video from a smaller creator because I would like for them to get the money from the ad, if possible.”

Overall, we find that awareness of monetization leads users to update their choices. Monetization aware users prefer to consume content from non-profit organizations or independent creators and activists over that of mainstream media outlets and see their content consumption as a means to support creators. As one of the participants in our studies explained: “I chose the video that interested me the most and I also chose the video from a smaller creator because I would like for them to get the money from the ad, if possible.

This is good news for people considering adopting the Web Monetization model, especially for those promoting ideological and social causes - such as activists and non-profit organizations. Based on our results, it is recommended that content creators who would like to attract and encourage the support of their followers will take action to increase users’ awareness of the monetization process that supports creators and the causes they promote. Therefore, the “monetization awareness” boost that comes with Coil, on top of all of its other benefits, makes it an excellent solution for creators, grassroots initiatives, and activists operating online.

Communications and marketing

As noted above, we have shared our studies, findings, and insights with the community in blog posts. We have also discussed and presented our work in academic seminars and forums. We are very excited to share that we will present our studies at the upcoming Interledger Summit in New Orleans. We also intend to submit our study to relevant academic conferences, workshops, and publications.

What’s next?

Our studies so far have uncovered interesting aspects of the effects of monetization visibility and awareness on users’ behavior. However, we believe there is still much to study in this area. We are also curious to see the next directions the community and technology take and will continue to follow and study it from our perspective.
What community support would benefit your project?
We are very open to corporations with other community members. If you are a team working on implementing web monetization on your platforms (or already web monetization implemented) and are interested in understanding your users’ behavior better, we would love to help!

Additional comments

We want to thank the entire Grant for the Web team, especially Ayesha, Chris, and Erika, for all the help and support along the way. This has been a great experience and opportunity for us!

Top comments (4)

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chrislarry profile image
Chris Lawrence

@lior and @yotam this is such fabulous work and we loved having it at the Summit. Ty! Will all of this be put into 1 paper and/or live outside this community space?

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lior profile image
Lior Zalmanson Author

@chrislarry- That's the plan. I mean, we are currently pondering if we should plan this for a conference proceeding type paper or perhaps for a journal. We are thinking about running a couple of extra experiments to give us more insights regarding the current open questions and then intensive writing around 2023Q1.

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chrislarry profile image
Chris Lawrence

I think your team and @natalieaxton would be interested in each others work.

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natalieaxton profile image
Natalie Axton

Thanks for drawing my attention to this today, @chrislarry . This is really fascinating work, @lior and @yotam .