The coming months, Waag will be working on the MicroDonor project. We are going to investigate whether a system of microdonations would be a suitable business model for open-source developers, content makers and cultural organizations that prefer not to make money with the personal data of their users. Through this blogpost series, we keep you posted on our (re)search.
Hardly a day goes by that we do not in some way use services by the Big Five tech companies: Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple. We have become strongly dependent on their online platforms and services. A large part of these 'free' platforms bases their profit model on collecting and selling our personal data. People are seen as a commercial means for exploitation, a system in which our personal data is worth money.
Waag places public value at the heart of technological development: with the Public Stack-model we fight for open, honest and inclusive technology. We believe that shared societal values instead of commercial goals should be at the basis of our technological and digital infrastructure.
Fortunately, there has been a rise of companies that do operate according to the values of the Public Stack, such as videoconferencing tool Jitsi and digital identity service IRMA. They offer online platforms and services that prioritize public (societal) value and in which civilians are actively involved in the design of their digital environments. However, these organizations need an alternative business model in order to remain sustainable in the long term. One such innovative financial model that takes its users’ privacy as starting point is at the basis of MicroDonor, a project Waag will be working on during the upcoming months.
MicroDonor is based on voluntary donations of users to platforms and content. It is a transparent way of delivering open, safe content and services. Waag received a subsidy for the development of a 'microdonation' system from Grant for the Web, an American organization that focuses on these so-called Web Monetization models. A microdonation system entails that users automatically donate a small amount (think 0,5 eurocents) to the platform provider during their visit. A protocol called Interledger helps to send these microtransactions between different blockchains.
The coming months, Waag will explore whether Web Monetization would indeed contribute to the Public Stack-way of thinking. What would a microdonation system look like from a technical point of view? Should users be able to create a virtual wallet to support such a payment system, and if so, how would it ideally be designed? And would it be convenient and desirable to make a donation per (digital) visit, or should there be a streaming service involved that links the height of the donation to the amount of time you use a platform or view specific content? Eventually, we will develop a prototype for a web extension through which the user becomes a ‘microdonor’ when they visit certain websites.
Apart from the technical side, there is a crucial social aspect to the project. Is a microdonor business model desirable? How can it be designed in the most open and transparent way possible? To answer the societal question, we would like to create a conversation with different groups of experts through co-design sessions. We also want to reach out to a broader audience with a (digital) evening program. We aim in particular for three central user groups: open-source developers (like Jitsi en IRMA), content makers, and cultural organizations. We hope to so combine different perspectives in order to conclude whether a microdonation system would indeed be something that could be upscaled, and that we could potentially even adopt for our own platforms.
Do you think MicroDonors are an important topic or are you dealing with these kinds of questions within your own work? Join us at the public program on Thursday the 18th of March! If you recognize yourself in one of the user groups and eager to actively engage with us: please send a mail to hannah[@]waag.org to join the co-design sessions in March and April.