The Interledger Community 🌱

Cover image for Democratising Design Education with a Web Monetized Publishing Platform — Grant Report #2
graeme for Prototypr

Posted on

Democratising Design Education with a Web Monetized Publishing Platform — Grant Report #2

Image description

Final Project Update

Overall, Web Monetization has so far helped us explore and understand alternative business models we can use to fund an open and accessible platform which we continue to pursue after the project. The Web Monetization technology was straight-forward to implement, but it feels ahead of its time with limitations coming from the volatility of digital currencies, trust and maturity of the crypto space, and the usability/onboarding to digital wallets.

Web Monetization and maturity of digital currencies

The areas where Web Monetization crosses with crypto (such as setting up digital wallets via Uphold) created a friction for adoption for our audience as multiple pieces need to work together - writers setting up wallets, getting payment pointers, and readers creating Coil subscriptions. We tried alternative solutions to reduce the steps needed to make the system work, such as tracking the amount of money individual articles received (so writers didn’t need to set up payment pointers), but these were only experimental given the project timescale.

Despite our efforts to educate on Web Monetization through regularly promoting its role in facilitating an open web in our newsletter and articles, we did not gain adoption of the Coil plugin before Coil itself was sunset. However, the growth of our independent platform puts us in an excellent position for adopting any future improvements to the Web Monetization ecosystem.

Progress on objectives

In all, we not only projected the message of Web Monetization through articles, but the growth of our platform too. We made excellent progress in contributing towards an inclusive web that keeps education open, and are in a position where future improvements to the Web Monetization ecosystem can be adapted. Through consistent work to the platform, we added:

These improvements along with new articles published has lead to the platform becoming a top performer in search engines. For example, a recent article I published reaches around 300-400 visitors per day, with consistent traffic from Google:

https://prototypr.io/post/generative-ai-design

Stats for article

A Web Monetization resource menu is featured prominently on in the main navigation, giving site-wide exposure that will keep increasing as we publish more quality articles and resources:

Payment pointer menu

The next steps are to write more and drive this growth, while keeping our platform open and inclusive for readers. In the current climate, there aren’t many open alternatives available, who promote an open web.

Key activities

The grant project involved increasing publishing activity on our platform, and encouraging more writers to contribute and set up payment pointers with us. We had a few areas to consider:

  1. Commissioning and Publishing Process
  2. Onboarding writers
  3. Building the platform to enable writers

1. Commissioning and Publishing Process

To keep quality of published articles high, we found they have to be produced in-house. In short, the process is like this:

  • Contact writers and discuss topics
  • Use grant funds to commission independent writers and contractors.
  • Edit articles to maintain quality and increase reach

This process was more work than how we were previously curating articles to the publication. We could have done with 2 or 3 more editors in the team.

2. Onboarding: Curation vs Editorial Process

Having run our publication primarily on Medium in the past, publishing articles had been mostly a curation process rather than an editorial one. Sometimes authors would submit drafts, and we would do minor editing and corrections.

In contrast, publishing on our independent platform involved more onboarding and editorial direction which was very time consuming. Rather than inviting a high number of writers, we had to commission only a handful of writers who wrote a larger quantity of articles. Overall the process took much longer than anticipated, and were were at times stretched between publishing and improving the platform.

We did plan to run a paid competition and distribute funds to a range of writers. Due to the quality of applicants being difficult to determine, we commissioned select writers instead:

https://prototypr.io/people/iam-seungmee-lee
https://prototypr.io/people/ditte-mortensen/page/1
https://prototypr.io/people/insvhq
https://prototypr.io/post/the-dark-psychology-behind-social-media-addiction
https://prototypr.io/people/rob-diaz
https://prototypr.io/post/chatpgt-7-startup-ai-opportunities
https://prototypr.io/post/behavioural-design-101-psychology-mechanisms-persuasive-design

3. Building the platform to enable writers

To start with, because our platform is still growing and competing with established corporate platforms, there is extra work in encouraging contributors to publish on with us. There was often feature requests for the editor itself such as embeds for videos, tweets, and image gallery support, which caused more delays.

Furthermore, after producing content in-house, we still faced the competition from paywalled platforms, who would attempt to curate our commissioned work back into Medium publications. This is a compliment, and presents an opportunity to collaborate. The next steps would be to invite related publications to collaborate towards a fairer and more open web rather than seeing us as competition, because there is space for everyone.

Communications and marketing

We produced articles on Web-Monetization and related topics like content ownership and licensing:

https://prototypr.io/post/how-to-monetize-your-creative-work-without-advertising
https://prototypr.io/post/open-design-ownership-cc-mit-licenses
https://prototypr.io/post/open-web

What’s next?

First of all, we are due to do an official launch of the Web-monetized site.

Then to grow Web Monetization further on Prototypr, network mechanisms on the platform can be a key driver. The next steps for Prototypr are to create a more effective distribution network for writers to be more connected to readers and gain more reach. This includes:

  1. A milestone notification system
  2. A follower/following system
  3. Email notifications for transactional events

Milestone notifications + Web Monetization API improvements

Seeing a message from Uphold was nice when a writer gets a payout, but Uphold notifications are distanced from the context of the content and platform. If there was a way to hook into the Web Monetization API so we could get stats per article, we could create more meaningful payment notifications that keep users excited to publish.
Currently, a milestone for an article might look like this:

Congratulations, your article has had 1,000 views.

But with more access to Web-monetization API:

Your article got 1000 views, with paid members spent 4hrs on your content, earning you $1.44.

Follower/Following

Further to milestone notifications, follower/following system would be beneficial to increase the distribution of each writers articles to their followers who cared for their content.


The platform is now also completely open source, and it is documented how to set it up on our Web Monetization project page. That microsite needs updating with the design process, and can also be repurposed and split into a tutorial series to take it further.

🤝 Collaborate with other projects
Being able to distribute funds to creators based on the quality of content is always going to be a key mission for Prototypr, and with further development, Web-monetization can be a great reward/distribution system.

💶 Stream sponsor payments
It would also be cool to use Web-Monetization in a sponsorship program where sponsor payments to our platform are streamed back to contributors based on engagement with their content.

🪙 Continue exploration with Web Monetization

As mentioned before, with embracing the new whilst supporting the old, Interledger’s progression to supporting fiat currencies, simpler wallets, and new providers can make Web Monetization a core part of payments on the web.

To finish, we are focusing on creating revenue streams through a mix of pro features and sponsorships:

  • verified profiles
  • company pages
  • website sponsors
  • jobs board
  • newsletter sponsorships.

Whatever route taken, education will be kept available to all. Furthermore, we look forward to exploring Web Monetization as a way to stream platform earnings back to contributors and creators.

What community support would benefit your project?

There is opportunity to work together better as a Web Monetized ecosystem. I always wanted to collaborate with other grantee projects, but it is difficult to fit in collaboration with time and resource constraints.

Coil have a page of Web-Monetization providers showcasing a lot of Coil enabled developer sites, but there is little network effect between all of us. A distribution channel for newly published Web-Monetized content that readers can subscribe to can help smaller sites in the network grow better together, and the ecosystem of publishers can thrive together. An example is an RSS reader and newsletter that aggregates Web Monetized sites and distributes the content to subscribers.

This could go some way to creating a form of collaboration just by being a web-monetized site.

Coil developer participants

Making Web Monetization More Accessible

A main barrier throughout the project has been the crossover with digital wallets. Web Monetization is an inclusive payment system that works across the world, but despite being open, it relies on the adoption of crypto wallets rather than payment systems and currencies that people widely use.

As with our platform, a lot of the building process during the grant project felt siloed within the Interledger community at times. Rather than putting all our focus in a new space, we could have create bridges between the closed and open web by using our gated Medium publication more.

It wasn’t until the end that we tried a small sponsorship with another newsletter called This Too Shall Grow which brought a handful of curious web custodians into contact. It showed that creating time for collaboration and partnerships rather than depending on our own network should have been a core activity. However, we did not consider a marketing budget at the start of the project.

Working with existing markets

Similarly for Web Monetization, I would have liked to see more support for fiat currencies and less dependence on crypto wallets. Even a way to have a holding wallet from which we could pay contributors in fiat would be good. This is what we tried with the Micropayments counter, but it was only a proof of concept that is not yet reliable. I did see one grantee building something around fiat, but it was only supporting the US initially (can’t remember the name of the project).

More flexible payments

If payment providers deal directly in fiat currency, and it’s possible to change the $0.36 per hour that Coil had used, there becomes a lot of possibilities in how we can reward creators and users of Web-Monetized platforms.

In my last post which could have been part of this final report, it was concluded that writers in our audience need more tangible incentives to drive an open and fair web powered by Web Monetization. Online creators tend to want want quick rewards, and only a smaller segment are really interested in the ‘open web’ cause .

I get the feeling that most people just want to see immediate benefits they would receive - e.g. access to something exclusive, discounts codes they can immediately use, or increased status on our platform - all elements that give quick gratification.

Just like the lack of privacy on the web has been normalised over time, so too is paying for content. In addition, Reddit Gold, Twitter Blue, and Meta Verified show it’s possible to support content with members paying for perks.

Given new payment providers become available and offer more flexible options than $0.36 per hour, Web Monetization can be used to give perks such as:

  • Free posts on the jobs board
  • Remove ads for web monetized users
  • Sponsor revenue can be streamed to creators based on the time spent on their work.
  • Promote their product or services on our platform
  • Get access to discount codes and design deals

Additional comments

I found the main challenges to adoption were the normalization of lack of privacy and paying for content:

Coil Payouts vs Paywalls

Grant for the Web takes an approach that is different to corporate business models like paywalls, encouraging an open and inclusive web.

Through open sourcing the Prototypr platform, and making it paywall-free and content accessible to all, we have created a growing open space that is not controlled by a 3rd party platform. However, despite being in our own space, we still have to compete with larger platforms that offer higher payouts than Web Monetization:

Web Monetization vs Paywalls for payouts

The draw towards corporate and gated publishing platforms comes from the possibility to earn money from a paywall. On paywalled platforms like Medium, typical articles can earn $50-100, and even double that based on its popularity.

In contrast, the $0.36 per hour paid out from Web Monetization cannot compete – our payout counter showed that each article would only earn a max of $0.10, due to few users on our site being Coil subscribers with the browser plugin installed.

Table of micropayments per article

Lack of Privacy + Paid Content is Normalised

Competitive advantage for an open platform would be that we don’t sell data, use intrusive cookies to sell ads, or gate content. We therefore used the message of ‘building a better open web’, and emphasising being ‘privacy-friendly’ to encourage people to set up payment pointers for Web Monetization.

However, it was only until towards the end of the project we understood privacy and open content is not a large enough incentive to convince people to create an Uphold wallet and payment pointer – lack of privacy and paid content is increasingly normalized every day:

Mark Zuckerberg was clear that he felt privacy was no longer a social norm, saying,
 “People have gotten really comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.”

https://www.cmbinfo.com/insights/why-we-still-use-facebook-despite-privacy-concerns/

Additionally, the friction to get started with payment pointers due to the learning curve and distrust of crypto wallets lead us to search out alternative and open business models that went beyond micropayments (also since $0.36 per hour is too small for written content).

Our goal to reward creators based on the time readers spend on their work couldn't be fulfilled in the timescale with the low adoption of Coil and the fixed rate of streaming. Therefore, the main incentive we had for writers publishing with us is:

  • Reach a new audience
  • Get more exposure
  • Inclusion in our newsletter
  • Commissioned articles

We need more perks and rewards on our platform for the user base to grow faster. Some of these alternative business model ideas are outlined in the first section, and further discussed in this post.

Top comments (18)

Collapse
 
gfam profile image
gFam

Whoa! This report is so amazingly comprehensive. Well done!

It's a little bit cheeky that Medium writers were curating your open content to put behind their paywalls... but hopefully some collaborations work out for you.

Competing with sites like Medium and Substack is tough. Since they are paywalled, it's been easier for them to get funding - it's much easier to show your subscriber break-even points are really drive towards that consumer-base than a much more open payment model... whereas Web Monetization is clearly better for the consumer since their monthly membership can be spread around many, many sites... but the ROI for companies is far more intangible.

Really enjoyed your report and Prototypr really does look great!

Collapse
 
graeme profile image
graeme

Thanks @gfam ! Yeh, it would have been good if they contact us directly considering they are aware of our work and know we are working towards a fair and open space.

I think maybe we can add something to articles that shows how we can collaborate. Thanks again for your thoughts!

Collapse
 
chrislarry profile image
Chris Lawrence

This is fabulous. Filing this as a breif when we start to put some energy into new WM service providers.

Collapse
 
graeme profile image
graeme

Thanks @chris I've been on a break since I published this, and only just starting to pick back up on it and checking out what's going on in the community!

Collapse
 
jasminesmith profile image
JasmineSmith

Democratizing Design Education via a Web Monetized Publishing Platform empowers aspiring designers globally.theoceanofpdf By providing accessible resources and fostering a community-driven learning environment, it revolutionizes design education. The platform's integration of Web Monetization ensures sustainability, enabling creators to earn while sharing knowledge, thus enriching the design community's diversity and accessibility.

Collapse
 
helenatude profile image
Helena Tude

Great report! Specially love the UX/UI design, congrats.

Collapse
 
graeme profile image
graeme

thanks Helena! Just having a look at your report too! Your Open-Source digital wallet at Kult looks like a really good solution, solving a big problem we were having!