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Denisa Reshef Kera for Effect of Monetization Visibility on User Behavior

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What social relations counters and widgets support?


Our team conducted the first survey which we will share next week in Report 2. In this post we will summarize the interviews and research into counters that helped us define the theoretical framework: Alan Fiske's four relational models (communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching, market pricing).

Counter supporting stakeholders interaction

Based on a recommendation, we checked an example of a good practice for widgets/counters: Fairmint is a platform for buying and earning equity in companies and its widget engages the stakeholders in understanding and sharing various resources with the company: “Individuals have switched from being passive consumers to being an essential force in creating value, either by their actual work (Airbnb, Uber, Apple's App Store, Amazon Marketplace...) or through their data (Facebook, Google...). For that reason, financially aligning stakeholders to the success of the company is now the strongest competitive advantage that a company can build. Yet, there is no easy solution to do that today (see the letters sent by Airbnb and Uber to the SEC asking to let them give equity to their hosts and drivers respectively).” Quote link

The widget supports stakeholder engagement and extends the meaning of “equity” but also blurs the line between investor, user and supporter. Interaction with stakeholders (rather than only users or investors) seems to define a new UX challenge: what data and how to share them with stakeholders to gain and sustain their support for a project, platform or product. Looking at Fairmint widget shifted our initial focus from the simple distinction between frictionless x fully transparent interactions between content makers & readers/viewers (when and what to disclose over the counters) to a more complex issue of what social relations widgets and counters support.

How counters and widgets communicate and facilitate the relation between various stakeholders (big and small investors or stakeholders but also the various expectations and uses of the platform)?

Tensions in counters between communal value x exchange

There is a tension between content makers that receive many small donations and take part in a pool of resources (like and what we commonly describe as influencers that are often paid by brands and mecenas (Patreon model). The transparency and visibility of attention and money works in different ways in these two scenarios/services. If the goal is to support many small investments into the content (stock/company), you need to create a sense of a pool or collective action, counters have to communicate a community value rather than individual interactions (how much you pay per content or receive).

The individual transactions seem less meaningful and work against the communal goals, even dilute the efforts of the group. Counters for micropayment "collective" type of action should emphasize the goals of the various groups and make visible how small donations and interactions have collective impact (such as “today as a ABC group we achieved XYZ goal - supporting XYZ members of our collective” or how it supports new content maker efforts “thanks to your micropayments, XYZ number of content makers will get paid for their music, story, writing”).

The micropayments seem to support more the experience of sharing/having a stake in a project/goal rather than one to one, exchange, market based relations. The micropayment counters differ from the ones following services that prioritize big “investors,” brands and maecenas supporting influencers. For Patron etc. counters, the content makes is a brand, something of a luxury goods, so they have to communicate the price, how much s/he earns, who supports them.

GameStop lesson in collective action

One recent example of a conflict between different stakeholders in a service that explains the challenge for micropayment counters is the GameStop saga: small investors proved they can beat big stakeholders (hedge funds Goliaths but also algo-traders) by using old fashioned collective action bordering with mob behavior. How do counters communicate/make transparent this collective power of small “investors” into content? Should Coil etc. micropayment counters show the “pulse” of the whole community that invests into this new model of content sharing? Something like “today XYZ bloggers and video makers were paid ABC amount or DEF number of new users joined?” or “if everyone brings one more friend to support COIL, we will reach XYZ target”? The collective impact (and not individual microtransactions) seems to be the focus of such frictionless content-support solutions.

Another interesting trend that Fairmint shows is that supporters of a product, company or (maybe) content want to participate also outside the “stock option”. The stakeholders in case on webmonetized content may want to co-design, provide feedback, even actively work on some part of the content, find new ways of supporting what they read/listen to/watch. Maybe the counter should monitor and offer different possibilities of engagement? Should we webmonetize also the activity of sharing and commenting on the content, editing, checking grammar and typos, mash-ups, curating the content into categories? Should we support open ended and collective engagements: this month we all write about XYZ and allocate resources to that? This is a start of my story, how should we continue?

Counters between "vanity metrics" and narrow/one function

The problem with all widgets and counters is how easy they become “vanity metrics” without providing actionable information. Another problem is that sometimes they have only one, very narrow function, for example:
Counter/widget supporting coupons: shows coupons related to different sites (in webmonetization this could be extra services connected to a content even personal adverts - favorite olive oil in a recipe?).
Counter/widget supporting exclusive content: another integration of blockchain with content that supports direct engagement over paywalls and donations (less frictionless but more complicated in terms of following what you are paying).
The various tensions in the widgets between collective and individual values (how it creates a sense of common purpose x individual gain), specific of vanity metrics issues, reminded us of Alan Fiske’s 1992 a unified theory of how objects, institutions (and design) express different social relations, his four forms of sociality (relational models theory).

Relational models and counters

In our current research, we are mapping the Fiske’s fundamental models of organizing social relations on the web monetized online content. The counters and widgets signal payments, number of users or time spent on sites but also expectations and social relations involved in web monetization of online content. The Fiskes’s four modes of coordination (RM’s – relational models) can help us understand how web monetization widgets and counters can express different social relations so maybe different groups and users will choose among them the appropriate ones for their mission.

Web monetization could support sharing, ranking and pricing of content (tribal, hierarchical or market relations between the content makers and different stakeholders). How can counters support these different relations/functions? There are several functions of the payments that we can make visible with the counter:

  • tip/gift without expecting anything in return: counter performing the generosity of content maker/stakeholder? - matter of tribute and loyalty, gesture, tradition: counter - showing what a group of users likes & comparing loyalty?
  • balanced, quid-pro-quo exchange: counter comparing what you give/gain from the community?
  • sell and purchase at market rates: counter offering something in exchange as a way to support interaction? market with comments and quotes? Better image quality? Good examples that show how these functions are often hybrid are bits and subs donations on Twitch: they are gifts and tips but also quid-pro-quo relations often expressed and supported by the market of these Twitch counters. Maybe Coil/webmonetization needs such page with various counters people can use to support different community or one to one interactions?

Excellent summary of existing/possible models of content monetization by Olive Sauter useful for further discussions, we will try to integrate this in our research.

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