Waag Futurelab contributes to open, fair and inclusive technology. We developed the the Public Stack model to reveal the underlying assumptions and design process of technological innovations, to advance technology that truly empowers citizens and is built on public value(s). One of the layers of the Public Stack model pays attention to business models. What business models are underlying the technologies that we use? But also, how can we make sure online business models are facilitated by an open, fair and inclusive technology stack? These questions informed our research on online business models in the projects MicroDonor and MicroMemberships.
The MicroMemberships project, spanning from January till July 2022, allowed us to conduct research into web monetization memberships models that are built on public values. This implies a.o. open standards, transparency of data use and underlying revenue models. Does web monetization in the shape of micro memberships have the potential to provide for an interesting – as well as open, fair and inclusive - business model for creatives and content makers? How could these be used by content collectives?
This was a follow up project of MicroDonor, an investigation into micro donation based web monetization, on which you can find all publications on our website.
The MicroMemberships project was a highly engaging period of six months, in which we have been able to follow our curiosity and through which we have gotten in touch with a range of artists and developers working on similar research topics. A wonderful result by itself!
It took some time to get started due to the complexity of the concept of MicroMemberships and many potential directions for exploring what MicroMemberships could be and what they could mean for the practice of creatives. Finally, we have been able to investigate how MicroMemberships could contribute to open, fair and inclusive online business models for creatives by: (1) conducting desk research on existing business models that contain elements of the MicroMemberships model, (2) conducting interviews iterating the concept with a mock-up interface of MicroMemberships, (3) designing a public co-design event and (4) writing on our findings in a blog series and concluding publication.
We have now finished our activities for this project, culminating in a publication which you can find on our website.
MicroMemberships is an exploration following our research in the MicroDonor project. In MicroMemberships our main objective was to provide a substantiated answer to the question whether and how MicroMembership models contribute to a more fair, open and inclusive internet and provide a business model for content collectives and their audience. Over the course of the project, we have redirected our focus. Instead of focusing on the implications of MicroMemberships for audiences, we have focused on understanding what MicroMemberships imply for the relation between maker, audience and membership tech stack. We did so by looking at different layers of the potential MicroMemberships stack within our Public Stack model; looking at the relation that is facilitated between maker and audience, the underlying business model and the tech stack that is used.
We not only redirected our focus on the question at hand, but also diverted from the original plan in terms of activities. We originally planned a live public co-design event in which we would co-create a value ladder for MicroMemberships and facilitate a dialogue with three initiatives highly interesting for furthering the concept: Pia Mancini from Open Collective, Calum Bowden from Black Swan and an artist and writer currently interested in the relation between online business models, blockchain technology and collective forms of producing literary art. Due to our international guests we chose to host the co-design event online. Unfortunately, we had to cancel the event due to the small number of registrations for this online event, due to tiredness of online events post-covid and challenges in reaching our audiences to attend these kind of niche events again. We are hoping to get input from an interested, more targeted audience at a later point in time.
The activities that make up this project can be summarized under four categories.
1.Conducting desk research on online business models that contain elements – either relational, economic or technical – present in our concept of the MicroMembership model. Think of Patreon, Coil, Adyen and Open Collective. What we have learned from this is that time and again we a platform dynamic evolve: intermediaries capitalizing on the data they gather in transaction management or capitalizing on a closed tech stack that facilitates the transactional relation between maker and audience. Read more on the findings in our first blog.
Another part of our desk research focused on the promise of a tech stack for MicroMemberships built on the blockchain. Although we have become mainly critical of current ‘Web3’ applications due to centralization of the current ecosystems and the closedness of such systems - locking users into one single currency, which is moreover highly vulnerable to speculation-, we understand that certain applications of Web3 are interesting for creative makers. In a second blog we discuss how both the concept of DAOs and NFTs help us further the concept of fair online business models.
In another blog we also discuss the potential impact of DAO mechanisms on the practice of creatives – making the relation between maker and audience more dynamic.
Our third blog discusses how services that claim to be a solution to the platform dynamics of Big Tech, are themselves often platform solutions as well. Offering their services as ready-made templates and in predefined categories, they push towards creation of certain content and foster competition between makers within this narrow scope of possibilities.
2.Interviewing potential stakeholders, iterating the concept of MicroMemberships with a mock-up interface.
As presented in our progress report, we interactively furthered the concept of MicroMemberships by iterating the concept using a mock-up interface.
We discussed the concept and the topic of online business models with artists, with Pia Mancini (co-founder and CEO of open collective) and with Alex Lakatos, tech lead for the Interledger foundation and currently working on Rafiki, a wallet that enables users to make Interledger payments to a variety of peers.
All in all, we iterated the concept with stakeholders and investigated several business models and tech solutions for online financial support for creative makers. We looked for elements that could contribute to open, fair and inclusive online business models, specifically enabling content collectives to financially support their practices. Based on open standards for transaction management, we formulated provisional conclusions about the necessary elements for open, fair and inclusive MicroMemberships, which can be found in the concluding section of our publication.
3.Designing a public co-design event
As said, we designed a public co-design event to get input from a interested audience in this niche topic on the values that should be central in an online business model for creatives like MicroMemberships. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, this has been postponed.
All of the writings that followed from this exploration is publicly available on our website. We expect that the concept of MicroMemberships will in the future inform contributions by Waag in context of our broader work on the Public Stack and Digital Public Spaces and as such will reach broader communities. In the previous months, the exploration has been shared with our audience through newsletters.
This project was an interesting, more conceptual follow-up of MicroDonor. MicroMemberships resulted in connections to both artists and developers interesting in developing open technology that can support creative communities in receiving financial contributions from their (online) audience. It was great to get in touch with people that also value openness and transparency, solidarity and cooperation. What the project leaves us with, is a desire to continue our exploration into web monetization within the Public Stack model more concretely and start prototyping. We hope to get in touch with the web monetization community in our efforts to make that happen!
We are happy to hear if you are working on similar questions or if you know of artist collectives that are also interested in open, fair and inclusive web monetization to support their practice. Feel free to contact us anytime if you would like to exchange ideas or brainstorm on next steps to take. Mail Julia, Taco or Tessel [at] waag.org.
Inspiration mentioned in the report: