Our New Monetization Experiment: Coil & The Web Monetization Protocol

from the check-it-out dept

As some of you know there have been no ads on Techdirt for the past few months or so, due to some issues with the way in which Google’s AdSense program was run. We’ve been sorting through some possible options for some better advertising solutions and we may begin some new experiments shortly. In the meantime though, I want to thank everyone who has stepped up to support us in one way or another. I won’t deny that losing the revenue from ads sucks, because it does, but we’ve always relied on a variety of other business models beyond ads as well.

The ad situation has caused a bunch of companies and projects to reach out to us about some other monetization ideas and options. Most of them were… not great. Or they were intrusive or annoying for you. But one that was quite intriguing was the idea of experimenting with Coil. Coil is working on creating an actual standard for web monetization, called the Web Monetization standard. It’s being proposed as a W3C standard, and assuming that happens, then it wouldn’t even just be connected to Coil any more. There are various ideas that have some similarities to what Coil is doing, but Coil is the only one I know of that is built around a standard that they hope will be adopted more widely and independently of Coil itself. It’s also using the Interledger open protocol and you know how I feel about protocols.

So, how does it work? Well, as of last week, Techdirt is now “web monetized” with Coil. If you have a Coil account, which runs you $5/month, and the Coil browser extension, when you browse Techdirt, Coil will automatically deposit money into a wallet for us. It will also do that for a few other sites that are using Coil… including Imgur, Hackernoon and a bunch of Conde Nast sites like Wired (though, bizarrely, not Ars Technica). The more time you spend on Techdirt, the more we get, but it doesn’t change how much you pay. And, also, it’s not like we’re going to try to keep you here any longer than usual.

Being realistic here: we don’t expect this to be huge. In fact, we barely expect it to be small. But I still believe in the promise of the early web, built on open protocols and standards. Marc Andreessen, creator of the original graphical web browser and now the successful venture capitalist, has said multiple times that the original sin in creating the browser was the failure to build in monetization. Coil and the various other projects appear to be an attempt to rectify that — and to me, that’s worth supporting and experimenting with. I don’t know where it will go, but if we can somehow help make it more widely adopted (and get a bit of support back in exchange) that seems like a good thing.

We’re also brainstorming some other ideas around how we might use Coil in fun ways, so feel free to make some suggestions in the comments as well if you have any creative ideas. If you want to test it out, head on over to Coil and sign up. And let us know what you think.

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Comments on “Our New Monetization Experiment: Coil & The Web Monetization Protocol”

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32 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Its effectively the premium streaming music revenue strategy, but hopefully more distributed without the silos and with everyone getting paid, and not just the top artists.

Hi, my music is on all streaming music platforms so I can offer some insight: My stage name is "Iron Curtain" whose namespace I share with other artists (such as a metal band who sounds like Motörhead, a Russian rap group, and at the top of the heap, a dark-wave outfit with hits in the early 1980’s). I am not a "Top Artist" by any stretch of the imagination (at least not compared to my peers). Yet, because I distribute my music over CDBaby to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, et al., I can see for myself in the backend how much royalties I receive from each system. Here are some insights:
-I hardly get paid anything from Tidal
-I get paid something from $.38 to $.67 or even more per month from Spotify
-I get paid something like $.19 per month from Amazon Streaming.
-I hardly get paid anything from Apple Music

These are just off the top of my head and strictly from memory, so it may not be 100% accurate. When it hits $10 or over, that’s when I get paid from CDbaby. That being said, Streaming at least pays something. And the alternative to streaming for most people is not iTunes or Bandcamp, but piracy. I license all my original music with a creative commons license so that’s not a problem, but it’s not as if I get paid zilch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’m not seeing anything about privacy or anonymity on the Coil or Monetization sites, which makes me think these are surveillance-based systems. Are the payment providers going to get details on what sites I visit? Will the sites get information about readers?

Seems a bit tone-deaf to propose new things without considering and describing these risks, these days. We’ve known how to do anonymous digital currency since 1983—coincidentally, the very year Ed Snowden was born.

Sid says:

Re: Re: Re:

WM is designed to make sure the payment providers as well as payment receivers do not get details on what sites you visit. The browser will ensure this as WM gets implemented in browsers. Privacy is one one the goals of this standard.

Relevant links:

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Anonymous Coward says:

Marc Andreessen, creator of the original graphical web browser and now the successful venture capitalist, has said multiple times that the original sin in creating the browser was the failure to build in monetization.

That’s a strange view that strikes me as revisionist. Around that time, there were services that included "monetization"—anyone remember the ridiculous per-minute charges of Compuserve? They and AOL (IIRC) and others had "premium" sections that cost even more. People were as reluctant to use those sections as they were to make long-distance calls in those days; even non-premium Compuserve was to be used sparingly in my family, with most time spent on free BBSes and later internet-capable "Freenet" accounts.

In my opinion, a web browser that demanded payments while browsing would’ve failed spectacularly. And arguably did, when all those services disappeared in favour of the web and most ISPs went to unlimited plans (sorry, Americans).

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s a strange view that strikes me as revisionist. Around that time, there were services that included "monetization"—anyone remember the ridiculous per-minute charges of Compuserve? They and AOL (IIRC) and others had "premium" sections that cost even more.

Yeah, but those weren’t the web…

In my opinion, a web browser that demanded payments while browsing would’ve failed spectacularly.

The idea wasn’t that they would demand payment, but that they would have enabled it as a standard, that people could have built products around. That would have been more interesting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, but those weren’t the web…

What’s the relevant difference? "The web" didn’t mean anything back then. Had Andreessen et al. decided to add payment support to HTTP, maybe it would’ve suffered the same fate as those protocols, and we’d be using the term "web" to refer to whatever supplanted it.

The idea wasn’t that they would demand payment, but that they would have enabled it as a standard, that people could have built products around. That would have been more interesting.

Isn’t this splitting hairs? The browser wouldn’t have "demanded" anything, of course. But built-in support for payments would have made it really easy for sites to erect paywalls, and it’s difficult to know what effect this would’ve had. It could have seriously stunted the growth of the whole thing, much as the North-American ISDN rate structures (i.e., per-minute charges) meant that basically nobody signed up for it (unless their employers were paying).

There’s something enticing about buying a modem, dialing up a freenet, and getting access to all kinds of information—worldwide—for free. Had a significant portion of sites wanted payment, would we have left our free BBSes for the Internet? Would people who’d never used computer networks have been convinced to buy computers to access them?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"The web" didn’t mean anything back then"

Erm, yes it did.

"But built-in support for payments would have made it really easy for sites to erect paywalls, and it’s difficult to know what effect this would’ve had."

No, it’s pretty damn obvious what effect this would have had. The web is what it is today because anyone could set up a website, and anyone could visit that site from anywhere in the world. Demanding payment upfront would have meant that 99.9% of today’s web would not have existed as the hurdle to entry would have put people off trying.

"Had a significant portion of sites wanted payment, would we have left our free BBSes for the Internet?"

Bear in mind that the vast majority of the population of the world did not even use the BBSes, and that the reason that the US were early mass adopters was because of a quirk of phone charging (it grew quicker in the US because your local calls were free, everywhere else had to pay per minute for their connection)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Bear in mind that the vast majority of the population of the world did not even use the BBSes, and that the reason that the US were early mass adopters was because of a quirk of phone charging

That was basically my point. In North America, anyone who had a computer and a phone line could buy a modem, and use local services as much as they wanted. When Freenets came around, it cost nothing extra to use the internet and web. So they did, and they praised its virtues to the general public. If Compuserve-style charging had been common on the internet, BBS users might have stayed on BBSes and remained a niche while the "web" became a different niche in the style of Bloomberg terminals.

(I imagine the "quirk" was the reason ISDN took off in Germany. You’ve got per-minute charging vs. per-minute-charging with 4 times the speed, in those pre-56K days; so of course the services can compete. Whereas in the USA, it was probably cheaper to buy several dedicated modem lines and use them 24-7.)

"The web" didn’t mean anything back then"
Erm, yes it did.

Can you clarify? What I mean is that Andresson and others were giving meaning to the word "web" as they developed the ecosystem around it. To the average person it meant nothing. Had the developers convinced them a nickel-and-diming set of walled gardens was "the web", it may have taken on that meaning.

No, it’s pretty damn obvious what effect this would have had. The web is what it is today because anyone could set up a website, and anyone could visit that site from anywhere in the world. Demanding payment upfront would have meant that 99.9% of today’s web would not have existed as the hurdle to entry would have put people off trying.

The hurdle we’re talking about would’ve been for users, not publishers. Publishers, presumably, would’ve still been able to set up a website just as easily and cheaply. Had most of them done so, the web would’ve developed just as it actually did. Users would have learned to never follow links to NYTimes or Salon etc., as they did in reality, and we’d have gotten the same result.

But I wonder about the alternate history, where most publishers were convinced by developers to try to collect tolls. Andresson seems to think that tolling was just a minor feature he forgot to add, and things would have developed the same way had he done it. I’m not so sure.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

" If Compuserve-style charging had been common on the internet, BBS users might have stayed on BBSes and remained a niche while the "web" became a different niche in the style of Bloomberg terminals."

Or, the web would never have taken off and we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now because most people would not be online, and so this site that is based on users having discussions wouldn’t exist.

"To the average person it meant nothing."

Define "average person". Pre-web, the majority of people where I lived would not have known anything about any kind of online communication unless they happened to have seen Wargames, and even then some of them might not have known it was a real thing.

Maybe the experience in the US was different, but if you’re talking mainstream users then the internet was not something people were generally aware of until AOL started spamming everyone with floppy discs, and even then in the UK it didn’t really hit mainstream momentum until Freeserve came along to get rid of the phone call overheads.

"Publishers, presumably, would’ve still been able to set up a website just as easily and cheaply"

Define "publisher". A great many of the sites and services we use today only exist because some guy in his bedroom decided to set it up because the web was free to use and he identified an audience for his hobby. Then, it took a long time for mainstream offline publications to really get the need for the web, and that was largely driven by non-traditional publishers getting a lot of attention with their online offerings.

"Andresson seems to think that tolling was just a minor feature he forgot to add, and things would have developed the same way had he done it."

I’m sure he’s completely wrong about that. The toll-free aspect of the web is the major reason why people got online in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Define "average person"… if you’re talking mainstream users

Mainstream people of the time period—i.e., the general public—not necessarily mainstream computer or internet users. They (now) know what "web" means based on their experience, not technical specifications.

Define "publisher".

Poor word choice. I’m including the "guy in the bedroom" here—anyone who created a website. I was such a person, and experimented with various forms of monetization including banner ads and affiliate links. Never made a cent. Had there been an easy way to add a paywall, I might have tried it too, which only would have made the web worse (and would’ve been ironic, since I wasn’t old enough to get a credit card myself).

I’m sure he’s completely wrong about that. The toll-free aspect of the web is the major reason why people got online in the first place.

I tend to agree, but less absolutely. If Andresson’s hypothetical built-in tolling affected a small minority of sites that could be easily avoided, and wasn’t otherwise in-your-face—e.g., no "enter your credit card" number prompt when first launching a browser—it might’ve been OK.

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It is still I. says:

Here's an idea... Atttract more users!

Main way is of course to stop your fanboys from making the site a cesspit, as I told you TEN years ago!

Gone steadily downhill, and marked even by GOOGLE as "dangerous and derogatory".

Youll continue to enjoy reigning in this tiny hell, I bet, rather than unbend and try decency.

Anonymous Coward says:

Standards as a method of subjugation

The more time you spend on Techdirt, the more we get, but it doesn’t change how much you pay.

So, its a fixed pool that is then distributed based on time spent at the participating sites. i.e the financial distribution is based on the sites tracking your time.

Great plan. I can see no way that this will be perverted by clever use of code to fiddle with said distribution. And, I’d really like my browser to run some tracking code of where I spend my time to some central authority.

Chris Larry (profile) says:

Grant for the Web

Thanks Mike for this post and your exprimentation with Web Monetization. My name is Chris and I am a Program Officer with Grant for the Web a philanthropic fund with a goal to help spur innovation and exoperimentation with the WM standard and the Interledger Protocol. The goal is to expand buisness models on and of the web. Much of what Mike talks about at the ideas level is what we hope our grant making can help grow.

It has been a busy year since we launched the program a year ago. We now have over 100 grantees representing with $7.5M funds commited. You can see our Grantees Page to see our grantmaking. We also are in the process of announcing the awardees from our first Call for Proposals this Summere:

We will have more announcements, engagement opportunities and Open CFPs over the coming months, please join our email list if you want to stay updated, its the first thing you will see on our homepage

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