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Exploring the future of Web Monetization

Exploring the future of web monetization — Grant Report #1

Stephanie Rieger
Design leader @shopify. Thinks about futures, algorithms, tech policy, internet governance & platforms. Writes speculative fiction.
・4 min read

Project Update

Hi! This is Stephanie.

This is my first update, and as my project was fairly short, it's also coming towards the end of the project. Progress has been excellent, and i'm on schedule (though have decided to request a short extension…more on this later)

Progress on objectives

If you're not familiar with this project, the project summary was as follows:

"A white-paper that explores the potential long-term impacts of the Web Monetization and Interledger protocols; posits both positive and negative ways these technologies may change to how we use the web, and provides recommendations to ensure these technologies result in a more equitable, open, and diverse web."

I'm so far quite happy with the work i've produced, and think it suits the brief quite well…with one exception, which I will outline below. 

Early into my research, I discovered that the web monetization team was working on ways to also enable subscribers to tip small sums of money to their favourite sites. This was unexpected, as the specification had until then been quite specific about only supporting payments that required no user interaction. So while experimental (and at time of writing, as yet un-launched) the addition of tipping proved significant enough that I decided I really should explore both web monetization approaches:

  • ambient micropayments that automatically stream as you browse
  • small, user-initiated, discretionary micropayments

I was also starting to realise that, although my proposal had included the phrase "and the Interledger protocol" (and the web monetization API was wholly dependant on the existence of that protocol) exploring what might happen to web monetization specifically would get us much closer to the sort of discussions the paper was aiming to provoke. I therefore decided that, while the paper would introduce Interledger as a means of framing the capabilities that have made web monetization possible, I would primarily focus the speculative portion of the paper on web monetization.

To this end, the final white paper will include three scenarios.

  • a longer story that explores a future where streaming payments are the primary model;
  • a second, smaller story, that explores a hybrid approach inspired by the ways we consume other types of media;
  • a third, smaller story, that explores a future where micro-tipping is both widespread and native to the web

Key activities

Work on the white paper started in September with a month of discovery and research. Web monetization intersects with a wide range of subjects, so there was lots to dig into, including but not limited to:

  • new, existing, and defunct internet business models,
  • how web payments currently work, 
  • emerging payment standards,
  • the economics of flat-rate streaming in other domains,
  • alternate approaches to digital payment around the world,
  • the challenges with today's web advertising ecosystem.

My research also included interviews with some of the people involved in the development of Interledger, the web monetization specification, and Coil.

This step was followed by several weeks of brainstorming, and concept development, culminating in the development of a high level outline of the paper, and its primary scenarios. I then wrote an early draft…and suddenly got really busy with other things.

This was somewhat anticipated (when I submitted the proposal back in June, it was hard to anticipate how my schedule might look in October), but turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it enabled me to complete the rest of the writing at a much slower pace. This proved extremely useful, as during that time I was able to dramatically augment my research thanks to the release of a very useful book, along with a pile of articles, podcasts, and white papers discussing the search for alternative ways to fund content and create sustainable communities on the web (which has, as it turns out, become a bit of a hot topic!)

Communications and marketing

I've yet to really discuss the work publicly (other than here :) That will happen once it's published!

What’s next?

This month, I'm putting finishing touches on the copy. I've also decided that before publishing the paper, I'd love to run it by a few people in the community. I'm aiming to find a minimum of two people - one with knowledge of/experience developing web standards, and another on the media/publisher/creator side of the ecosystem. This is something I hadn't originally planned, so I've requested a short extension--most of it to provide the reviewers time to give it a read and provide feedback. In total, I've requested one additional month, so hopefully that will be enough :0

What community support would benefit your project?

I have a few people in mind to review the paper, and a couple back-ups should they be unavailable, but these are strange times and many people are working from home while home-schooling (etc!) so if you're reading this and fit the bill in either of the categories mentioned above, I'd love to hear from you. You can comment below, or ping me on Twitter.

Apologies in advance if you don't make the list. With such a short extension (and half of it taken up waiting for the feedback to come in), I'm trying to limit the amount of feedback I receive, so I have time to carefully consider potential revisions.

That's all for now! More in a month's time…

Discussion (3)

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cyberdees profile image
Desigan CHINNIAH

From a browser and standards perspective @sid @jorydotcom @adrianhopebailie from within this community may want to be involved...

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drsm79 profile image
Simon Metson

Looking forward to seeing the finished article (and would happily review a draft). @hammertoe might also be interested.

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erikad profile image
Erika

Really looking forward to reading the final version of the paper, Stephanie!