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Cover image for MHz Curationist Sustainable Financing Study - Final Report
MHz Curationist

MHz Curationist Sustainable Financing Study - Final Report

Brandon J. Roy
Community Lead at MHz Curationist www.curationist.org #ExpandingCulturesTogether
Updated on ・29 min read

Project Update

Our project completed its objective of researching a path forward for the ongoing sustainability of our Curationist.org project, and developed a timeline for implementing a multi-faceted plan to execute on that sustainability path. We have produced a document outlining our findings throughout this research and analysis process, which can be found here. Much of the text below, which constitutes our Final Report, is excerpted from this longer Detailed Study Findings report, which we encourage our readers to read in full as time allows.

As you can see in this report, after a good deal of study, we have arrived at a plan to pursue four types of monetization strategies: micropayments, grant funding, corporate sponsorships, and services. We have a plan for which type of funding to pursue first (corporate sponsorships for technical development, alongside grant funding for platform development), mid-term (technical support services and corporate sponsorships for community outreach), and six to twelve months post-launch (institutional collaboration grants, docent services, and micropayments). We are actively pursuing corporate sponsorships for technical development and grant funding for platform development at this time.

Progress on Objectives

We have arrived at a dual strategy at the completion of this report, which serves to generate a strategy on two types of funding: one focused on sustainable funding for content creation, and the other for sustainable finding of ongoing operations of the Curationist.org platform, once we complete our V2 platform launch in early 2022.

The monetization strategy that we will pursue to fund content creation is as follows:

  • Micropayments

When we launch Curationist.org (v 2.0) in 2022, the platform will have a headless CMS in the background. Accordingly, curators of our works will be able to go into the back end of our system to access the data store of CC0 and CC-BY GLAM content that we have pulled from disparate sources and normalized. From there, they can craft rich stories about the objects.

A successful platform is one that incentivizes curators to visit frequently to share their stories. Building a micropayment system into the footer of each curated collection is one way for us to invite content consumers to financially reward content curators quickly and easily for the creation of that content. The invitation will include a message to this effect: “The work that is presented here was contributed by a volunteer. If you find value in this information, we invite you to say ‘thank you’ to this contributor through a micropayment of X (e.g., $1 USD).” This message will be accompanied visually by a button the user may click to take action. Many platforms employ similar mechanisms successfully, including major newspaper platforms like The Guardian UK.

As we explain later in this report, we will start our exploration of micropayments through user testing with our curators. Specifically, we will explore curators’ interest in receiving micropayments and will speak with them about various micropayment scenarios. We plan to build this user testing and dialogue around the use of COIL technology because, at this stage, we think COIL is the micropayment processing technology that we will want to use. As such, we will build user scenarios around the use of COIL during this “proof of concept” tech phase.

One of the challenges of building an effective user experience around micropayments is that curators’ acceptance of micropayments will be optional, not mandatory. While some of our curators are independent (individuals speaking on their own behalf), others are institutional - i.e., curators speaking on behalf of their GLAM institution. Both types of curators (independent and institutional) should be able to opt-in or out of the micropayment system.

Lastly, we want to point out that in addition to incentivizing the creation of curated collections (as described above), we are also trying to find ways to incentivize metadata work, which is where people augment the metadata that exists for a digital object with additional information. While there is a longer-term potential of finding ways to build micropayment monetization pathways into the creation of metadata, it will not be our first exploration. Rather, we will start our field testing of micropayments at the curated collections level to see whether there is acceptance of this type of monetization strategy. We will begin that process with some user testing to engage curators around various micropayment engagement scenarios and different UI options, and we will learn what we can from that user testing to get a final spec for micropayments onto our roadmap. We will use this user testing phase to also field test curator tolerances for our intended content policy, content moderation system, and editorial standards. Later, we will consider whether micropayments are also a strategy that we want to explore at the metadata creation level, by following a similar test-driven development process.

The monetization strategy that we will pursue to fund operations is as follows:

  • Corporate sponsorships

We strongly believe that we can bring great value to the world through the creation of a data store of GLAM content in CC0 and CC-BY format with normalized metadata and taxonomy. While it can be used successfully within our own platform, the highest and best use of our platform may be as a demonstration of, and advertisement for, the usefulness of this centralized data store. In fact, as this central source of GLAM content grows, it will become a significant and growing contribution to the free-knowledge movement.

Corporations have historically found value in sponsoring the expansion of content in the free-knowledge field, when doing so allows them to leverage that content in order to advance their corporate goals. Because we only offer CC0 and CC-BY creative commons content, and because we plan on being thoughtful about how we approach issues such as indigenous data sovereignty, we believe corporations will find value in a data store like ours existing that is designed to be cleaner from a data hygiene perspective than an environment like Flickr Commons.

We are in the process of generating a list of major corporate sponsors who we believe will find great value in the type of data store that we are seeking to build particularly when it comes to content that is not already easily accessible online. When they see and understand the value proposition, they will want to fund the development of this work. One of many examples of the types of organizations that could find great value in this includes Automattic, the creator of WordPress. Specifically, Automattic could take free GLAM content that is smartly and meticulously tagged, and deploy this content for use in the public blogs created by their users. Additionally, Google has leveraged Wikipedia data in its search algorithms.

We see this as a sequential process: first, we will normalize the way that the content that already exists is able to be accessed from a metadata and taxonomy standpoint. Initially, the data store will leverage the work of large institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Rijksmuseum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian. We believe that completing this first step will make it easier for smaller, traditionally underrepresented GLAM institutions in the Global South to participate by providing them with a ubiquitous template. Eventually, we will also try to raise capital for those institutions to further assist their efforts. Involvement from these lesser-known institutions will allow us to achieve our ultimate goal of raising underrepresented voices by bringing their content and stories to light in a way that can be easily shared.

Corporate sponsorship development is needed in two areas: technical development and community outreach.

First, we must complete the technical component of the development of the data store. While the taxonomy and metadata work has completed its structural development, technological groundwork is still underway (such as ensuring that the centralized data store is complete and content from multiple API streams has been normalized) and will require the support of corporate sponsors to finish.

Second, we will need assistance with outreach efforts to targeted communities in underrepresented regions to communicate the benefits of and encourage their participation in the data store, and eventually additional pools of funding that could go directly to those communities to assist them with the digitization of their collections.

  • Grants

Grants have been a source of MHz Curationist’s funding from the outset. We are continually seeking additional grant funding in order to service different aspects of what we’re building; we do not anticipate changing this approach to funding.

We will continue to pursue grants that will enable our data store to be fully built, our taxonomy and metadata work to be complete, and our platform to be up and running. However, even with the completion of this work behind us, we will still be uncomfortably positioned as too much of an island in the work that needs to be done on the GLAM content that we wish to enrich with metadata and curation work. The more we can make our systems interoperable with the systems of other organizations across the internet, the more a community can develop that allows for that content to be used beyond our own platform.

Therefore, while we continue to seek grant funding for platform development and data store development, upon launch, we will begin prioritizing community collaboration grants that focus on interoperability between our community and other communities focused on similar work.

An example of this is the work of the Wikimedia Project’s work on Wikidata. The more interoperability we can enable between our work and theirs, the more we can ensure that our important work won’t be siloed and can be used by all, wherever that work is most useful across the web.

One further way that we can ensure that our work is not siloed on our own platform is by collaborating with the world’s colleges and universities on OER. We envision these collaborations leveraging our platform or data store to teach and will thus pursue grants to further this opportunity.

  • Services

We plan to actively market two different types of services that would enable customized interactions with our platform and/or data store. Those two service types are docent services and tech support services.

  • Docent services

Collaborations with colleges and universities will stimulate the development of Curationist as an OER. Moreover, our curators will develop a tremendous amount of content that will be very useful to educators worldwide. Just as an in-person museum may hire a docent to walk them through a museum, we can offer virtual docents that will walk visitors through content that exists on our platforms to teach them about the world through the eyes of our curators. Whenever possible, a) the docent services will be provided by content creators themselves, and b) those docents will talk about cultural content that is from their own culture.

The majority of funds for these docent services would be distributed to the people who have generated the compelling content, with a certain small percentage handed back to the institution for operational overhead. As our OER plan develops and expands, a “Head of Docent Services” role will need to be developed to allow this system to be architected and implemented.

  • Technical support services

We want to enable the GLAM institutions of the world to leverage our data store free of charge. Meanwhile, we will offer paid services to institutions that need hand-holding in that process or who need custom work done to ensure that integrations work. This will be true for both ingress and egress services - meaning that if there are institutions that wish to leverage the content within our data store, we will offer services, as well as services to GLAM institutions that wish to contribute to our data store. Because we are interested in the latter, and it is beneficial to us, we will attempt to seek grant funding to facilitate a pool of resources that will allow us to provide free services as possible to GLAM institutions interested in plugging into our system who cannot afford the technical support services necessary to do so.

Ultimately, we are hopeful that once our baseline set of API calls, taxonomies, and structures are in place, most organizations can interact with our data store and technology structure in a self-serve way. For those who can’t, we will have fair and reasonable prices to guide them in that process. As with previous services, most of the funds associated with billables in that area will go directly to fund the technologists with a small percentage overrun for administrative overhead.

Key activities

INITIAL MONETIZATION RESEARCH:

Investigation of Monetization Strategies In Use by Like-Kind Open-Access Platforms

We set out to understand funding models employed by like-kind open-access platforms currently in operation. Specifically, we set out to learn the following:

  • How are the organizations funded? Grants and/or corporate funding?
  • How are staff and other operating expenses covered?
  • How do the organizations incentivize people to produce content?
  • Do the organizations provide paid services?
  • Do the organizations accept micropayments and do these payments only go to the content producers?

To gain a better understanding of funding options available, and how our peers are finding the proper balance, we took a close look at how six like-minded open-access organizations sustain their operations.

RESEARCH SAMPLE:

Specifically, we studied two organizations from the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums): Free Music Archive (an organization that provides free and royalty-free music from independent artists) and Internet Archive (a nonprofit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.

Additionally, we included two open-knowledge websites in our study: Smarthistory (an organization that makes the history of art accessible and engaging to more people in more places than any other publisher) and Khan Academy (a nonprofit with the mission to provide free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere).

Lastly, we studied the Wikimedia Foundation (providing the essential infrastructure for free knowledge) and WikiArt (a visual art encyclopedia, formerly known as WikiPaintings, with the primary goal of making the world’s art accessible to anyone, anywhere). WikiArt is unaffiliated with the Wikimedia Foundation, though they are both parts of the Wiki movement. The Wikimedia Foundation organization and its websites stand apart from the other four organizations in our study in terms of scope and marketplace recognition, not to mention funding. Nevertheless, the underlying principles that form its foundation are in alignment with those governing MHz Curationist, thus we included the Wikimedia Foundation in our study.

To gather financial data on these six organizations, we examined the most recent IRS Form 990 that is available for each organization that is based out of the United States. Free Music Archive is headquartered in the Netherlands and WikiArt in Ukraine.

Funding Sources:

  • Free Music Archive: Grants, Program Service Revenue, and Micropayments
  • Internet Archive: Grants, Program Service Revenue
  • Smarthistory: Grants, Program Service Revenue
  • Khan Academy: Grants, Program Service Revenue
  • Wikimedia Foundation: Grants, Program Service Revenue
  • WikiArt: Advertising

RESEARCH FINDINGS:

Of the six organizations studied, only one (Free Music Archive) accepts micropayments as a source of funding. Five of the six organizations (all except WikiArt) are funded by grants, with Khan Academy and Internet Archive earning supplemental funding from program service revenue. WikiArt is funded entirely through advertising revenue.

To supplement its grant funding, Khan Academy and Internet Archive draw 37 percent and 40 percent of their total revenue from the sale of paid services, respectively. Similarly, Free Music Archive supplements its income from paid services, however, data was incomplete as to how much of their total funding consists of service fees.

When it comes to content creation, three of the six organizations in our study rely on volunteers to produce content for free: Wikimedia, WikiArt, and Smarthistory. Content creators for Khan Academy and Internet Archive are paid, whereas the musicians who produce content for Free Music Archive are paid through micropayments.

Finding only one of the peer organizations we investigated accepting micropayments, we returned to our question, “How do the organizations incentivize people to produce content?”

Of the rest of the organizations, the most data existed for Wikipedia. The Wall Street Journal referenced a 2009 study on the subject in which they determined the following:

“Altruism and fact-checking are the top motivations of contributors, the study found. About 73% indicated "I like the idea of sharing knowledge and want to contribute to it," while 69% said, "I saw an error I wanted to fix."

“When asked what would make them more likely to contribute to the site, the top response was if "I knew there were specific topic areas that needed my help" (41%), followed by "It was clear to me that other people would benefit from my efforts" (36%). Thirty-two percent marked "Other/don’t know/don't want to say."

Our own explorations into micropayments will help us to determine whether it is the proper path for us, but whether it is or not, the insights on why people take the time to contribute to Wikimedia Foundation sites will prove invaluable as well.

RESEARCH CONCLUSIONS:

Our study of like-kind organizations that are curating content on open-source platforms reveals that none of these organizations are sustaining themselves through micropayments alone. All of these organizations are funding their operations through a blend of grants, advertising, and revenue from the sale of paid services. While the two largest organizations that we studied (Wikimedia and WikiArt) have a no-cost content creation platform, three of the organizations have found it necessary to financially incentivize content creators.

It is thus reasonable to conclude that a sustainable funding model for MHz Curationist will include a blend of revenue streams, such as grants, corporate sponsorships and donations, fee-for-service, micro-payments, and advertising.

FURTHER MONETIZATION EXPLORATION:

We will now explore five means of monetizing the Curationist platform:

  • Micropayments
  • Corporate sponsorships
  • GLAM Data Store
  • Grants
  • Services

We will evaluate each monetization strategy against its ability to: a) fund ongoing operations, and b) incentivize content creation.

  • Micropayments

Micropayments are small transactions, often carried out online that can be as small as a fraction of a cent. Depending on the payment system and platform, a micropayment may be as small as $0.01 USD or as large as $5.00 - $20.00 USD.

When it comes to utilizing micropayments as a means of funding operations and infrastructure, our research has not produced a model that invites participants on a platform to contribute to that platform’s base operations. However, due to the administrative overhead and fees associated with processing micropayments, we plan to build in a surcharge on top of each micropayment that we receive, which will be a set percentage based on real administrative costs and fees assessed, in order to sustain the micropayment model without losing money on it.

Meanwhile, our research has revealed that it is possible for us to integrate a micropayment system that financially rewards the creator of the content. We believe there will be enough upside from these micropayments for people to not only create content but to promote the content they have created within their own network.

Research from Like-Kind Organizations:

  • To Fund Operations: Negative/none observed
  • To Fund Content Contributors: Seldom used (1 of 6 organizations studied)

Conclusion:
None of the organizations in our study fund their operations through micropayments alone. We believe it is possible for us to integrate a micropayment system that financially rewards the creator of the content while building in a modest processing fee into each payment to sustain the fees associated with offering the micropayment model. Therefore, while we do not see micropayments as a way to fund operations, we do see a way to make micropayments self-sustaining, such that they do not add cost to operations and infrastructure.

  • Corporate Sponsorships

Corporate sponsors make sponsorship investments in nonprofit organizations when one or both of the following benefits is present:

The nonprofit organization has attracted a sizable audience, whose demographics complement the corporation’s demographics, or represent a demographic that the corporation wants to pursue; and/or
The nonprofit organization is engaging in a project that would bring value to the marketplace, and thus to the corporation, by solving a problem that the corporation no longer has to solve or invest its time, energy, and human resources first-hand.

When we consider how Curationist is positioned against these two criteria, we come to see the following:

Curationist is an emerging platform currently operating with a beta site. Accordingly, financial modeling, operational sustainability exercises, and digital platform management work is currently underway. Curationist has not yet reached the brand-building stage in its life cycle, thus it does not have the traffic metrics that would entice a corporation to invest marketing dollars into advertising on the site. While Curationist has long-term goals of approaching corporations for funding, who wish to associate their business with its global audience of culturally interested individuals, pursuing this as a source of short-term funding is premature.

Curationist is engaged in a massive digital undertaking that would benefit corporations who are motivated by bringing open-access, cultural content, to a global audience in a way that helps raise underrepresented voices through digital storytelling. Curationist is positioned to attract funding from corporations who value the creation of such a GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) data store.

We will focus on opportunities to draw revenue from the latter in the next section.

Research from Like-Kind Organizations:

  • To Fund Operations: Negative/none observed
  • To Fund Content Contributors: Negative/none observed

Conclusion:
The financial data that we reviewed did not yield any insights into whether an organization was receiving funding from corporate sponsors or not. Curationist is in the development stage in its life cycle, thus its website traffic volume is not yet enough to attract a corporate sponsor for advertising. This is not a short-term source of funding for operations nor content contributors.

GLAM Data Store

There are multiple online locations where one can find Creative Commons content. Many large organizations are providing their own streams of CC0 and CC BY content, typically via API, such as the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Originally, we planned to connect to the API of organizations such as these, bringing their CC0 and CC BY content into a central source. However, this was problematic because every institution’s API and content is unique. Trying to bring everything together in a single-search algorithm that was functional and easy to use was nearly impossible, resulting in non-normalized, slow results.

Thus, we turned our focus to normalization. Specifically, we are making the CC0 and CC BY content that we gather as part of a data structure (a taxonomy) that puts content into categories based on a GLAM taxonomy that we have created. In addition, we have created standardized ways to handle metadata with normalized tagging.

The output on the Curationist site is a massive amount of hosted content that is:

  • free and openly accessible via uniform methods
  • categorized and uniformly-tagged
  • standardized in its appearance on the site
  • easily searchable
  • returns results quickly

Now that this normalized GLAM metadata and taxonomy systems have been created, it can expand over time. Our aim is for these systems to be useful to others, so that people who are new to the idea of putting their content into CC0 and CC BY, will use our metadata schema and taxonomy, bringing their content into a much larger, global pool of content.

Corporations who find such a data store of GLAM content useful for themselves and/or their users, members, or customers, will see a benefit in investing money into this project. Such funding would achieve the objective of funding operations, but not necessarily incentivizing content creation.

Research from Like-Kind Organizations:

  • To Fund Operations: N/A
  • To Fund Content Contributors: N/A

Conclusion:
We are plowing new ground at Curationist, so there is no like-kind organization to study. However, we believe that Curationist’s massive digital undertaking will be compelling to corporations who are motivated by having access to large amounts of normalized image data. Corporations interested in funding the project would also be bringing open-access, cultural content, to a global audience in a way that helps raise underrepresented voices through digital storytelling. Accordingly, we have developed a shortlist of possible corporations for whom such a data store of GLAM content could prove useful for themselves and/or their users, members, or customers, will see a benefit in investing money into this project, and we will begin by contacting them. Such funding would achieve the objective of funding operations, but not necessarily incentivizing content creation.

Grants

Curationist was conceived out of a desire to tell curated stories about cultural objects in ways that help raise underrepresented voices. Information about the cultural objects that can be searched and found on the platform is enhanced by the stories that are shared about the objects themselves - this is made possible thanks to the normalization of the data store at the metadata level.

In this way, Curationist is providing an open educational resource (OER), with an eye towards ensuring that the systems we are building are freely available to be used around the world.

When it comes to grant funding, we are looking for organizations that see alignment with our ambition to overcome colonial voices with digital storytelling. We want to give voice to narratives that are true to an object’s original creator and/or culture, and do so in a way that makes it easy for underrepresented voices to plug into the system. Ultimately, we want small institutions in the far corners of the world to have the same access to contribute their narrative to cultural objects, as the more well-heeled, prominent cultural locations.

The right grantor will help us take what we are building and bring it to a larger audience so that it lives well beyond the Curationist website. The right grantor will help us make the platform more accessible for smaller GLAM institutions to plug into.

A grant will help fund certain aspects of the Curationist operation, but it is unlikely that it would incentivize content creation.

Research from Like-Kind Organizations:

  • To Fund Operations: In use/viable (5 of 6 organizations studied)
  • To Fund Content Contributors: Negative/none observed

Conclusion:
Grant funding was proven to be a cornerstone means of funding like-kind organizations. Curationist is providing an open educational resource (OER) that is freely available globally. The right grantor will help us fund operations so that we are able to bring what we are building to a larger audience. It is unlikely to find a grant that would help subsidize content creation.

Services

Curationist’s content is a valuable resource for groups to use in support of their educational efforts. Structuring customized access to this resource can unlock a revenue stream.

We see two types of service offerings as paid add-ons to that which Curationist offers for free: 1) docent services, and 2) technical support services.

  • Docent Services

Starting a virtual storytelling program with a college, university, or school district could provide Curationist with an ongoing revenue stream. For instance, a docent could walk a class through a certain type of art that is physically isolated to certain parts of the world but that, through the data store, has been brought together in one virtual museum. There are numerous ways to model online offerings after ticketed offerings available in-person in modern museums.

  • Technical Support Services

Certain people or institutions may need digital support services. While access to our API will be free, there may be specific technical needs that require hands-on support for which we can charge a fee.

Over time, each of these service offerings will evolve based on consumer demand and user feedback. The goal will be for all fees collected for services to cover the cost of providing those services, plus a modest profit to contribute toward the cost of general operations. Ideally, we would seek to provide services to people regardless of their ability to pay, but to accomplish this we would need to seek further grant funding to generate a pool of resources, from which we would draw down need-based access to services.

Research from Like-Kind Organizations:

  • To Fund Operations: In use/viable (3 of 6 organizations studied)
  • To Fund Content Contributors: Negative/none observed

Conclusion:
Half of the like-kind organizations that we studied derived revenue from pay-for-service offerings. We foresee providing both docent and technical support services (custom API integrations), with all fees collected covering the cost of providing those services, plus a modest profit to contribute toward the cost of general operations.

In summary, of the five monetization strategies, one (micropayments) is worthy of further investigation as a means of incentivizing content creators and three (corporate sponsors for GLAM data store, grants, and services) are worthy of further investigation as a means of funding ongoing operations.

STUDY CONCLUSIONS:

The monetization strategy that we will pursue to fund content creation is as follows:

  • Micropayments

When we launch Curationist.org (v 2.0) in 2022, the platform will have a headless CMS in the background. Accordingly, curators of our works will be able to go into the back end of our system to access the data store of CC0 and CC-BY GLAM content that we have pulled from disparate sources and normalized. From there, they can craft rich stories about the objects.

A successful platform is one that incentivizes curators to visit frequently to share their stories. Building a micropayment system into the footer of each curated collection is one way for us to invite content consumers to financially reward content curators quickly and easily for the creation of that content. The invitation will include a message to this effect: “The work that is presented here was contributed by a volunteer. If you find value in this information, we invite you to say ‘thank you’ to this contributor through a micropayment of X (e.g., $1 USD).” This message will be accompanied visually by a button the user may click to take action. Many platforms employ similar mechanisms successfully, including major newspaper platforms like The Guardian UK.

As we explain later in this report, we will start our exploration of micropayments through user testing with our curators. Specifically, we will explore curators’ interest in receiving micropayments and will speak with them about various micropayment scenarios. We plan to build this user testing and dialogue around the use of COIL technology because, at this stage, we think COIL is the micropayment processing technology that we will want to use. As such, we will build user scenarios around the use of COIL during this “proof of concept” tech phase.

One of the challenges of building an effective user experience around micropayments is that curators’ acceptance of micropayments will be optional, not mandatory. While some of our curators are independent (individuals speaking on their own behalf), others are institutional - i.e., curators speaking on behalf of their GLAM institution. Both types of curators (independent and institutional) should be able to opt-in or out of the micropayment system.

Lastly, we want to point out that in addition to incentivizing the creation of curated collections (as described above), we are also trying to find ways to incentivize metadata work, which is where people augment the metadata that exists for a digital object with additional information.
While there is a longer-term potential of finding ways to build micropayment monetization pathways into the creation of metadata, it will not be our first exploration. Rather, we will start our field testing of micropayments at the curated collections level to see whether there is acceptance of this type of monetization strategy. We will begin that process with some user testing to engage curators around various micropayment engagement scenarios and different UI options, and we will learn what we can from that user testing to get a final spec for micropayments onto our roadmap. We will use this user testing phase to also field test curator tolerances for our intended content policy, content moderation system, and editorial standards. Later, we will consider whether micropayments are also a strategy that we want to explore at the metadata creation level, by following a similar test-driven development process.

We believe it is possible for us to integrate a micropayment system that financially rewards the creator of the content, while building in an overrun (e.g., a small administrative fee) on each payment to cover the cost of administering the system. This is the only monetization strategy that we are pursuing at this time to fund content contributors, starting with user testing in an attempt to bring us to enough technical clarity to get it onto our development roadmap. Therefore, while we do not see micropayments as a way to fund operations, we do see a way to make micropayments self-sustaining, such that they do not add cost to operations and infrastructure.

The monetization strategy that we will pursue to fund operations is as follows:

  • Corporate sponsorships

We strongly believe that we can bring great value to the world through the creation of a data store of GLAM content in CC0 and CC-BY format with normalized metadata and taxonomy. While it can be used successfully within our own platform, the highest and best use of our platform may be as a demonstration of, and advertisement for, the usefulness of this centralized data store. In fact, as this central source of GLAM content grows, it will become a significant and growing contribution to the free-knowledge movement.

Corporations have historically found value in sponsoring the expansion of content in the free-knowledge field, when doing so allows them to leverage that content in order to advance their corporate goals. Because we only offer CC0 and CC-BY creative commons content, and because we plan on being thoughtful about how we approach issues such as indigenous data sovereignty, we believe corporations will find value in a data store like ours existing that is designed to be cleaner from a data hygiene perspective than an environment like Flickr Commons.

We are in the process of generating a list of major corporate sponsors who we believe will find great value in the type of data store that we are seeking to build particularly when it comes to content that is not already easily accessible online. When they see and understand the value proposition, they will want to fund the development of this work. One of many examples of the types of organizations that could find great value in this includes Automattic, the creator of WordPress. Specifically, Automattic could take free GLAM content that is smartly and meticulously tagged, and deploy this content for use in the public blogs created by their users. Additionally, Google has leveraged Wikipedia data in its search algorithms.

We see this as a sequential process: first, we will normalize the way that the content that already exists is able to be accessed from a metadata and taxonomy standpoint. Initially, the data store will leverage the work of large institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Rijksmuseum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian. We believe that completing this first step will make it easier for smaller, traditionally underrepresented GLAM institutions in the Global South to participate by providing them with a ubiquitous template. Eventually, we will also try to raise capital for those institutions to further assist their efforts. Involvement from these lesser-known institutions will allow us to achieve our ultimate goal of raising underrepresented voices by bringing their content and stories to light in a way that can be easily shared.

Corporate sponsorship development is needed in two areas: technical development and community outreach.

First, we must complete the technical component of the development of the data store. While the taxonomy and metadata work has completed its structural development, technological groundwork is still underway (such as ensuring that the centralized data store is complete and content from multiple API streams has been normalized) and will require the support of corporate sponsors to finish.

Second, we will need assistance with outreach efforts to targeted communities in underrepresented regions to communicate the benefits of and encourage their participation in the data store, and eventually additional pools of funding that could go directly to those communities to assist them with the digitization of their collections.

  • Grants

Grants have been a source of MHz Curationist’s funding from the outset. We are continually seeking additional grant funding in order to service different aspects of what we’re building; we do not anticipate changing this approach to funding.

We will continue to pursue grants that will enable our data store to be fully built, our taxonomy and metadata work to be complete, and our platform to be up and running. However, even with the completion of this work behind us, we will still be uncomfortably positioned as too much of an island in the work that needs to be done on the GLAM content that we wish to enrich with metadata and curation work. The more we can make our systems interoperable with the systems of other organizations across the internet, the more a community can develop that allows for that content to be used beyond our own platform.

Therefore, while we continue to seek grant funding for platform development and data store development, upon launch, we will begin prioritizing community collaboration grants that focus on interoperability between our community and other communities focused on similar work.

An example of this is the work of the Wikimedia Project’s work on Wikidata. The more interoperability we can enable between our work and theirs, the more we can ensure that our important work won’t be siloed and can be used by all, wherever that work is most useful across the web.

One further way that we can ensure that our work is not siloed on our own platform is by collaborating with the world’s colleges and universities on OER. We envision these collaborations leveraging our platform or data store to teach and will thus pursue grants to further this opportunity.

  • Services

We plan to actively market two different types of services that would enable customized interactions with our platform and/or data store. Those two service types are docent services and tech support services.

  • Docent services

Collaborations with colleges and universities will stimulate the development of Curationist as an OER. Moreover, our curators will develop a tremendous amount of content that will be very useful to educators worldwide. Just as an in-person museum may hire a docent to walk them through a museum, we can offer virtual docents that will walk visitors through content that exists on our platforms to teach them about the world through the eyes of our curators. Whenever possible, a) the docent services will be provided by content creators themselves, and b) those docents will talk about cultural content that is from their own culture.

The majority of funds for these docent services would be distributed to the people who have generated the compelling content, with a certain small percentage handed back to the institution for operational overhead. As our OER plan develops and expands, a “Head of Docent Services” role will need to be developed to allow this system to be architected and implemented.

  • Technical support services

We want to enable the GLAM institutions of the world to leverage our data store free of charge. Meanwhile, we will offer paid services to institutions that need hand-holding in that process or who need custom work done to ensure that integrations work. This will be true for both ingress and egress services - meaning that if there are institutions that wish to leverage the content within our data store, we will offer services, as well as services to GLAM institutions that wish to contribute to our data store. Because we are interested in the latter, and it is beneficial to us, we will attempt to seek grant funding to facilitate a pool of resources that will allow us to provide free services as possible to GLAM institutions interested in plugging into our system who cannot afford the technical support services necessary to do so.

Ultimately, we are hopeful that once our baseline set of API calls, taxonomies, and structures are in place, most organizations can interact with our data store and technology structure in a self-serve way. For those who can’t, we will have fair and reasonable prices to guide them in that process. As with previous services, most of the funds associated with billables in that area will go directly to fund the technologists with a small percentage overrun for administrative overhead.

  • Communications and marketing

Though marketing has not been a focus of this grant, we have been doing some public speaking about our platform, and the ways in which we seek to monetize it. This has been a discussion topic on our recently created Medium page, which can be found here: MHz Foundation - Medium.com

We regularly speak about our coming platform in blogs and conferences, but have yet to speak in detail about monetization and sustainability outside of Medium and the Web Monetization Community.

What’s next?

INTENDED TIMELINE:

CURRENTLY (as of publication date)

  • As of the publication date of this post, we’re in beta.
  • While we’re in beta and gearing up for a new beta release in early 2022 prior to a full launch later in 2022, we are actively pursuing corporate sponsorships with a specific focus on sponsorships for technical development.
  • Also while we’re in beta, we are seeking grant funding for platform development and data store development.
  • Secure board approval of the creation of an advisory group of GLAM representatives to inform and guide our work.

END OF 2021/BEGINNING OF 2022

  • Launch the new site.
  • Technical support services will be online and ready for use.
  • Pursue corporate sponsorships for community outreach.
  • OER plan will be complete.
  • Launch GLAM advisory group (2022).

6-12 MONTHS POST-LAUNCH

  • Pursue educational institutions/collaboration grants (i.e., once they have a platform to collaborate on).
  • Docent services will launch.
  • We will initiate the tech development cycle to integrate micropayments into our site.
  • Maintain close contact with the advisory group to address specific needs.

What community support would benefit your project?

After we launch Curationist.org (v 2.0) in 2022, we will be ready to start testing a micropayment system, and we have already collected a good deal of feedback from the Web Monetization Community on what our criteria and resources should be.

We believe it is possible for us to integrate a micropayment system that financially rewards the creator of the content, while building in an overrun (e.g., a small administrative fee), on each payment to cover the cost of administering the system. This is the only monetization strategy that we are pursuing at this time to fund content contributors, starting with user testing in an attempt to bring us to enough technical clarity to get it onto our development roadmap. Therefore, while we do not see micropayments as a way to fund operations, we do see a way to make micropayments self-sustaining, such that they do not add cost to operations and infrastructure

We are excited by this. When we are ready to implement, we will be pioneering something new for the open knowledge community, and attempting to learn lessons from elsewhere in the open knowledge community including the Wikimedia sphere, by trying to create an environment that values volunteer work. When we are ready to develop this post-platform launch, it is clear that we will not want to do it alone. We hope to turn to the Web Monetization Community for advice and support, and also hope to apply for a subsequent Grant for the Web grant to help us fund the technical development of these important features.

Additional comments

We would like to thank the Grant for the Web community for building the grant environment around a community, and for encouraging shared learning and collaboration. We have taken that to heart, and adjusted our findings throughout our process based on the guidance provided by others and the collaborations offered by partners we have found through this community.

We seek to continue our relationship with this community, and to go from research to action within the year, with the ongoing guidance of the Web Monetization Community, and we hope the financial support of Grant for the Web when the time is right. We would appreciate any feedback from this community on how we can best proceed with these goals as we continue to try to change the Internet for the better together!

Relevant links/resources

Mini Report #1: Stating the Problem - MHz Curationist Sustainable Contributor Payment Study
https://community.webmonetization.org/mhzcscps/mini-report-1-stating-the-problem-mhz-curationist-sustainable-contributor-payment-study-1ip0

Mini Report #2: Market Research - Reviewing the GLAM & open knowledge spaces for monetization methods.
https://community.webmonetization.org/mhzcscps/mini-report-2-market-research-reviewing-the-glam-open-knowledge-spaces-for-monetization-methods-2di1

Mini-Report #3: Sustainable Monetization Explorations
https://community.webmonetization.org/mhzcscps/mini-report-3-sustainable-monetization-explorations-756

Mini-Report #4: Monetization Study Conclusions for Curationist.org #ExpandingCulturesTogether
https://community.webmonetization.org/mhzcscps/final-report-web-monetization-study-conclusions-for-curationist-org-2440

MHz Sustainability Report - Detailed Study Findings

https://community.webmonetization.org/mhzcscps/mhz-sustainability-report-study-findings-fpm

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