Web Monetization and COIL are very focused on a specific model of paying for content. They do a very good job of replicating a familiar, specific, revenue-generating interaction between users and websites. In order for web monetization to take off, it needs to support other models, other interactions. At Permanent.org, our expertise is storage. We store things on long time scales for fixed, up-front payments. Pay once, keep it forever. Your great-great-great grandkids will thank you!
When we looked at web monetized content creation, we instantly saw possibilities beyond content, beyond creation, and beyond the web. The COIL approach of charging end-user consumers to pay creators serves an important function. It replaces the advertising economic model with something more equitable and privacy-respecting. We believe web monetization can pay for other things too: services, for example. And because storage is our thing, we looked at how the current web monetization infrastructure handles storage as a service.
We also looked beyond what most end-users think of as “the web”. Web monetization doesn’t have to be confined to end-user websites. It can apply anywhere you can do http, which these days is pretty much everywhere except embedded IOT devices. And even those smaller edge computing devices increasingly speak web.
In our project, we took a web application, Etherpad Lite. We added some hooks to Permanent’s web API, and are using web monetization as the payment mechanism to allow users to permanently store the contents of Etherpad documents. There’s a lot to do before our current proof-of-concept work is ready to deploy across the web, but we validated some basic ideas:
- Web monetization can do micropayments for services on the backend, not just for content on the front end.
- We can pay third parties instead of the content-hosting site-- the micropayments don’t go to the etherpad host. They go to pay for storage at a place the user chooses.
- We can integrate Permanent storage as a service in other apps. We can introduce permanence and user control of their own data to whole chunks of the web that are currently ephemeral or out of users’ hands.
Our next steps are to make some API changes on the Permanent side, improve the plugin so anybody can use it in any etherpad installation, and perhaps even make the integration work with another GFTW project, docs.plus.
Of course, we didn’t do all this work just to make a nifty etherpad plugin. We wanted to explore the possibilities. We’ll cover what we learned in our next blog post. The challenges we faced point to gaps in Web Monetization infrastructure, and a lot of our next steps will involve trying to figure out which gaps to fill next. COIL was never supposed to serve every possible need. Designing the next piece to sit next to COIL in the ecosystem will enable web monetization to take some big steps forward in adoption and application.