Quick introduction to web-monetization

08 August 2021


The web as we know it today, does little to make the life of an independent content creator any easier. Creators have tried many ways over time to monetise their content over the internet, starting from including ads, adding paywalls, to putting their content on subscription based platforms. However, putting it across bluntly, ads butcher the experience of consuming the content, paywalls impede the reach of the content and there’s a limit to the number of subscriptions one can have. The process of making money against a content that’s informative, helpful and unique shouldn’t include these compromises on both, the creation and the consumption ends.

In his write-up The web began dying in 2014, here’s how André Saltz highlights the influence that big tech has over 70% of internet traffic. With uncapped budget and influence, companies such as Google, Amazon and FB would continue to control the helm of the internet, making it less and less diverse by each passing day. To fight this forced homogenisation, we desperately need to support technologies that allows internet to retain its equitability and idiosyncrasies more than ever. As put by Stefan Thomas during MozFest 2019 while introducing @Coil Web Monetization -

“What makes it difficult for me to go independent is that there’s nothing native in the web that allows me to make money.”

The independence that Stefan is referring to here, is the one that comes without opting to be assimilated by a platform and cooking what’s already on the menu. Well, thanks to Stefan and other like minded folks, that’s no longer the case. Today, with Interledger Protocol and Web Monetization standards, the dream of having a web-native technology that lets creators monetise their content over the web in a more equitable, secure and fair way has started to take shape.

Current state of monetizing content

Although, I could go on and on explaining this part of the narrative, I’ll try to keep it simple and focus on the four key elements/approaches fueling the existing business models:

  1. Ads — Creators often lean towards including ads on their sites to make money. This revenue, however, comes at the cost of a deteriorated experience and security threat. Ads take up noticeable space on the web page(because that’s the point) and you lose control over user’s attention, the flow and hierarchy of the content. While this helps you earn money, it also erodes a good amount of value from your website. This is what Ethan Zuckerman refers to as Original sin in his write-up. Depending on ads for revenue could also present some surprises along the way. Pewdiepie’s case-study is a good example to showcase the degree of control you put in the hands of the advertisers. Worse comes to worst, you might even end up running an ad for Scientology on your website.
  2. Paywalls and Subscriptions — As a user experience designer, a learning I’ve had from working several years in the industry is — if you want to activate your users on the platform and take them all the way to the referral phase in the pirate funnel, your onboarding should have minimum entry barriers. Paywall does quite the opposite. Paywalls, more than often, make users go through a whole sign-up process for websites, where they might never need to come back to. Besides, they also end up being a hinderance in the propagation of thoughts, ideas and knowledge. In the scientific world, (historically)paywalls have played the role of a roadblock for scientific progress. But this is more of an ethical take on the subject. Unfortunately, paywalls don’t do perform great on the sales strategy side either. There’s always a missed opportunity associated because the coverage of a subscription on the consumer side is always limited. Going by the Subscription fatigue report 2021(yes, that’s a real thing), an average American has about 9 subscriptions going on simultaneously. I personally have about 8. Due to this sunk cost fallacy at play, the traffic of interested readers/consumer gets limited by design.
  3. Big tech— YouTube started off by attracting independent creators hosting their content. The platform’s interest started to revamp with time and it didn’t take long for the algorithm to take charge. Creators who established their subscriber base with their ingenuity and authenticity had to make a choice, to play by the giant’s algorithmic rules or perish . The same goes for SEOs. To increase engagement, tech companies perform more experiments with their algorithms and the content on the higher side of ostentations have started to get more tractions. The organic reach of content took a big hit with this widespread practice too.

What is Web-monetization and how does it work?

Web monetisation is a method of monetising over the web while safeguarding your privacy, your data and even saving your time. Using web-monetisation, you can stream money to a creator without having to sign-up for a subscription or membership and also get paid for your content without bowing to the rules of popular platforms. All you need to do to make this happen is to set-up a payment pointer/web-monetized wallet.

Web-monetisation is now a proposed W3C standard . It uses a technology called Interledger Protocol (ILP), which is a request response protocol that provides a ledger agnostic and currency agnostic method for transferring money. This technology provides the required base for the construction of an equitable money streaming process over the internet.

There are many platforms out there already that support this method of monetization and at the same time provide a great experience for content creator and viewers by providing the support of a community. On https://webmonetization.org/ you’d find a list of platforms that support web-monetization as well as a set of tools that enable this feature. Lets look at how you could set up web-monetisation for yourself.

As a creator

To set up web-monetization on your website as a creator you need to follow a few steps.

  1. Set up a digital wallet that supports interledger. you could look at the available options for wallets on this link .
  2. Verify your identity on the wallet app to be able to authenticate transactions.
  3. Get your interledger payment pointer.
  4. Add a monetisation meta tag with your payment pointer to set up web monetisation on your site.
<html lang=“en”>
<head>
<meta name=“monetization” content=“MY_PAYMENT_POINTER”>
</head>
    <body>
        <script>
        </script>
    </body>
</html>

You could make many customisations to your site to differentiate the experience for visitors with web-monetisation enabled by checking if the document.monetization object exists. You can choose not to show ads or provide a more premium experience to paying visitors in different ways.

<html lang=“en”>
<head>
<meta name=“monetization” content=“MY_PAYMENT_POINTER”>
</head>
    <body>
        <script>
            if (document.monetization) {
            }
        </script>
    </body>
</html>

If you’re interested to explore further, here’s fun guide on how to set up the Interledger pointer on your website by Auden.

As a visitor

Using coil extension, you would be able to support other web monetised sites by streaming money to the creators. All you need to do is sign-up on Coil , link your digital wallet(preferably Uphold ) , pay a small membership fee($5/month), install the coil extension for your browser and indulge in unlimited browsing . To know if your browser is supported, go to this link . Now when you visit a website with web-monetization enabled, you’re indicated through the extension icon in the browser that streaming of payment has started. The streaming of payment continues for as long as you keep consuming the content. For more clarity, visit Coil docs.

We’re only getting started 🚀

While the post might appear kind of lengthy, I’ve only scratched the surface. There are immense possibilities using web-monetization and interledger protocol that are yet to be explored. Its a given, that with the many positives, the technology also does expose some gaps in the attempt to close in on the equitable web experience. With a discursive approach and sense of shared ownership, we could easily resolve these issues. If you’re interested in partaking in the larger movement to take web-monetization to another level, consider taking part in the Grant for the Web call for proposal .