digitaLiberties: Explainer

User comments are critical to debate. Should we pay for them?

We are testing payment options that let readers reward authors and commenters. This could bring a new economics of the internet – you can join the experiment.

Matthew Linares
18 Feb 2021 - 2:21pm
Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels
  • Micropayments let web users send money online more easily than ever.

  • openDemocracy is testing experimental payment options that allow readers to reward authors and commenters.

  • This approach could lead to a new economics of the internet – we welcome you to take part in the experiment.

Since the genesis of the internet, people have considered putting payments at its heart. The idea that every online action should incur a fee has its benefits, such as covering running costs (which avoids dodgy business models in the process), deterring excess web traffic that wastes energy, and remunerating those who add value to the information sphere. This vision however, has not become reality.

Throughout its history there have been many efforts to let payments flow natively on the web. Today numerous projects offer new payment forms, like micropayment platforms that allow users to support sites whilst they visit them. Micropayments usually involve very small sums (e.g. $0.10) and it’s extremely easy, sometimes automatic, to make them.

A typical micropayment flow where the user’s browser instructs the user’s micropayments wallet to pay sites that accept micropayments.
A typical micropayment flow where the user’s browser instructs the user’s micropayments wallet to pay sites that accept micropayments. | Matthew Linares / openDemocracy

The potential of all this is exciting for anyone interested in how money makes the world wide web go round. We can imagine endless new ways to pay creators and participants in the digital realm, spurring a wealth of possibilities.

Experimenting with money flows

With this in mind we at openDemocracy are experimenting with how such payment types can produce novel economic outcomes, specifically by using the open-source Interledger payments protocol.

Thanks to a grant from Grant for the Web, we will introduce a new set of features that bring payment rewards to authors and commenters under certain conditions.

The first feature we will test seeks to encourage authors to engage with commenters in order to support both. Here’s the idea:

  1. A user visits an article page whilst having a payment wallet active on their browser (e.g. Coil). The wallet is set up to automatically pass a micropayment to the article’s publisher when the user visits.
  2. Micropayment revenue is received and shared between the author and the publisher, openDemocracy.
  3. If the author highlights a comment, then that comment gets showcased in the article and the commenter gets part of the revenue share. By doing so, the author also received a greater proportion of revenue. We therefore introduce new incentives for readers to comment and for authors to engage with comments. We hope that this will lead to more vivacious, constructive debates.

openDemocracy will accept payments on articles where an author has given their permission. In most cases that will also involve the author taking a revenue share.

The project will allow us to test out different payments scenarios and get feedback about the prospects for such arrangements.

Do you want to reward authors and commenters?

This project allows you to tip authors and commenters whose contributions you appreciate. We invite you to take part in this experiment and help us see how we can change the web with micropayments.

Here’s how to get involved.

As a reader who wants to support authors and commenters

1) Sign up to Coil. This costs you $5/month and shares that between the content creators you visit.

Coil signup.png

2) Set up the Coil browser extension Coil browser extension for Firefox and Google Chrome.

Coil extension is paying

3) When you visit participating articles, Coil shares micropayments with openDemocracy and the author – it's currently about $0.36/hour. It will also reward other websites and creators in the micropayments ecosystem when you visit their content.

As a commenter who wants to be eligible for payments

1) Get a digital payment wallet, for example with Uphold.com. (This can take a couple of days to process.)

This will let you make and receive payments using various payment systems including the Interledger protocol that we use.

2) Sign up to make comments in our new comments space, for example at the bottom of this article.

Add your payment wallet to your comment profile on signup (or here if you’ve already signed up).

3) Add your constructive comments to articles. Authors will be encouraged to highlight comments that best complement or advance the article.

On articles that are marked with the “this article accepts micropayments” banner, if the author highlights your comment then your wallet will receive a 10% share of the article’s earnings.

CommentX project screenshot

Building the web consciously

Because the technology is all open-source and interoperable you can use other services to create a wallet and make micropayments.

We encourage readers to try this out as both a subscriber (e.g. with Coil for a few pounds a month) and by commenting on participating articles in the hope that your point will be recognised and your wallet will receive some coins.

The novel feeling of paying websites as you visit is interesting from the user’s perspective, as is having a wallet attached to your various online contributions awaiting reward. The politics of all this is to be discovered and discussed.

We hope that experiments like these herald a new economics of the web. You can play your part by testing this out and sharing your opinions with us. Together we can build a different internet.

If you do try it out, please share your feedback with us by email.

More info on how to sign up»


Note: the information in this article is subject to change as our experiment proceeds. We intend to update this page to reflect the latest state of this micropayments and revenue system and to publish the code open-source for transparency.

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