Please support Web Monetization if you want less ads on the web
Table of Contents
Note: Since it came up last time, I’m not in any way affiliated with any of the entities discussed in this article
What is Web Monetization
Web Monetization is a browser API that allows content creators to monetize content, and content consumers to pay for it, anonymously, without ads or any friction, like paywalls and subscriptions.
The basic concept is that a content creator signals they’re accepting payments, and the content consumer, via a browser extension, natively in the browser or by account linking, streams micropayments via the Interledger, which supports a wide variety of providers and currencies ( real and crypto). The point is, as a consumer you pay for what you consume directly ( instead of indirectly via tracking and ads ) and proportionally.
It’s based on an open specification which is still a work in progress, but fully functional.
Why you should participate in it
A lot of people don’t like ads - be it because they find them wasteful, too obnoxious, too insistent, too intrusive, too dumb, etc. Even more people dislike tracking ( the art of following user actions across the internet to serve them more “relevant” ads based on their interests ), because that centralises a lot of power and knowledge in a few big companies ( Google, Facebook, etc. ), and allows precise targeting, which has been used for some nasty things. If I may quote the EFF directly:
Over the years, the machinery of targeted advertising has frequently been used for exploitation, discrimination, and harm. The ability to target people based on ethnicity, religion, gender, age, or ability allows discriminatory ads for jobs, housing, and credit. Targeting based on credit history - or characteristics systematically associated with it - enables predatory ads for high-interest loans. Targeting based on demographics, location, and political affiliation helps purveyors of politically motivated disinformation and voter suppression.
A big part of the aforementioned people, and plenty of others, use ad blockers ( either as browser plugins like AdBlock Plus or Ublock (Origin), or DNS-level like PiHole and AdGuard Home ), which block ads, trackers and various analytics software, which aren’t necessarily the same as trackers - their main purpose is to analyse and aggregate users of the website, by country, language, browser, device type (mobile, PC), how they came upon the website, how much time they spent on what page, etc. compared to trackers' main purpose, which is to analyse per-user (anonymised, but still) interests and behaviour and recommend related ads.
There are proposals by Google to supposedly improve upon the experience of tracking ( in part due to major browsers like Firefox blocking some of the technology enabling such tracking ), but there are major issues with them.
Nonetheless, for a lot of web content creators, ads remain the main way to make money of the content they produce, which could be just to compensate costs, as a reward for the time spent, or even potentially to allow transferring to full time content producing. And for a lot of content consumers, blocking ads removes the only way to “pay”, baring some direct donations scheme.
Ideally, there should be an easy way to directly pay for the content you consume. In some cases you can subscribe and pay a monthly fee, but that could never cover it all - nobody will pay for every small blog, recipe/repair tutorial/gardening tips website/YouTube channel. How much value do they bring to you ? How much would you pay for them? How would you know they’re worth it without using them first, and why would they allow you to use them for free, when most users would be one-shot coming from a search engine? And then there’s non-profit open/crowdsourced institutions like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive ( which is Web Monetized) whose principles make them incompatible with ads and paywalls/subscriptions and force them to rely on donations.
Enter Web Monetization - with almost no friction, content consumers pay-per-use ( time spent ), automatically, and more or less anonymously. If content creators desire, there can be exclusive features only for “paying” ( participating in Web Monetization ) users, or no ads for them.
Funnily enough, the concept is nothing new - the French Minitel ( more info on Wikipedia and a fascinating read by the IEEE) system, in a sense a predecessor of the Internet, which among other things, contained specifically paying per time spent on pages.
How it works
At the time of writing, there is only one Web Monetization provider - Coil.com, but the API is open so in theory anyone can join in and compete with them.
For content consumers, they provide browser extensions ( which are FOSS under the Apache 2.0 licence and available on GitHub) and subscriptions ($5 USD/month), which are spent at the rate of $0.36 USD an hour, providing for roughly 13 hours of content consumption. After $4.50 is spent, the rate is lowered to last until the end of the month. Said subscription also includes some perks, such as ad-free experiences on Imgur with Emerald and Cinnamon ( a subscription-based video content platform).
For content creators, you need an account with a virtual wallet providers that supports ILP ( the Interledger protocol used to make the magic happen, like Uphold and Gatehub ) and an HTML meta tag with the address of your wallet ( like so
<meta name="monetization" content="$ilp.uphold.com/8Q6r7F3XjXEi"> ) in the code of your website. The latter can be added manually or via any of the existing plugins (there are ones for Hugo, Gatsby, Svelte, Wordpress). For some cases where that’s impossible, Coil allow you to connect with YouTube and Twitch directly.
Anonymity and privacy are provided by the way things work - that wallets are randomly generated IDs, Coil transfer the money, the wallet provider knows who the recipient is, the content creators knows how much they’ve received, but nobody knows everything. Here’s a post by Coil’s co-founder and CTO Ben Sharafian discussing wallet-side and sender-site (based on PrivacyPass) privacy techniques they and the wallet providers use to ensure everyone’s privacy is respected.
Of course, that could never replace premium subscription services like the Financial Times, or even direct ones like Substack due to the limited amounts involved, and it isn’t trying to - the point is to help monetise smaller sized websites ( and Youtube/Twitch channels ) or open/crowdsourced/non-profit institutions by providing a decent alternatives to obnoxious ads (which millions of people block anyway ) and paywalls. For instance the Internet Archive and Hacker Noon are web monetized; and so is this and some other small-scale personal blogs. It’s more similar to Buy me a coffee, Patreon and GitHub Sponsors, only more automated, ubiquitous and with less effort.
However, it’s relatively recent and not very popular yet - according to the WebMotized Twitter bot there’s only 1482 web monetized websites so far. Some more participation is needed, on both sides ( content creators and consumers) to make it a viable alternative to ads and some paywalls. I already did my part
Conclusion & Summary
Are you a content consumer or provider, or both? Don’t like ads and privacy invading tracking? Participate in Web Monetization!
If I’ve convinced you, feel free to sign up for Coil’s membership to contribute and/or set up web monetization on your website. If not, check out the Discuss section below, I’d really like to hear why not and what did I miss.
Hacker News: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26375857