Kevin Owocki woke up at 4am this morning with an idea. When someone visits a news site and their web browser uses an ad blocker, he thought, what if the site replaced ads with an invitation to donate a fraction of a bitcoin? Even in blocking its ads, readers could instantly contribute to the site’s well-being. They could pay, albeit a very small amount, for the stories they want to read.
“You read all the time about how publishers are having trouble migrating their business model to the 21st century,” says Owocki, a software developer in Colorado. “It just seems like micropayments is where that should go.”
Even in blocking its ads, readers could instantly contribute to the site’s well-being. They could pay for the stories they want to read.
So, at 4 am, Owocki built a tool that makes this possible and threw it onto GitHub. By mid morning, the tool—AdBlock-to-Bitcoin—was a popular topic at Hacker News, a major online hangout for software engineers. “Personally, I think bitcoin is the move,” said one commenter. “The long-term deflationary nature, the hivemind of sage engineers swarming around scalability, with the end-goal being tiny machine-to machine-payments, and the precision of value that you can achieve make it perfect.” In other words, he liked the idea.
This isn’t something that will appear on news sites and online magazines tomorrow. But it’s designed to prompt conversation about the possibility of funding online publishers via micropayments. In that sense, it’s already working. In fact, it’s stirring up similar ideas publishers and engineers have offered in recent years—and in recent weeks—in an effort to mitigate the influence of ad blocking. Developers have built similar tipping services for publishers. And early this fall, the bitcoin outfit Coinbase proposed a browser that would let people pay small amounts of bitcoin for almost anything.
Using micropayments to fund publishers is an old idea that’s never really caught on. But various tech trends are converging toward a point where such a thing finally seems viable—due in large part to bitcoin, a digital currency readily broken into tiny pieces. The rub is that bitcoin, though it continues to mature, has not reached widespread acceptance. “If your real objective is to get actually some income in place of the ad, I would highly suggest supporting traditional forms of payment in addition to bitcoin,” another Hacker News denizen said in response to AdBlock-to-Bitcoin. “Although Bitcoin is interesting/cool/worthy of existence, 99.9 percent of users don’t have a Bitcoin wallet, so you’ll be missing out on a lot of potential income.”
To make bitcoin donations via a tool like Adblock-to-Bitcoin, you need a bitcoin wallet, which is a service that lets you store, send, and receive bitcoin. And Owocki acknowledges that the number of people with such a thing is limited. But he says his tool can work with other payment methods. Make it easy enough for people to make small payments, he believes, and such a tool can underpin a viable business model for publishers. As it stands, the tool generates a QR code readers use to make a bitcoin donation. It suggests a donation size. And it can track how many people actually respond to these donation invitations—and how they respond.
The idea still certainly a rough draft. But Owocki’s project shows how easily coders and developers can bring new ideas to the masses and refine them. Owocki built his prototype in about two hours, leaning on bitcoin and an existing open source tool called FuckAdBlock, which detects when someone is using an ad blocker. And thanks to Github, the Internet’s central repository for open source software, he could distribute the code even faster. As new ideas and new suggestions arrive, they can almost instantly come to fruition. The future of publishing may be closer than you think.
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