On the web, the proliferation of “free” services has created a common expectation that nothing should cost money unless it delivers some sort of explicit or unique value that easily justifies its purchase. This mislead expectation is why so many web products and services must charge a regular subscription fee or enroll users in contracts in order to maintain profitability. It’s also the reason that services like Wikipedia must conduct massive donation drives to stay afloat.

But the introduction of micropayments, specifically the framework established by Flattr, empowers content creators to receive money from their fans on a one-by-one basis, on-demand and as desired by each individual.

Understanding Micropayments

The concept of micropayments is nothing new. From sharing a scrap of meat with a neighboring caveman to dropping pennies into rotating plastic donation displays at Taco Bell registers, people very willingly give to others in small amounts. The inconsistent part about micropayments is that they come with different levels of trust and intent, especially when comparing in-person experiences to those on the web. Often, the reason people make micropayments (or tip) in person is because of the convenience of dropping coins in a jar or adding a few numbers to a line when signing a receipt.

On the web, the same type of immediate gratification and simplicity has not been duplicated very well—websites and products often require a credit card processor or PayPal account along with several authentication steps for financial contributions.

Wouldn’t people be far more likely to give financial support to web-based products and services if it were as easy as dumping their change in a jar? Even better—what if it were as easy as clicking the Facebook Like button?

Recognizing this need and the larger need to directly reward content creators in order to keep the web open and free, Peter Sunde and Linus Olsson created an efficient and easy-to-use micropayment system called Flattr.

How Flattr Works

Flattr is very simple to use and requires only a basic amount of setup. Here are the fundamental components of how it works:

  1. Create an account (individual, company, or organization).
  2. Choose a monthly budget (the total amount you want to share each month).
  3. Add money (via credit card or PayPal).
  4. “Flattr” content by clicking the Flattr button on participating sites.
  5. After one month, your overall budget is divided evenly among those you flattred during that period.

If the above steps don’t convey what is so cool about this process, let’s use Best Rank’s Win the Web Internet Marketing Podcast as an example to provide greater clarity. The Flattr button has been inserted into the same left-side sharing bar as the standard social media buttons, which allows Flattr users to contribute to the show in the same familiar way they would provide a social endorsement. The user’s budget is divided evenly among the content creators they’ve flattred and distributed at the end of the month.

Flattr allows our podcast fans to show a little financial love.

Still not clicking for you? Let’s use some numbers to provide a data-driven example. Imagine you are a Flattr user who adds $10 as their budget for the month. As you browse the web, you click the Flattr button for your favorite podcast, a couple of WordPress plugins and a couple of software products. At the end of the month, your $10 will be divided evenly, sending $2 to each of the five content creators.

If you could divide $10 between each site or piece of content you clicked the Facebook Like button for in the past month, where would your money go?  Are there content creators you wish you could have tipped?

Next-Level, Game-Changing Stuff

While it’s easy to get caught up in the implications of Flattr’s functionality, I will remind you that the reason it is important is because financially empowering content creators allows them to create better content and more of it. It also ensures that the people who create content are put in direct contact with the people who use it, thus allowing for authentic feedback and potentially even collaboration.

With integrations that tap into APIs of popular sites like Twitter, Instagram, and SoundCloud, Flattr has literally connected a social endorsement with a financial one. That means clicking the same Favorite, Like, or Star buttons you normally do on those sites will automatically trigger a Flattr contribution as well.  So if you like a song on SoundCloud, you can automatically throw a few cents to that artist when you click “like.” These types of integrations are the real game changers because they don’t require users to change their behavior in order to provide financial incentive to the creators of the content they like.

Conclusion

Rewarding content creators directly is a great feeling. The reason we like putting the dollar in the guitar case of the street performer is because we contributed it directly to them and didn’t just see, but felt the impact. We enjoyed content without being asked to pay for it, but paid for it because we consciously chose to show support.

Thanks to Flattr, we can now enjoy the same satisfaction on the web.

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