Where to next?
The current Web Monetization business model is on the one hand quite compelling. For a flat monthly fee, users can visit a potentially unlimited number of participating websites, in full privacy, and on some sites, receive a reward for their support. What’s not to love? The pitch to publishers seems equally rosy. Sign up for a wallet, add a line of code to your site, and watch payments stream in while experimenting with ways to reward your supporters. It’s low friction, cheap and easy to experiment with, and open to almost anyone.
The practicality of turning this simple narrative into an ecosystem that offers equitable and sustainable value for both users and website owners is the challenge we will face going forward—and there are many ways we can get there. Through the prior section’s scenarios, we explored a range of business models, opportunity spaces for innovation, and degrees of interoperability, privacy, and decentralization.
The goal of these stories was not to predict the future but to offer lenses through which to interrogate how Interledger-powered Web Monetization might change our use of the web, and whether the resulting environment would in fact be an improvement on what we have today. As a wise woman once wrote, however…
“Better doesn’t always mean better for everyone…it always means worse for some.”
It’s entirely possible to imagine a future where use of the Web Monetization API becomes ubiquitous, yet primarily makes things better for only a chosen few.
Building a multi-sided ecosystem is hard enough when a centralized party controls (and is, therefore, able to design most of its touchpoints) but can be particularly so when the goal is for no one to be in charge. If today’s vision of Web Monetization succeeds, we should anticipate thousands of providers, billions of web sites, and many billions of users—each with different needs, expectations, and points of view about how the technology might best serve them. Meeting these needs will require balancing the incentives of these actors, and making tradeoffs between the flexibility of an entirely decentralized ecosystem, and one where small doses of centralization might more quickly, cheaply, or equitably unlock key benefits.
While some of us may loathe centralized services for the lack of agency and homogenized experience they often leave in their wake, billions of people around the world still welcome them—simply because they are free, easy to use, and designed to “just work” for everyone. We may not like that this is so, but pretending it is otherwise may blind us to the steps we need to take to ensure decentralization will be embraced, valued, and supported by everyone.
How we might do so from the start, and by design, is what I will focus on in this final section, through recommendations that focus on three areas.