Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Digital Content: 'Free' No More?

Here's a new type of social media startup -- Flattr, out of Sweden. It's in private beta at the moment but it's already starting to cause social innovators and entrepreneurs to sit up and take notice. [Micah Sifry, the cofounder and executive editor of the Personal Democracy Forum, posted a short piece on it today on his techPresident blog and says he finds Flattr "intriguing."]

He's right. Flattr is a new micro-payment system that would make it possible for people to get paid for what they produce online -- directly from the people who consume it. "When you create, there's no good way right now to get money for that content, and when you find something you like, there's no good way to show love for it," Flattr's founders say. "The problem is universal for bloggers and their readers, musicians and their listeners, photographers, film creators, programmers and so on."

And it doesn't end there. "Before Flattr," the founders say on their site, "the only reasonable way to donate was to use Paypal or other systems to send money to people. The threshold for this has been quite high. People just ignore sending donations if it isn't for a really important cause. Sending a small sum has always been a pain in the ****. Who would ever log in to a payment system just to donate one Euro? And 10 Euros was just too high (a price to pay) for just one blog entry we liked..."

Flattr founders say they've solved the problem. Here's how it works: Once you register on the site, you're asked to put a small sum of money into an account there, which you then use to pay all of the people (or causes) you choose to "flattr" each month. The site lets you both send and receive payments. The idea? You can "flattr" people and they can "flattr" you back. (You can pay people for their content -- if you like it a lot -- and they can pay you for yours.)

Says Sifry: "This strikes me as very smart social engineering since it tackles the most obvious obstacle -- our propensity to want to get paid, more than pay others, right from the start. In effect, Flattr sets up a worldwide poker game and you have to ante up to play."

For more on Flattr, here's the video. The site's motto, translated into English from Swedish, says: "Many small streams will form a large river." What do you think?

Could this new "social micro-payment" idea help to bridge the so-called 'social action gap' (between talk and action) for many causes? Could it help to close the 'payment gap' for creators of online content and spark new levels of entrepreneurial activity? Let us hear from you.

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration by Simon Oxley for

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