W3C advocates currency-agnostic, browser-based web payment standard

A representative working with the Web’s standards body envisioned a web-based payments standard at Inside Bitcoins today.

Jul 30, 2013 at 6:15 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 10, 2021 at 11:27 a.m. UTC

A representative working loosely with the Web’s standards body set out his vision for a web-based payments standard at the Inside Bitcoins conference today.

Manu Sporny, who works with the World Wide Web consortium (W3C), is part of a working group on Web Payments. He advocated a standard payment mechanism that would be currency-agnostic, and which would do away with traditional online payment methods such as entering credit card data, or making electronic payments which proprietary networks such as PayPal.

“Credit card numbers are effectively passwords to your bank account. You're giving that password away to every merchant you do business with,” said Sporny.

Sporny’s company, Digital Bazaar, enables individuals to sell content online. It developed an open-sourced payment protocol called PaySwarm, that he hopes to see included in the group’s activities.

“It is built on top of other core protocols of the Web (things like HTTP, JSON, URLs, etc.). It's what a financial system would look like if you took what worked on the Web and used the same approach to create a financial protocol,” he told CoinDesk.

Another component of the solution is the Web Commerce API, which is a browser plug-in to enact PaySwarm. “The developer would initiate the payment using the Web Commerce API, and the PaySwarm protocol would carry out the transaction,” he said.

The Bitcoin core developers have their own payment mechanism specific to the currency, called Bitcoin Payment Messages, scheduled for release in version 0.9 of the protocol, but Sporny criticized it as inadequate in a conversation with CoinDesk.

BPM doesn’t provide enough detail for products to make useful receipts for transactions, he argues. He would like to see receipts with separate, itemized details for purchases.

“What we'd like to do is make those receipts useful over a lifetime,” he said, adding that one-click tax filing would be a good outcome for a well thought-out payment system.

The W3C grinds slowly. The organisation, which works on standards for many web technologies including HTML and the Semantic Web, has an average four-year process to standardize payments. Sporny’s group is a community group, which is designed to develop a community around a technology, with a view towards standardizing it in the future. It is not yet a formal working group moving towards standardization. He would like to see such a group formed by the end of the year.


The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups. As part of their compensation, certain CoinDesk employees, including editorial employees, may receive exposure to DCG equity in the form of stock appreciation rights, which vest over a multi-year period. CoinDesk journalists are not allowed to purchase stock outright in DCG.