“This is about building tools that help facilitate conversations in markets.”
So says Chris Ellis of the ProTip micropayments project that is seeking to create peer-to-peer (P2P) mechanisms for people to support musicians, artists and other creators of digital media using bitcoin.
ProTip is a web browser plug-in that functions as a specialized wallet, designed to issue automated bitcoin payments every week.
Planned for an early May open-source release, ProTip creates a list of bitcoin wallet addresses pulled from websites most often visited by the user. Users can modify this list, set specific payment amounts and subscribe to particular bitcoin addresses. Other features, including paywalls and in-app messaging, are also planned.
Ellis characterized the challenge of creating micropayments services as a behavioral one fraught with complications. Ellis is one of several individuals behind the World Crypto Network, and has worked on other projects such as feathercoin and the World Citizenship cryptographic passport.
ProTip is one of a growing number of digital currency micropayments options. This list includes AutoTip, which Ellis cited in an interview with CoinDesk. AutoTip utilizes meta tags when identifying wallets addresses on a Web page – a feature that Ellis said has been adopted by ProTip.
Services like ChangeTip – a company that has faced criticism from the bitcoin community, as well as Ellis and others on the World Crypto Network for its centralized nature – have also proven to be popular with users looking to pledge small amounts of money to one another.
Efforts to create micropayment platforms and channels date back to the early days of the Internet, but various attempts through the years failed to achieve long-term success or widespread adoption. Citing this history, Ellis said that any potential solution has to eliminate points of friction that might otherwise dissuade a user.
He told CoinDesk:
“The hypothesis is that we’ve solved that, because what we’ve done is we’ve batched up that decision point to once a week, because the tipping takes place every seven days.”
Despite past failures with micropayment experiments, Ellis argued that online media can benefit from alternative forms of monetization in order to reduce dependence on third-party revenue and the need to create content that serves primarily to boost advertising revenue.
According to Ellis, one of the problems with micropayments is that those who would be paying may not feel entirely comfortable doing so. Cryptographer Nick Szabo called this hesitation the “mental accounting barrier” in a 1996 essay on micropayments.
“Every time you make an economic decision, you make a cognitive decision. And any cognitive decision comes with a risk, and because you come at these risks you anticipate worlds where we don’t regret it later,” said Ellis.
The habits of those who create digital media could also poses challenges. The ProTip team has sought feedback during development from online artists, journalists and media creators, finding that some are apprehensive about the idea of using any kind of digital payment system due to the potential security risks. Others, said Ellis, voiced apprehension about bitcoin’s diverse online community as a whole.
“It really is going to be give and take,” he concluded.
Ellis said that offering information about the aspects of bitcoin and how to use it work will help engage both digital media creators and consumers, citing that process as one of his major responsibilities as the team’s chief education officer.
Development of the initial ProTip software is nearing completion, and Ellis said that private testing of the platform has already been underway for some time and that “people have been using it.”
The timeline for development of paywalls and in-app messaging between ProTip subscribers and content creators is contingent on the success of the project’s Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. As of 27th March, ProTip has raised more than $6,000 in both bitcoin and fiat out of a goal of $50,000.
According to Ellis, the plan is to make ProTip open source on 1st May, though he said that the development team isn’t rushing to release a project that isn’t ready for public use.
“We’re also very cautious because we want to make sure that the bitcoins are safe, the private keys are safe,” he said.
Ellis suggested that the ProTip team has sought to be mindful of the expectations it creates about the project, noting:
“We wanted to under-promise and over-deliver on this.”
Images via ProTip, Shutterstock