Coil is a micro-payment service that resembles Flattr. Both services rely on a web browser extension to automatically pay participating websites and creators from customers’ 5 USD/monthly subscription funds.
Both services rely on webpages containing an invisible
<meta> element for their extensions to identify and attribute funds to participating creators and websites. How much time you spend with each creator decides how much they’re paid. This is also where the similarities between the two services end.
Flattr keeps a running tally of how much time the subscriber has spent on content from each creator and website. At the end of each month, Flattr pays each creator and website their share of the subscriber’s monthly fund minus a 10 % fee. The fees are transparent and you can check on your dashboard what you’ve paid each creator and website. You can also turn the service on or off per creator, if you want to micro-manage it.
Coil does things differently. Their website doesn’t include any details about fees or how your monthly funds are divided. They don’t have a dashboard where you can see what you’ve paid different creators either. I had to reach out to Coil to get more details on how their service works.
Coil “streams payments” instantly instead of keeping a running ledger of what each creator and website is due. They pay websites and creators continuously while the subscriber visits their content at a rate of 0,0001 USD/second. Websites can use the proposed Web Monetization API web-standard to check and verify when and how much clients are actively paying them. This can be used to unlock subscriber-only content (like a universal pay-wall), hide ads, or otherwise customize the customer experience.
The hope is that others will build on the Web Monetization standard and that the API will one day find its way into web browsers.
Scroll.com’s 5 USD-subscription only pays for a small list of large US-based news publishers. Coil’s Web Monetization standard-proposal is open to all websites and creators who can capture enough time and audience to make it worthwhile.
The current version of the Coil browser extension just automatically starts paying any website that asks for it. The user has no control over the payments and can’t blocklist payments on a given domain without disabling the extension.
A continuous payment stream at Coil’s starting rate would total 260 USD in a month; far exceeding the 5 USD/month subscription fee. Coil will reduce the payment rate automatically when you’re nearing your monthly subscription limit to keep subscriber spending under the 5 USD threshold. This means creator that subscribers engage with early in their subscription cycle gets a bigger cut than those near the end.
To give you some sense of how much you’d get for your money: The full 0,0001 USD/second rate would be enough to pay for 14-hours per month or 28-minutes per day.
As a creator, you’d earn 105 USD/month if all of the currently active Coil-subscribers were to engage with your content for five minutes a month. You’d need 80 000 Coil-subscribers each spending five minutes on your content every month to earn 2400 USD/month (equivalent to a 15 USD/hour salary).
So what happens if you don’t spend enough time to use up your monthly Coil subscription? Coil pockets the difference. This isn’t an ideal solution and a bit unsettling combined with the lack of transparency. You can at least rest assured that Coil seems to be putting its money to good use.
Coil is collaborating with the Mozilla Foundation and the Creative Commons Foundation on a shared 100-million USD Grant for the Web program. This grant program seeks to promote alternative funding platforms on the web to weed the web platform off ad-tech.
The Web Monetization ecosystem doesn’t have to rely on Coil, however. It’s an open standard and Web Monetization-enabled websites can receive funds from Coil or any other payment provider. Other providers may have other ideas on how much to charge, transparency, and how to divide the funds.
Will the micro-payment model work this time around, though? The Coil extension is currently only focused on desktop browsers. Extension support never really did make the jump to mobile (except for Firefox for Android). The Web Monetization API is an open standard and there is at least one mobile browser with native Web Monetization support that’s available for Android and iOS. Hopefully, we’ll see more Web Monetization API-based services and implementations in the future to build out the ecosystem. The Grant for the Web money can go a long way towards that goal.
At the time of writing, there are 520 Web Monetization-enabled websites on the web according to PublicWWW.
On the other hand, Flattr seems to be moving away from its auto-reward model and get rid of their extension. They’ve lost over 30 % of active extension installations in the last nine months. Flattr instead wants its customers to micro-managed which creators and website they support. I’ve been a huge fan since Flatttr 2.0 launched in .
We all engage with a huge number of websites and creators on the web. I believe people aren’t necessarily good at attributing or rewarding the things that give them value. You may learn a lot of new and valuable information or have a good laugh from a hundred different websites every day. Nobody wants to micro-manage the minutia with regards to how everyone who created the value are compensated. The automated rewards system was what made Flattr a valuable service. Coil seems to want to pick up where Flattr failed.
A micro-payments ecosystem requires millions of paying users and the support of a large number of creators and website publishers. Flattr, like Google Contributor before it, never committed any resources into marketing their ecosystem to potential subscribers or publishers.
The only one that seems to be pulling that off anything in the micro-payment space at the moment is the controversial Brave browser who’ve managed to attract millions of customers and ten-thousands of publishers. Notably, those aren’t paying customers but people who’ve signed up for Brave’s alternate take on web monetization where the end-user gets a share of the advertising revenue.