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Peter-Paul Koch for Coil

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Let's talk about money

Let's talk about money!

Let's talk about how hard it is to pay small amounts online to people whose work you like and who could really use a bit of income. Let's talk about how Coil aims to change that.

Taking a subscription to a website is moderately easy, but the person you want to pay must have enabled them. Besides, do you want to purchase a full subscription in order to read one or two articles per month?

Sending a one-time donation is pretty easy as well, but, again, the site owner must have enabled them. And even then it just gives them ad-hoc amounts that they cannot depend on.

Then there's Patreon and Kickstarter and similar systems, but Patreon is essentially a subscription service while Kickstarter is essentially a one-time donation service, except that both keep part of the money you donate.

And then there’s ads ... Do we want small content creators to remain dependent on ads and thus support the entire ad ecosystem? I, personally, would like to get rid of them.

The problem today is that all non-ad-based systems require you to make conscious decisions to support someone — and even if you’re serious about supporting them you may forget to send in a monthly donation or to renew your subscription. It sort-of works, but the user experience can be improved rather dramatically.

That’s where Coil and the Web Monetization Standard come in.

Web Monetization

The idea behind Coil is that you pay for what you consume easily and automatically. It's not a subscription - you only pay for what you consume. It's not a one-time donation, either - you always pay when you consume.

Payments occur automatically when you visit a website that is also subscribed to Coil, and the amount you pay to a single site owner depends on the time you spend on the site. Coil does not retain any of your money, either — everything goes to the people you support.

In this series of four articles we'll take a closer look at the architecture of the current Coil implementation, how to work with it right now, the proposed standard, and what's going to happen in the future.

Overview

So how does Coil work right now?

Both the payer and the payee need a Coil account to send and receive money. The payee has to add a <meta> tag with a Coil payment pointer to all pages they want to monetize. The payer has to install the Coil extension in their browsers. You can see this extension as a polyfill. In the future web monetization will, I hope, be supported natively in all browsers.

Once that's done the process works pretty much automatically. The extension searches for the <meta> tag on any site the user visits. If it finds one it starts a payment stream from payer to payee that continues for as long as the payer stays on the site.

The payee can use the JavaScript API to interact with the monetization stream. For instance, they can show extra content to paying users, or keep track of how much a user paid so far. Unfortunately these functionalities require JavaScript, and the hiding of content is fairly easy to work around. Thus it is not yet suited for serious business purposes, especially in web development circles.

This is one example of how the current system is still a bit rough around the edges. You’ll find more examples in the subsequent articles. Until the time browsers support the standard natively and you can determine your visitors’ monetization status server-side these rough bits will continue to exist. For the moment we will have to work with the system we have.

This article series will discuss all topics we touched on in more detail.

Start now!

For too long we have accepted free content as our birthright, without considering the needs of the people who create it. This becomes even more curious for articles and documentation that are absolutely vital to our work as web developers.

Take a look at this list of currently-monetized web developer sites. Chances are you'll find a few people whose work you used in the past. Don't they deserve your direct support?

Free content is not a right, it's an entitlement. The sooner we internalize this, and start paying independent voices, the better for the web.

The only alternative is that all articles and documentation that we depend on will written by employees of large companies. And employees, no matter how well-meaning, will reflect the priorities and point of view of their employer in the long run.

So start now.

In order to support them you should invest a bit of time once and US$5 per month permanently. I mean, that’s not too much to ask, is it?

Set up a Coil account (which must include a wallet account). This article offers the best overview of the two-step process. Then install the Coil extension in your browsers. A Safari extension is not yet available.

Then read on about how Coil actually works. In part 2 we will present a high-level overview of how Coil works right now. Part 3 will describe all those pesky details you need to know, and in part 4 we’ll take a look at the future, which includes a formal W3C standard.

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