Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why I Have a Flattr Button

Update (Jan. 9, 2015): Many new services have come into vogue since I originally posted this, many of which are close enough to what I initially had in mind that they deserve mention here. Of these, Patreon comes to the forefront as nearly optimal, not exactly what I wanted, but pretty good. Also, I found that my idea that I allude to in this post turns out to not be such a good idea. I thought that developers would be happy to see people providing funding mechanisms to them, even if they didn't request it. I legitimately felt that, during the bootstrapping phase of the service, it would be a good idea to have bots crawl websites, repos, and mailing lists, train a model to determine how funds should be distributed amongst a project, and then distribute them via unintrusive email notifications to the developers. Turns out someone else was doing something similar to this and got seriously chewed out by several developers, so, that was a bad idea.

At the same time as I was rethinking my idea (which never found traction with people I pitched it to) Flattr changed something about their buttons so now they rarely show on my pages, and other stuff. So, yeah, nothing other than sending BTC is likely to work right now and I haven't gotten around to fixing it.

Flattr is a micropayment service geared towards funding artists (primarily bloggers) and community tech support. I am writing this blog as a hobby, as a sort of portfolio and record of things I have worked on, and as a motivation to learn new things and learn them to the point that I can explain them to others. Direct monetary gain has never come into the equation. I am also of the opinion that nothing I have written here actually warrants "Flattr"-y. However, perhaps someday something will. I would just let this silently go up and see if it reaps any rewards, but I have had the idea of funding in Libre Software and art in general on my mind a lot lately.

The Future of Funding Art

There is a deeper reason behind the Flattr button and the Gittip button right beside it. I put the Flattr button up as I feel that they got a lot of things right when designing their funding service. I mostly support their method of micropayments, and just using their service is in some way a support of their business, as is writing this post. But it isn't just Flattr that I support, it is other services like Gittip, and to lesser extent Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and a slew of other payment systems that have popped up recently. Each of these services, as I see it, strike a blow towards toppling an empire built on false scarcity, built on copyright. This is a false scarcity because scarcity of art that can be represented electronically simply doesn't actually exist. Once actually produced, software, literature, music, and movies are not a scarce commodity. They are commodities which are infinitely reproducible at next to zero cost. The sole purpose of copyright is to allow us to integrate those perfectly copyable things into our current market system in which value is based on scarcity. This act of limiting reproducibility via legality using copyright and, more recently, via technology using DRM is the act of setting up a false scarcity. The fact that this is a false scarcity is the reason that people reject the propaganda campaigns to relabel copyright infringement as theft, and the reason that some don't see it as wrong at all.

I don't think that the proliferation of services like these is a coincidence or that the recent success stories are a fluke. Services like these are the first harbingers of a fundamental change to the market for these non-scarce things. This change will be so fundamental that we will probably not even say that there is a "market" for software, literature, music, or movies in a few decades as there will be something else, something based on pledges and donations that has yet to be completely defined. This won't be the death of art, quite the contrary, it will be a rejuvenation. It may, however, be the death of companies that make their money by limiting the freedom of users. How do I know this? I don't, I just have hope. But as Kay says, "the best way to predict the future is to invent it." I still feel that these services, or any service I have seen, haven't quite gotten it right for the markets I care the most about (Flattr and Gittip seem quite close but slightly misdirected). From my point of view, there is ample area for innovation in this "sector", and I (and a few friends) have an idea that is in the works which I hope to announce not too long from now, if things go well and someone doesn't beat us too it.

Why no Advertisements

What about advertisements?, you might ask, they are certainly a funding model that nobody would argue with. After all, they cost the user nothing. Ads are certainly a good fit for some situations. However, I do disagree with advertisements based on the same principles as above. They actually do cost the user something in terms of time, and once again, ad revenue is based on the fact that the user cannot, for either legal or technical reasons, copy the content, extract the ads, and re-host it. I don't see using AdBlock Plus or a DVR with commercial skipping technology as that different from extracting DRM from a piece of media other than the fact that removal of DRM is illegal in the USA and circumventing ads is not (though this could change in the future). Ads add a new negative aspect as well in that they degrade the content by cluttering it with ads and have a tendency to produce biased information. So, no, I don't think ads are a funding system to be embraced if you have another option available, and if there are no other options, we should be actively seeking new solutions.

To make a long story short: even if you think all that is a bunch of nonsense, I hope that you at the very least find this little Flattr button to be much less intrusive than ads and much more easily ignored.

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