While mainstream media struggles to find a balance between free online content, paywalls and subscriptions, Wikileaks is happily experimenting with a new micropayment service, Flattr. Flattr lets organizations set up microdonations on individual blog posts, articles, videos, photos and other media so that users who like the content can give their financial support. And what sets Flattr apart is really its ease-of-use: users don’t have to log in to a larger payment site like Paypal and donate large lump sums – Flattr is a true microdonation platform. It looks like mainstream media could learn a lesson or two from Flattr and Wikileaks.
Perhaps the most innovative aspect of Flattr is how it sets up its micropayments. Users who are registered with Flattr log in once to set up a monthly fee (the amount is determined by the user him- or herself). At the end of each month, the fee is divided by all of the media that the user “flattered” that month. Users shouldn’t have to log in more than once a month, and they can spread their love to as many sites as they want – each flatter simply takes a portion of the user’s monthly fee, rather than adding anything to it.
Flattr is an egalitarian payment system: there are no levels, tiers or user types. If you have content on your blog and want to add a Flattr button, you can; you also must have a minimum of 2 Euros in your Flattr account to divvy up between the content you read. Every Flattr user is seen by the company as a potential content producer and consumer, so there is no hassle for a user who wants to move from simply flattering the articles they like on the web to producing content that can be flattered.
Wikileaks implemented Flattr on August 1st, and its Afghanistan War Diary content has received 1120 flatters as of today. While each of those flatters will donate a different amount to Wikileaks, this number is simply massive when you consider that Flattr is still in invite-only closed beta.
While Wikileaks is the first high-profile site to implement Flattr, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of this service as it moves into open beta and then opens to the public. It is beyond simple, and doesn’t require logging in at every “Support” button – a big deterrence of current micropayment options. Once users log in to their Flattr account, they can go on a flattering spree without dealing with more than a single button click. Flattr also prevents the “Farmville coin splurge” that happens when users get hooked and start dumping in money to micropayment services little bits at a time, realizing only days later that they’ve spent over $100 on virtual hay bales. Because you have control over the total sum that you donate every month, you’ll never go over your limit without consciously raising it.
I can envisions Flattr being used by niche bloggers and mainstream news sites alike. If users can be coaxed into paying for the content they find valuable – just a few cents for each article or video they really enjoyed that month – I think Flattr will find great success in the coming months.