A little over two decades ago in March of 1998, Netscape released the source code to its Navigator browser on Mozilla.org (archived version here). Speaking with CNN, Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale commented: “We think it is going to change the way people actually develop these products dramatically for many, many years to come.”
He was right. Over the next twenty years, open-source slowly took over the browser market. Last year, Microsoft announced their intention to use and contribute to the open-source Chromium project instead of continuing to build their own proprietary layout engine. With this change, all major (and most minor) browsers will soon be either entirely open-source or built on open-source engines.
Since the 90s, open technologies have had a lot of successes like this, but one industry has remained frustratingly closed: payments. We still use credit card networks, proprietary online and mobile wallets, and centralized remittance services. Open-source payment options do exist in the form of blockchain technology, but they have become silos in their own right because of a lack of interoperability between them.
Without a truly open standard for payments, open systems in general have had a hard time competing with their proprietary counterparts. How many developers have chosen to build native apps and games instead of web apps in order to be able to take advantage of paid apps and in-app purchases? How differently could peer-to-peer file sharing have played out if there had been a way to pay creators?
The Web today is suffering from the symptoms of a broken business model. Every day, we read a new headline about privacy abuses related to ads, demonetization to appease advertisers, unethical sponsored content, popular sites struggling to make money, ads placed next to content without the creator’s consent, adblocker arms race, subscription fatigue, large platforms abusing their market power, and so on. All of these issues can be traced back to one simple problem: browsers don’t pay. This forces sites to raise funds through workarounds like ads, data trafficking, sponsored content, and site-by-site subscriptions.
Over the past couple of years, the Interledger Payments Community Group at W3C has been working to solve this problem. We developed Interledger and Web Monetization as the first comprehensive set of open standards for monetizing content on the Web.
Today, we are excited to announce a program which we hope will help to fix monetization on the Web once and for all: Coil, together with Mozilla and Creative Commons is launching a $100m Grant for the Web to benefit creators and promote the open Web Monetization standard.
For the first time, Web Monetization allows users to reward creators on the Web without having to rely on one particular company, currency, or payment platform. Companies such as Coil who are providing access to the Interledger network will have to compete with other access providers the same way that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been competing for decades.
We believe that this will disrupt siloed content subscription services in the same way that siloed ad-based online services providers like AOL were disrupted by the emergence of the open Web. Audiences prefer to watch content on their terms and tend to punish companies who erect unnecessary roadblocks.
Key pieces of infrastructure have already been built. Puma Browser is the first browser with native Web Monetization support. Cinnamon is the first video sharing site entirely financed by Web Monetization. Stronghold (for US dollars) and XRP Tip Bot (for XRP) are two of the first Interledger enabled wallets. Popular sites like CSS-Tricks are experimenting with Web Monetization as a more user-friendly, privacy-preserving way to make money. And over at js13kGames, indie game developers have built some of the first web-monetized games.
Grant for the Web will soon make calls for proposals. (Sign up to be notified on grantfortheweb.org!) We plan to make small to medium-sized grants ($1,000-$100,000) to developers and creators who support and promote Web Monetization like the examples cited above. The majority of the grant money will go to openly licensed software and content.