An update on our experiment with Web Monetization

By Anil Kanji | May 27, 2021

It’s been just over a year since we experimented with enabling Web Monetization on foundation.mozilla.org, and we wanted to share some of our initial results and learnings.

Some background: Web Monetization is a proposed open standard enabling browsers to share payments securely between people online; essentially a new framework for content creators to get paid directly from their visitors and audience.

Towards the end of 2019 Mozilla and our partners announced Grant for the Web, a $100M fund for creators and technologists who have innovative ideas and projects to move forward the Web Monetization ecosystem. As champions of the standard, we wanted to understand how the tools worked first hand. Can we make it easier for creators to get paid, and have some measure of control over the infrastructure that pays them?

As we launched our experiment, the world around us changed. A global pandemic hit, and creators, artists and performers rushed to take their work online, while other professionals leaned into their side hustles as their main source of income. OnlyFans, Pateron and Shopify exploded, Instagram influencers doubled down on sponsored content, and writers and journalists began cultivating their own audiences through Substack. And as we all began to live even more of our lives online, we became more and more aware of the power of large platforms, and their curation of the content we see, but with little to no information about how that curation was happening.

We’re thrilled about the emergence of content monetization options for people who either can’t access traditional advertising revenue streams, or who seek an alternative to dominant platforms that capitalize on them. Mozilla believes that diversifying the business models of the web create a better, fairer marketplace for creators, and in turn support a more diverse, inclusive, decentralized, open web. We’re eager to expand how we experiment with Web Monetization on our own properties and offer our feedback and learnings to make the process easier for creators. Here's some of our findings from the past year:

If you have your own site, it’s easy to start getting paid as a creator with Web Monetization

We wanted to test Web Monetization on a small number of pages initially, where we knew they’d get a baseline of traffic. We decided to start with enabling it on our *Privacy Not Included site just before our annual holiday guide was published.

It was simple for us to set up an account with Grant for Web partner Coil, which we connected to a payment pointer and digital wallet. We then added the short snippet of code Coil provided to *the Privacy Not Included page, and were able to see payments coming in shortly after.

Issues with the wallet probably represented the biggest hurdles during set up and throughout the experiment. There were limitations with the first wallet we used (Stronghold), including the inability to log in from certain regions where staff was based. Several months into the experiment, the wallet provider dropped support for Web Monetization, and we had to source and connect a new wallet (Uphold), a process we’re only finalizing now.

But you’ll have to work hard to promote Web Monetization to your visitors

During the ten-month period we had Web Monetization enabled we saw over 1.1M pageviews and earned approximately $3USD. We didn’t promote it on *Privacy Not Included beyond a blog post announcing the experiment and a small blurb on our “about” page. Our goal in doing this experiment was not to raise funds for the Mozilla Foundation, more to test and report on the experience. Had we wished to increase our earnings, we could have more prominently advertised the initiative on *Privacy Not Included, and promoted the site to audiences that already understood the value of content monetization.

While you don’t have to be super-tech-savvy, you’ll need to keep any eye on the details

While setting up content monetization last year for one of our properties was easy, a few factors tripped us up, and delayed our ambition to expand upon our experiment. A staff member left, and for a few months there was no technical owner of the Coil implementation on our site. So when our wallet provider discontinued support for Web Monetization, we were caught by surprise and had to scramble to create an account with a new provider, which needed its own internal compliance and legal review. We see this as something to watch out for in larger organizations, where responsibilities for vendor/platform selection, legal/compliance, and technical implementation may be held by different teams. If you’re a solo creator implementing Web Monetization on your own site, you’re less likely to run into these issues. With this problem behind us, we’re happy to report that we are working to implement Coil sitewide (want to join our team and help us?)

Looking forward

Our next steps, beyond experimenting with Coil, are to implement future web monetization platforms across our site, and continue participating in the wider conversation around the benefits of alternative income models for content creators. We’ll be working closely with two of our Mozilla Fellows looking at the economics of the web: Amber Case and Matt Mankins.

As champions of the open web, we believe that we need to actively explore and invest in alternative business models to the advertising-dependent platforms that invasively collect data about us. Advertising incentivizes short term engagement and sensationalist, polarizing content. Empowering creators to receive payments directly from their audiences through an open standard is one of many alternative possible solutions we'd like to test.

If you’d like to find out how to support creators online through content monetization, you can read Mozilla Fellow Amber Case’s guide to Web Monetization as a user or consumer here. And if you’d like a deeper dive analysis into the current promise and challenges of Web Monetization, read Simply Secure’s excellent report here