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A new money. For the internet.

Well suited to making... or receiving... small amounts

The next "What did we do without it?"?

Give to charities. Give to web authors. Give to anyone!

Remember when there was no Facebook? The idea of a Facebook would have seemed preposterous. Love it or loath it (me), but you can't say that it doesn't "work" for many people.

A new idea has been brewing for a while (at 1/13) in Sweden... but it is, like so many internet things, not restricted to Sweden, not at all.

It grows out of the Nobel prize winning idea of microfinance. It implements a way to give small (or large!) amounts of money, easily, to entities you consider worthy... without the donation costing more to give than the donation comes to, in hassle and "post and packing".

But don't let the diminutive value of the gift you would consider put you off. My web pages get about 10,000 visits per month. If I could have a penny from each visitor...

How do the nice people at Flattr make micro-giving work? How do they keep the costs from eating up most of the gift?

They make it work by making it efficient.

You put some money in an account. (Once you have that account, oh, by the way, people can use it to give  YOU  money!). You say, "Please use $x of that each month for the people I want to help/ reward". (You can change the "x" at any time.)

During the month, you can simply click on any Flattr buttons you encounter on sites where you want to thank the site operator. "The system" helps you remember what sites you have Flattr'd, and stops you from Flattr'ing any site more than once per month.

At the end of the month, the cash you designated for that month's distribution is split up between the sites you said to send money to. Simples!!

How do you put money in? Credit card or PayPal. (PayPal is a fabulous service, if you ask me, by the way... primarily for the safety it gives you. Not perfect safety, but some useful protections.)

How do you take money given to you out? Through a PayPal account. But why take it out? Just use your Flattr gifts to "pay it forward"?

A detail... really, and I bet this will change: Your Flattr account is denominated in Euros. But this really doesn't matter, unless you are George Soros and want to use your account for currency speculation. Please email me to argue about this, or question anything you find here.

Signing up

If only every service's sign-up could so painless! Go to Flattr.com in a moment, and see how easy it is.

You supply the name you want to use to interact with them. By all means use "OnTheInternetNoOneKnowsYouAreABorderCollie". Give them the email address you want to use. Enter the password you want on the account. Once. (They treat you like a big boy or girl, and do not make you to enter it twice.)

Go to your email account, fetch the email which they send to make sure you are genuine. Click on the link in that, as usual. (This is just a sensible guard against false registrations; the system is used by many sensible sites.)

Return to the Flattr page; I was taken there automatically, as I recall. Look at the right hand side of the screen for the "add" button. Use it to put some money in your account. Decide your "budget", i.e. how much you want distributed each month. (Don't worry, that distribution is not "automatic"... you can go months without giving away anything, and if you do nothing, nothing will be given away.)

You're done. You can now Flattr anyone who has put a button on their site. It they have a "Flattr Me" button on their site, you just click it.

What if you don't want to hunt for their "Flattr Me" button? Drag the Flattr bookmarklet to your browser toolbar (if you want to), and you can try to Flattr any good site, without having to hunt for their Flattr button. (If they don't have a Flattr account, you just get a message saying "User couldn't be found and no owner specified. ")

If you do NO Flattrs in a given (calendar) month, then no money goes out from your account.

If you Flattr two sites, each gets half of your monthly giving plan, or "budget", as Flattr calls it. Flattr three sites, each gets a third, and so on.

More?

There are various bells and whistles, of course, but what you see above is all you need, I hope. Flattr is evolving, it already has various enhancements... you can set up automatic "re-Flattr every month" orders. You can make "one off" gifts of any amount up to the value in your account. Etc, etc... but you don't need to use these "extras".

Why? Who? How?

Why should you do this, apart from the obvious reason? You will be encouraging a great idea which deserves to grow. Until people see Flattr buttons, the idea will languish. Until people use Flattr buttons, site managers will be slow to create them. The old Chicken and Egg problem. You will also help whatever site you Flattr reach a wider audience.

Who can receive money via the Flattr mechanism? Anyone! Don't assume you are giving to a charity, just because there's a Flattr button. Not every worthwhile cause is a charity... and anyone with a webpage and a PayPal account can put a "Flattr Me" button on that page.

How can this work? Well, for a start, Flattr takes a slice of the money you give. Did you want them to do the whole thing for free? But recipients do not need to pay monthly fees, etc. (If you want to give big support to someone, Flattr probably isn't the best way. If you want to give me 25 cents, I will take it! But don't send it in an envelope with a stamp costing more than the gift!)

It works because Flattr has more or less replicated a part of the world's banking system... they have created a "clearing house" though which money can flow, inside a computer system. Look Ma, no hands... and no employees to pay for manual handling of paper.

What's so good about Flattr? Why not use PayPal?

PayPal offer a pretty good price to US charities, as defined by the IRS: No "standing charge", set up, etc... just 2.2% + 30 cents per transaction. Fine for "sensible" donations. But with Flattr, if I want to $pread a little love, in hopes that thousands of others are doing the same, the 30 cents per transaction could begin to be a drag. Even if you are not a charity, you can receive gifts from credit cards with "only" 2.9% + 30 cents per gift. (Happily, if the sender is using a PayPal balance, or an account backed by a bank account, the transfer is free!)

So, PayPal gifts are relatively inexpensive. At the moment, for providing the service, Flattr takes 10% of what you put into your account, and they take another(!) 10% out of gifts when you make them. (I wonder if this will be reduced when the volume of transactions improves. I hope so... a little steep, at the moment, it would seem to me.) But! Remember... you have to factor in the convenience value for senders. Comparison, from sender's point of view....

Alice decides to use Flattr. She has a trivial one-off set-up session. From time to time, she has to fund her account. She may wish... but doesn't need to... from time to time to change her monthly "budget", the amount she will give away each month... if she makes any gifts in the month in question.

After that, to Flattr someone, she just clicks a Flattr button, rather like "Liking" something as a Facebook user. (By the way, the system tells her what she has Flattr'd, and makes sure she doesn't accidentally Flattr anything more than once in the month... but one Flattr recipient can have multiple buttons, and Alice could Flattr several different pages of one recipient.)

Bob, on the other hand, decides to act on a site's request for a donation via PayPal. He has to have a PayPal account... not a bad thing, not hard to set up... but harder than Flattr. He then, each time he sends money by PayPal, has to log into his PayPal account (tell them yet again that, no, he doesn't want to borrow the money to make the payment), type in how much, click send, log out, and try to remember what he was doing beforehand...

Which model do you think will engage more senders... once they get past the "barrier" of setting up their account?

You want to RECEIVE gifts?

Not terribly difficult... if you write HTML, or if you are a Facebook (or similar) user. But what you need to do does "take it to the next level".

Once you have your own Flattr account... nothing more than the one you created so that you could give Flattrs... you go to your "Dashboard". One approach... one I've not tried... is to create "connections" between your Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, etc, etc "self" and your Flattr "self", and then "enable Flattring on services".

I opt for the other route. I create my own web pages, writing the HTML myself. (You can also use this approach, if you publish via wiki or blog, and can insert HTML into your posts.) I went to what, back then, was the equivalent of today's https://flattr.com/embed, and Flattr created some HTML for me to put in my pages. Back then (April 2013, ish), the process was a little more complicated than it is today. Today it is really easy.

I you use the "old" system, once you have created your first Flattr button and got it working, cloning it to subsequent pages is easy. I've written a guide to that for you on how to put a Flattr button on more of your web pages once you have your first Flattr button.

The "old" system can be recognized from the fact that it involves code with your page's URL in it. With the new system, some parts of the system are simpler, but you have to fetch new button code (there's a "serial number" in it) from Flattr.com/embed each time you want to give a page a button... I think!

Does it have a future?

Well, one guide to that might be the answer to "Does it have a past?" Have you ever tried the excellent Google trends? Go there, put in "anthrax", and you can see what searches people have done for that term over the years. You can also see WHERE the searches came from in different time periods. Scroll through that, and take a guess at when there were anthrax scares in different countries! Now put Flattr into Google Trends. This is not a new idea. New-ish, maybe... but if it were all a great con, surely it would have collapsed by now? Take $20 and give it a try? You don't have to give them more information than you would give anyone else quite freely. Maybe this is the way to say "thank you" in a meaningful way to charities you like, but just a little, or "thank you" to the many people who contribute to the body of help out here on the internet!

Go on... you know you want to....

As I am new to Flattr, your gift will not only be appreciated for the obvious reasons, but it will also help me improve this essay! And I intend, as suggested above, to "pay forward" any gifts I receive.

Please Note: I am not asking you to give me €15! (About $20). I am asking you to set up a Flattr account, put the minimum in it... I think it is €15... and then set a small budget.. say €5 per month?... and TRY Flattr'ing a NUMBER of good causes... including me among them. If you Flattr four good causes, plus me, you will give me less than a dollar. And next month, I won't get any more, unless you re- Flattr me.

Early experiences

These notes began in January 2013. I did an update April 12th, 2013.

By the time you read this, changes may have arisen at Flattr...

As I mentioned, for the moment, all Flattr accounts are denominated in Euros. Not really a problem, is it?

If you accidentally Flattr someone you didn't mean to, at the moment, you must contact Flattr, ask them to remove. (Is it REALLY necessary for you to trouble them? The extra Flattr will only be for one month. They are working on a "change it back" option.

Speaking of support... if you DO NEED to "talk" to them, you can. And when you have, under "Support", from the link in the table of contents at the bottom of the page, you'll find a "messages" tab, where you can see the discussions you've had with tech support. There are a few quirks.... for the moment... in the map of the site. Hey! Ever set up a site? Getting it right takes time! The idea of Flattr is, I think, great! Cut them some slack! (I don't think there are flaws in their execution of the collection and redistribution of funds. Hmmm... I suppose that's my "innocence" showing again. Maybe I should give some thought to "How do I know"? I.e.... How do I know that the people I "sent" money to got it? Sigh. Wicked old world out there... (A similar venture had its "bank" "robbed"! But hey... Flattr isn't right for big donations, anyway. Give it a try... with a little money?)

I have, at last, "been Flattred"! And, I'm pleased to say, there were no surprizes. You may want to know that while money goes OUT of the sender's account at the end of the month, it goes INTO the recipient's account about mid-month. Good! Another way for the service operators to fund the good work they are doing. (Once interest rates for savers and lenders return to reasonable levels!). I was able to see the "Flattr ID" of the person who Flattr'd me. (That information is down at the bottom of your page for that "thing". (Flattr's name for pages you have Flattr buttons on.))(It doesn't appear that you can send them messages... probably a good thing! But you can see who they have Flattr'd. What better way to $ay "thank you" to them, than to consider adding $upport to the causes they like?)




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