Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden - Chinese proverb

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Should we Flattr as well as Comment?



If you can't play the introducing Flattr video embedded above, try this link instead.

Today's been declared Pay a Blogger day by the people at Flattr, a social micropayments scheme designed to reward bloggers via readers and other bloggers who've signed up for it. Each signee decides how much they'd like to pay per month (a small fee, minimum 2 euros ) and bloggers who like the idea can display a button on their blogs.

If someone signed up to the scheme finds a blogger they like who's displaying the button, they can click on it in appreciation. At the end of the month their monthly fee is divided amongst all the sites they've clicked on. The idea is the blogging community can be rewarded for all the sparkling content they provide free of charge.

All this of course is dependent on people signing up and I suspect today's Pay a Blogger designation is to try and gain some publicity and generate awareness. Until last week I'd only found one blog displaying the badge: Patrick at Bifurcated Carrots. The link takes you to his latest post about the scheme. Zoe kindly brought Jane Alexander's post about it to my attention and so I resolved to write about it today.

I can see the attractiveness of the idea, especially for really good content providers. Many bloggers wish to retain their independence and not go down the advertising route to gain something for the often considerable time they give so freely. However, I'm not really sure how well it's been taken up by either bloggers or readers. I also believe it's dependent on having a significant proportion of non-blogging readers for it to work well.

Flattr isn't the only blog donation scheme available, though the others I've found aren't centred around the social side of blogging, nor geared towards regular payments. Garden Rant has had a Tip Jar for ages and NAH is using Blogger's Donate button to raise funds for his beloved steam engine restoration. I have no idea how well any of these options actually work in terms of generating funds.

Having looked at Flattr and the other donation buttons available, I've decided not to go down this route for now. I'm managing to cover the costs of my blogging via my Sponsors and my visitor numbers are increasing significantly, so it looks like you're not put off by them. 'Payment' via your comments will suffice for me, dear Reader :)

Update: Other social micropayment schemes are out there, such as Kachingle

Should we Flattr as well as Comment? Let me know your thoughts below.

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NB In case you hadn't realised, this is my penultimate post for NaBloPoMo and tomorrow's Wordless Wednesday post is all ready to go. Both you and I will be relieved to return to normal blogging frequency soon ;)

18 comments:

  1. Hi Michelle! I think we should flattr, it takes lots of time sometimes to prepare a good blog post, search for info etc.
    I used Flattr for about 1 month, which is not long enough, but I have flattered some blogs. Patrick's blog was among them, because I appreciate valuable information he is publishing.
    I believe we should support independent media to make sure, we will understand the world better, not only via commercial media.
    .
    Greetings from sunny today Poland :)

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  2. Ewa - hello :) It's very windy and wet here today.

    You've raised some very good points. Since writing this yesterday I've been toying with the idea of joining (but not displaying the badge on here) so I can reward blogs I like. I've given up a couple of magazines subscriptions lately because I get much more out of reading blogs, so it makes sense to transfer that cash into the blogosphere. However at the moment there are plenty of blogs I enjoy who don't Flattr or have any other kind of donate button and it's those I'd like to reward the most!

    I also need to find out whether donation is only payable in euros - that'll have currency exchange implications if it does.

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  3. A guest post from NAH about the donate button for his steam engine?

    Benjamin Vogt at Deep Middle had/has a Tip Jar and drew some rude comments about it.

    I envy and admire your effective use of sponsors. But neither Flattr nor the Tip Jar nor Adsense work for me, either on my own blog or on those I read.

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  4. EE - NAH hasn't publicised his donate button that well even on his own blog yet! He's being rather coy about it and being a blogging newbie doesn't have many followers yet, plus he's blogging in a niche subject.

    Interesting re Benjamin's experience re the Tip Jar. I see the Garden Rant one isn't as prominent as it used to be. I've just read Daniel Rowse's Problogger book (an interesting read even for bloggers not wanting to earn £ from blogging BTW) and he had a Buy me a cup of coffee badge for a while on his blog. He said there was a spike of initial donations which tailed off quite quickly. I suspect that's a common finding with these things. Flattr gets around that by getting people to sign up regularly, though I do wonder whether they too forget about it after a while...

    I decided not to go down the Adsense route - there's too little control over what's displayed outside my country and I believe you also have to have many more readers than I do for it to make a real difference. NB I said I was covering my blogging costs with my sponsors, not making pots of cash from them! But even so, I'm fortunate to be doing even that.

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  5. I agree with Ewa here, and I am happy to use Flattr to make a micro-payment for posts I have enjoyed/learned from and use it for this reason.

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  6. I am dubious too. I suppose because I don't do it for reward and if I did I would approach it differently. I'd be happier if the flatr payments went to my chosen charity instead - now there's an idea....

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  7. I'd be interested in knowing more about how you got your sponsors, VP. Perhaps a good topic for a chat next time we meet. We don't monetize our blog in any way, at the moment. Although our output isn't as consistent as yours, which deserves all the support it gets. I, too, will be relieved to have NaBloPoMo over with!

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  8. Really interesting post! My husband and I work in the web build/design trade and the 'donate' scheme is very common amongst plug-in developers. It is true that the users/readers will all be of the 'trade', but it is much used and helps 'support' the developers to continue their good work. Not sure about joining yet, but I will look into it further as I do think it good to support quality independent content. Just as Ewa said, it does take time and effort to research, prepare, write good content and that should be applauded. Interesting that you are looking more towards bloggers for content than traditional media... makes us all a little prouder and flattr-ed! That's probably the best reward!

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  9. Given how few people ever bother to donate to plugin creators, despite often depending on their work for the sites they build, I'd be amazed, I think, if this took off. For me, I think it would risk changing the way I viewed my blog. I'd start wanting to get flattred and attempt to write accordingly. Will be interesting to see how the idea progresses though. Congrats on your climbing stats!

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  10. Zoe - thanks for emailing me to remind me about Flattr. I'm really chuffed you'd be prepared to pay to read Veg Plotting. I hope there's lots more like you out there, so that Flattr will work. There's interesting comments later on about WP plug-ins development...

    Mark - that's a really good idea. I'm tempted to put up a Just Giving button to do just that.

    Helen - happy to chat via email, FB or whatever (e.g. Skype?). It could be a while before we next meet!

    Petra - thanks for telling me about the donate side of plug-in development - I wonder if that's where Flattr got the idea from?

    Janet - thanks for building on Petra's comment re the plug-in side of things. I think we're too used to getting stuff for free from the internet hence the lack of take-up. Whenever Stuart at Blotanical raises the topic of donations/fee paying for his site, it doesn't go down that well. It'll be interesting to see what he offers when it's relaunched in the spring...

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  11. PS WP have just announced their equivalent of AdSense. It'll be interesting to see how well this is received and how it's done. The seemingly random placing of ads at the end of posts hasn't gone down well lately judging by what I've seen on Twitter.

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  12. I just came across this post today. Thanks Ewa!

    I don't really make much money with Flattr, far less than I was expecting anyway. In a typical month I make about €3. It's also difficult to take money out of Flattr, at the moment this has to be done via PayPal and I don't have a PayPal account. They've promised to start making direct payments to banks accounts via BIC/IBAN, but that was months ago and nothing has happened yet. What I end up doing is giving most of the money I get with Flattr away, but it doesn't do anyone any good if it's not easy to take out by someone in the end.

    There are also lots of fees with Flattr, in my opinion too many. A fee to put money in, a fee to take money out, a fee to flattr people. It really adds up!

    Someday flattr might become a great thing, but right now I don't really advise anyone to take it too seriously. There's much more money with advertising I think.

    Flattr does only work with Euros, but there aren't really extra fees for currency conversions. You can deposit money with a credit card, and withdraw it with PayPal, both of which will convert currencies.

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  13. Patrick - thanks for coming over and updating me with how Flattr's been working for you. As the take up has been low so far, I'm not surprised your earnings so far has been low. I'm surprised that Flattr takes out money at several stages during the process - that really is off putting as is the difficulty in actually getting your earnings out of the system.

    Re currency conversion - both Paypal and credit cards levy a fee for converting a currency, so anyone outside of the Euro will be donating or receiving less :(

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  14. VP: I understand your point about currency conversion, and it's true of course.

    Flattr is a Swedish startup company, and had to make the decision at the beginning to use something besides the Swedish Kroner as the base currency. The euro was the logical choice for them.

    I think almost any similar product has this problem. You always have to choose some base currency, and a company like Flattr is too small to manage multiple currencies and fluctuating exchange rates.

    In terms of fees converting from one currency to another, I doubt under the worst of circumstances you would lose more than 2 or 3 percent. On the other hand Flattr also charges as much as 10% to give money away, and as much as 10% to deposit or withdraw money (this depends on how much money you deposit or withdraw).

    This means from the time someone deposits money to the time a blogger takes it out, as much as 3 x 10% in fees will have been deducted. It's not necessarily this high, but it is something to take seriously. In any event, the fees for currency conversion are dwarfed by these other costs.

    If what you want to do is give a serious amount of money to a blogger, Flattr is not the way to go.

    On the other hand if you like social networking, Facebook like buttons, Twitter buttons and so on, then a 'like-button with a small payment' might be appealing. In this case you set aside 25 or maybe 100 euros a year to give away, and put it into a Flattr account. In this case you just have to think about being nice and giving away a little bit of money, and not pay so much attention to the fees which we all know are outrageous. People just like seeing a post that I make and giving me 12 cents (roughly the average value of all flattrs).

    As a blogger it's completely free to setup Flattr button(s). The only time you pay money is when you actually take the money out or give it away to someone else via Flattr.

    Advertising is inefficient too, but no one thinks about that so much either, you just place the ads and wait to be paid. Flattr is not that much different in this respect.

    With flattr however you are completely independent. You are free to openly criticise flattr or stop using it at any time. You are free to discuss with others how much you make. While flattr is commercial and for-profit in nature, it's only real goal is promoting free speech on the Internet.

    If I had known how very little money could be made with Flattr I might not of set it up in the first place, but some people like using it and I'm not in a hurry to take the flattr buttons away. I hope someday there will be more people interested in giving money away -- even if the fees are a little outrageous.

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  15. Patrick - thanks for coming back and adding your insider knowledge of how the scheme works. It's always good to hear personal accounts - which of course is one of the strengths of blogging.

    I think these schemes are here to stay and I hope they will work, especially for bloggers who wish to retain their independence. I suspect it'll happen slowly though. There seems to be quite a few schemes, so maybe they need to merge for it to work - people might find them confusing or not want to sign up to several schemes to distribute their micropayments.

    The other scheme I highlighted also has the facility for the blogger to waive their payments for charity which was one of the points Mark made. It also has the facility for people to nominate blogs even if they aren't displaying that particular badge.

    Over the pond recently there's been quite a bit of hoo ha over bloggers 'selling out'. It looks like bloggers and payment is a topic that's set to run and run...

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  16. Flattr does have a number of charities you can donate to, and Flattr doesn't charge any fees for payments to charities. Also Flattr has a way to nominate someone who isn't a member for a donation via Twitter.

    I've had some long discussions with the Flattr people both in their discussion forum as well as over the Internet via Skype. I also worked a number of years for banks and on payment processing systems as an IT specialist, and I'm a big fan of micro-payment systems. I really think micro-payments can be a very powerful.

    I give some money each year to Doctors Without Borders, but honestly there is not a single other charity I would give to. They are all too inefficient, pay large salaries to the people that manage them, and most importantly gives almost direct benefits to real people in need.

    If you give to a cancer charity for example, you only support the greater good of cancer research and treatment, but cancer patients don't usually receive direct benefits at least not in a very meaningful way.

    Micro-payment systems on the other hand have the power to change the way we think about charities by giving direct assistance to people in need. I'm not saying this should replace traditional charities as we know them, but these two concepts should exist side by side.

    With micro-payments it's possible for example for me to say I have €100 and want to give it to all the gardening bloggers out there, equally divided. Flattr doesn't work this way now, but it could if they chose to program it that way.

    [have to split this into 2 comments because Blogger is complaing...]

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  17. For example, if you think of the earthquake in Haiti a few years ago. It would have taken a lot of planning and effort, but I think it would have been possible to sign up most of the population within a reasonable time, and dispense cash payments to people with a Flattr like system. That way people all around the world could give money directly to the people, who all mostly suddenly lost their livelihoods because of the earthquake.

    Before the earthquake a large part of the population was living on a very small amount of money from day to day. When the earthquake hit, they suddenly didn't have any money.

    If the Haitian people had money it would have been possible to build up the economy faster, because a lot of that money would have just circulated between people giving smaller amounts of money a bigger impact. Instead of depending on foreign food aid that displaced and competed with local food production systems. Their own farmers and shopkeepers could have benefited from higher prices, and the people of Haiti could have paid for their own food imports.

    A number of people might read this and suggest Kiva. I want to make clear that I see Kiva as little more than legalized loan sharking, and I think it's much more powerful to give people money than give poor people who can't afford it a loan.

    In the same way giving direct assistance to people in Haiti could have been a big boost for the economy, this should be true for bloggers too. If Flattr makes it's fees more reasonable, and we get more money flowing into Flattr in general, we should be able to build up a sort of blogging economy where we give money to one another and use it ourselves when we need to. We could also solicit donations from larger donors as a group, for example asking for grants of 10 or 20 thousand euros all at once, to help bloggers in general.

    In general in the world today, we have lots of problems getting the money from the richest 1% to the other 99%, if you know what I mean! Micro-payment systems could be a powerful tool in distributing wealth.

    As you can imagine Flattr completely disagrees with me that this is the way to go. They see Flattr as more of a 'cool' thing for young people with smartphones. It's a trendy thing for geeks to play with, and that's how they're marketing it. In the end, maybe they're right anyway.

    In spite of this philosophical difference with the Flattr people over how it should be promoted, I do think they are good people who have built a good product.

    Flattr is better than anything else I've seen so far. If however something else better comes along, I'll happily switch.

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  18. Hi Patrick - thanks for stopping by again, especially as you've had to struggle with Blogger's character limit. It's interesting to hear about the other options Flattr has as I haven't found that info out from their website. Perhaps I haven't looked hard enough.

    I think we're in broad agreement that micropayments are a very good idea. I think it's early days yet and I'm sure some of the drawbacks you've found will be worked through in time. They need to be if the system is going to be attractive to people. I see Flattr have now put up their own analysis of how well Pay a Blogger day went. It seems it fell well short of what they were trying to do, but at least awareness has been raised. Indeed they've highlighted this post and conversation in the comments as an example of that!

    I see micropayments as part of the movement that's trying to keep things local, and/or in the hands of real people instead of big corporations. I'm sure that in 2012 onwards we'll see more of that happening and who knows? At last micropayments will be seen as a real alternative for the blogging community and its readers to support each other.

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