Micropayments With Tipping.

Some technologies are solutions in search of problems. That can be good! Happy accidents brought us things like Post-it notes, penicillin, and chocolate chip cookies.

Other times, finding the right use of a technology or invention means thinking deeply about the problem and its characteristics.

Let’s talk about currency for a moment. Currency has several characteristics, most of them relating to how it can be used, or even if it can be used.

If I spent 10 minutes creating some ERC20 token and gave myself 10 billion tokens, I’ve spent ten minutes racking up a high score in an imaginary video game and the only thing I get out of it is self-satisfaction, because that’s all I can do with it, until the second I can convince at least one other person that it’s worth something from them.

Given that thousands of other people are spending 10 minutes creating ERC tokens all the time and are all trying to convince other, other people that these tokens are worth something, anyone’s chances of creating something usable for others are low.

Let’s talk about divisibility for a moment though.

Pieces of Eight

One of the interesting ideas of the original Bitcoin paper is that a Bitcoin can be divided into satoshis, like the Spanish dollar worth eight reals or a delicious cake. This wasn’t a novel invention for Bitcoin, but it recognized that the value of Bitcoin wasn’t solely in a Bitcoin qua Bitcoin, but in a Bitcoin’s utility to represent divisible value.

In other words, the smallest unit of value is a satoshi, not a Bitcoin.

Dogecoin, like many other cryptocurrencies, has the same quality. The 10,000 Dogecoin a miner might receive as a block mining reward can be subdivided into many, many configurations, each of them providing a fungible (uniform) value.

That holds fast no matter how you receive Doge: mining them, buying them, selling a good or service for them, or receiving them as a gift or tip.

Scaling from Small to Large

Now think about the American quarter, our metallic paean to General George Washington. With one quarter, you can buy a big gumball from a vending machine in an American supermarket. With two, you can play a game of The Lord of the Rings pinball.

With 40,000 or so, you can buy that pinball machine. Bring a couple of strong friends and a wheelbarrow, though. That many quarters is pretty heavy. Then again, so is the pinball machine. Trust me; I moved one once.

Scaling goes the other way, too.

A subscription to LWN costs $9 USD a month. For that, you get advanced access to lots of great original articles on Linux and F/OSS development. Otherwise, you have to wait a week to read things, at which time the world has moved on a little bit, and there’s another week of good articles you’d like to read.

Maybe $9 a month is a bigger commitment than you want to pay in perpetuity. LWN is great, but you’re mostly interested in its original articles once in a while.

What if…

Buying Small Things Without Everyone Going Broke

Imagine you’re reading this post right now, nodding your head, and saying “By gum, I would really love to send the author $0.1411 American cents right now, because I received that much entertainment and joy and knowledge from it.”

Go get a dime and four pennies and chop one of those pennies into 9 pieces and tape everything together and tape it all on the back of a postcard (there’s $1 USD spent) and get a stamp (let’s say you’re in North America) for $0.40 USD, and if your time has absolutely no value (I really did move that pinball machine, but I haven’t tried to divide a penny into 9 equal pieces, which seems more difficult in some ways), you’ve spent at least 10 times as much getting that tiny little tip to me as the tip itself.

There are lots of ways to describe and measure this characteristic, but let’s lump the opportunity and materials and transaction costs into a single bucket: transaction costs.

That principle applies whether I set up a Patreon or Substack or accept electronic payments via Square or Venmo or Paypal or….

Building a Community Negotiation System

I’m not saying LWN or the Washington Post or the Economist should or shouldn’t do this, but what if they offered an à la carte service that let you pay to access a single article with no long term obligation? Obviously it’s in their interest to entice you to become a long-term subscriber, but they’re also putting printed copies in newstands and magazine racks.

Okay, maybe LWN isn’t, but the point still stands.

Thing is, most of the technologies already exist to solve this problem.

Dogecoin has a good tipping bot in the form of SoDogeTip. That bot could be one of many, but it addresses the portability problem of transferring scalable amounts of divisible but uniform value between people.

It’s human initiated and it works across multiple platforms right now (Reddit and Twitter). There’s no reason it couldn’t expand to other platforms: Slack, Discord, IRC, email, SMS. It’s all just code.

What if….

Setting Prices and Receiving Payments

If you’ve ever clicked on a link to LWN or WaPo or the Economist and saw the paywall pop up, you know that the site knows that you haven’t authenticated as a subscriber. You’re seeing some special HTML.

What if that HTML contained a little bit of metadata?

What if that HTML contained a little bit of machine-readable metadata?

What if that HTML contained a little bit of machine-readable metadata that said “Whoever’s reading this, be ye machine or human, know that ye can transfer 1 or 2 or 10 or 0.77 Doge and bypass me”? This could be something like but not OpenGraph perhaps.

Imagine a browser extension (desktop, tablet, mobile) that could read that metadata.

Imagine that browser extension could prompt you “Hey, I know how to let you read this without making a long-term commitment, just a small transaction.”

Imagine that browser extension talked to the Doge tip bot or anything else with the same interface and that third-party system could talk to the originating site (I’m thinking a three-party negotiation system something like OAuth2 here, but I’m eliding a lot of interesting details) and verify that the Doge tip bot has transferred the 1 or 2 or 10 or 0.77 Doge from your wallet to the site’s wallet and that transaction will be verified on the chain so go ahead and let you read this article, just the one.

Or maybe it’s a day’s worth of access, or a week’s, or whatever?

Filling up your tip wallet (or subscription wallet or whatever it eventually gets called) is a matter of transferring Doge to an address.

There’s no smart contract needed. There’s no need to process transactions in the browser or wait for the network to mine the block with the transaction. There’s no need for the Doge tip bot to be the single trusted authority here. There could be a hundred or a thousand, as long as you trust it and the other site trusts it.

Oh, and with Dogecoin’s new lower transaction costs, you end up paying a tiny fraction of the payment itself to get it here. Keep your $1 postcard. It’s pretty, and you don’t need it here. TCP/IP will handle it. I promise.

Pursue Happy Accidents

Maybe this is a terrible idea. Maybe it’s brilliant. Maybe with a little bit of effort it could change into something else that’s both terrible and brilliant.

There are a bunch of little details to figure out, but there are a bunch of other applications that this system could enable.

When people ask me “I’d like to start developing, but I’m not sure C++ is right for me, what should I work on?” I start thinking about these things. Hopefully now you will too.