Introducing Web Monetization and WordPress

Introduction

Hi, I’m David Lockie. Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts about using Web Monetization with WordPress. I founded Pragmatic, grew it to be one of Europe’s largest WordPress agencies and sold it to Angry Creative in July 2020 where I’m now CMO. 

At Pragmatic we built the first version of the Coil Web Monetization WordPress plugin. Through that relationship I became aware of Grant For The Web and was ultimately privileged to become an ambassador for GFTW. My primary goal in this role is to help spread the word about Web Monetization to folks using WordPress and so help drive adoption.

About this content series

This content series will walk (and talk) through using the Coil plugin to achieve Web Monetization on a WordPress site. I’ll go right from the basics through to more advanced usage of the plugin. I’ll also try to throw a few other WordPress tips in along the way (I’ve built a few WordPress sites in my time!) Along the way I’m going to Web Monetize this site itself and report on the income it makes over the project period. 

The site will be live for a year at least and I’d be delighted to welcome collaborators and guest bloggers who have something of value to add to the conversation.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is the world’s most popular Content Management System (CMS) – you can think of it as a website builder.

WordPress is used by 65.1% of all the websites whose content management system we know. This is 42.1% of all websites.

Source: w3techs

It’s an open source project, meaning that anyone can see, download, run and edit the source code freely (subject to the license terms). It’s used by content creators of all types and sizes all over the world to create everything from blogs and corporate sites through to enterprise digital experience platforms and ecommerce stores.

One small point of order to be aware of is that WordPress comes in two ‘flavours’:

  1. WordPress.com is a SaaS that combines the WordPress software with hosting and other services to let anyone get started with just a few clicks.
  2. WordPress.org is the open source software project which anyone can download and host to create their own website.

In this content series we’re only going to focus on the self-hosted WordPress.org flavour which is the one that allows plugins and customization to the extent we’re looking for.

What is Web Monetization?

Web Monetization is a way for people to send and receive payments of all sizes and any currency from one computer to another without a central party – you can think of it as email for money. Technically, Web Monetization itself is a draft W3C web standard that sits on an open web protocol called Interledger.

The technology enables user experiences like micropayments and tipping from a visitor’s browser to a website. The vision is for a whole range of payment experiences that allow almost any financial transaction between two digital wallets over the web.

The dream of micropayments is almost as old as the web itself but so far attempts to make it work have had mediocre success at least. I wrote extensively about the history, current state and promise of micropayment services and platforms as a whitepaper that’s freely available from the Angry Creative website. For now suffice to say that Web Monetization is different and could help us solve some of the biggest challenges with the web today.

Currently, Coil is the only service provider offering a Web Monetization subscriber experience (i.e. the ability to send payments). Over time, the hope is that many more service providers either include Web Monetization support (for example in native browser or app digital wallets) or start up in order to provide options to the market.

On the other side, it’s really easy for anyone to Web Monetize their website (i.e. to receive payments).

Is this another crypto project?

No. Web Monetization is currency agnostic. You an use it to send/receive whatever currencies are supported by both wallets in a transaction, so you can use the same protocol to send USD, GBP, BTC or RMB.

What does a Web Monetized website experience look like?

One of the key qualities of Web Monetization is that it’s very low friction. There are three key parts to the experience.

1 – A Coil account and browser add on

A screenshot of a website with the browser in view and the Coil web monetization browser add on showing that funds are flowing successfully

With an active account at coil.com ($5/mo), subscribers get access to a Coil extension (available for all modern browsers), demonstrated above when visiting a Web Monetized website (mine in this case!) This screenshot demonstrates what it looks like when funds are flowing from the visitor’s digital wallet (via my coil.com account) to the digital wallet of the website owner (also mine, in this case hosted by Uphold.)

2 – The meta tag(s)

A screenshot of website source code showing the Web Monetization implementation as meta and link tags.
A screenshot of website source code showing the Web Monetization implementation as meta and link tags.

But (I hear you ask) how does the browser add on know that a website is Web Monetized? Great question. The answer is dead simple. It’s via what’s called a ‘meta tag’ in the source code of the website. If that sounds technical, don’t worry we’ll go through that in lots of detail. The more technically-minded amongst you might be asking if that’s it – no script to load? No other integration to do? Nope – that’s it. 

This is the Web Monetization equivalent of telling a browser what your email address is. It’s what’s called a ‘payment pointer’ that indicates the location of a digital wallet that is available to receive funds via the Interledger protocol. Neat hey?

3 – The digital wallet, receiving funds

A screenshot of an email from Uphold notifying me of funds received

And finally, the funds being received to the target digital wallet. In this case, I’ve chosen to receive funds in USD but it could easily have been GBP, BTC or any other currency supported by Coil and Uphold.

Why the two are complementary

WordPress and Web Monetization make sense together for a few compelling reasons:

  1. They both value the open web: open protocols and standards that allow anyone to use the web freely. 
  2. They both serve content creators: people creating with WordPress usually also want to earn revenue for their work.
  3. This sort of technology relies on a two-sided marketplace to succeed – both senders and receivers of funds must adopt it. The sheer scale of WordPress is enough to support an ecosystem around Web Monetization; likewise as an open web technology, Web Monetization can scale to support the leviathan that is WordPress.

There are lots of ways for people to earn money with their WordPress sites but many have challenges. Web Monetization brings a new option to the table that shares the values of the open web and the value of content and its creators.

What’s coming up next?

With that scene-setting out of the way, the next post will cover actually getting started. It’s all about basic installation and configuration of the Coil Web Monetization plugin. We’ll end up with a WordPress install that is Web Monetized and can receive funds.

Ready to dive in? Here’s the series:

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