Tue Oct 26, 2010
For years there’s been a funny situation related to software and media consumption. Companies usually pay for the software they use. Many home users use the same software for free, downloading cracked versions. Users can’t always afford to pay $700 for using a program like Photoshop. Doesn’t sound fair, either, to pay such a high price just for doing some editing of family photos once in a while. Computer games are expensive too. Many users play, but only a part of them pay. If all gamers paid, the price might be lower. And then people do different things like going to the movie theater, buying DVDs, downloading movies from the net, or watching them on some website with streaming technology. The last two do not bring any money back to the producers, except if it’s a good movie and has a promotional effect.
For many years I had in my mind a way of getting developers and artists paid. It’s quite simple: your computer would track what you spend time on. It could be anything like using applications, watching online movies or listening to online music. You would pay a reasonable fixed amount of money every month. This amount would then be shared among the people who created the applications you used and those who produced the movies you watched and the songs you heard. With such a system in effect, people would have access to all software, movies and songs. Everything legal, and with good quality. This would also benefit those who create a one time successful YouTube video. It would allow new artists to get paid. If you would listen more times this new unknown artist than that famous world known band, then the new artist would get more money from you. I think this would motivate people to create more. Anybody who creates something used by many could get paid for it.
This year I found out about Flattr, a social micropayment platform. It uses a concept quite close to what I described. You pay a fixed amount of money every month, and this is shared among people who you Flattr. This is not something automatic: you have to click a small icon you see in web pages if you want to say “give some money to this person, I like what he or she does”. It’s only the beginning so Flattr will keep evolving. Currently the small problems I see are that it’s not automatic, and that it only works for sites that include the Flattr icon.
Recently I heard about the GNOME Zeitgeist project, which has now been renamed to GNOME Activity Journal. This is a Linux application that tracks how you use your computer. Many different interesting things come out of this tracking: you can analyze the way you work, the operating system can understand what you are doing, and provide easier access to tools you normally use when doing that kind of work… Very timid attempts have been made until today to let computers adapt to their users, but that’s another long interesting topic.
I was thinking… what if Flattr could be linked to the GNOME Activity Journal? The Journal knows what you spend time on, and Flattr can get developers paid. We could set up a monthly donation that goes to free software developers, and they would get their share depending on what you used your computer for. Imagine five million Ubuntu users donating 5$ a month, then this money being sent to the developers of thousands of applications and libraries we use daily. Sharing the money in a fair way would require a good amount of thinking (many projects have hundreds of developers). I think it could have a positive effect in the community. Most free software developers don’t do it for the money, but sending them some cash could developers spend more time working on what they like.
On the other hand, I imagine a negative effect: developers no longer being interested in developing necessary but less popular applications which bring less revenue.
Independently of this being a good or bad idea, I think something in this direction should be built so all creators can get paid. More and more people are creating stuff and putting it online. And more and more people are using their free time consuming media created by other people instead of big corporations. I believe those creators should also get their share.
Looking forward to the integration of Flattr in some large popular website like YouTube or Flickr.
ps. Ubuntu is bringing a payment system to the Ubuntu Software Center, so one can buy apps there. But I prefer the flat rate approach. It’s more predictable knowing you will donate a fixed amount of money every month. You are free to try any apps you want without buying them. If you like an app and keep using it, the authors would get automatically paid. If you don’t like it, you uninstall it and that’s it.