Web Monetization: A Report on Barriers to Adoption
- The Web Monetization API has the potential to create a viable alternative to targeted advertising as a means for website content creators to generate revenue.
- Widespread adoption of this innovative technology is currently slow, however, due to common questions surrounding onboarding, explanation, and integration.
- As part of our Decentralization Off The Shelf project (and with support from Grant for the Web), our team conducted in-depth design research and prepared a report highlighting common questions and challenges encountered by end users, and offering recommendations for opportunities to increase web monetization adoption in the future.
Ads have been with us since the early beginnings of the internet and are not going away anytime soon. Be it pop-ups or mass targeted advertising, advertising has created a series of societal and safety issues, ranging from coordinated misinformation campaigns to unreadable mobile UIs. Yet as the public discourse shifts toward finding better ways to pay creators, ads remain the dominant monetization model on the web. Despite the introduction of dangerous dark patterns, many users have no choice but to continue to tolerate the internet’s current ad-based structure in an un-bargained-for and unequal exchange to access purportedly “free” information.
In response, Grant for the Web (GftW) was created to help find a better way to monetize online content while respecting open standards and individual rights. As part of GftW’s efforts, the Simply Secure team behind Decentralization Off The Shelf (an open design project supporting practitioners in decentralization through interface, content, and service design) received funding in late 2020 to examine the current barriers to adoption for the Web Monetization API and identify opportunities to help increase adoption and mitigate end-user issues. The ultimate goal? Improved UX for an early-stage API seeking to offer creators the ability to get paid for web traffic without employing targeted advertising.
The Web Monetization API is an innovative proposal for a W3C Standards that has the potential to create a viable alternative to targeted advertising. It offers a piece of technology that has up to this point been absent in web browsers: the ability for users to transfer miniscule amounts of money as an ad-free means to compensate websites and their creators. Yet despite this promising possibility, confusion and significant barriers to adoption remain on behalf of both the sender and receiver of payments. Accordingly, our expert research and design team set out to identify common obstacles and offer solutions to increase and ease adoption.
In investigating the API’s UX, we spoke with creators, consumers, and developers to better understand their respective barriers to adoption. After learning more about the design patterns that already exist in the space, and unpacking security risks posed to end-users, we then partnered with designers to rethink ways to represent this web monetization model.
As part of our efforts to develop better UX patterns for decentralization, we identified recurring UX issues in decentralization that also make an appearance in the Web Monetization API’s decentralized protocol. Because decentralized technologies are often new and complex, and early adopters often find them difficult to understand and navigate, the design problems faced by the Web Monetization API are highly generalizable. Common UX questions encountered include:
- How is the new technology explained? What mental models can be used (or re-used)?
- Who is doing the explaining (and when)? Are they the right people?
- How do you integrate a new technology into a familiar ecosystem (e.g. web browser) and make it natural and usable?
After identifying these questions and other common barriers to adoption, our team developed a set of general recommendations to help reduce user confusion, increase transparency, and improve overall retention rates. In doing so, we organized our recommendations by target user group. For example:
Streaming platforms such as Coil should:
- Enhance subscription transparency. Provide real-time feedback in the streaming platform website (for creators) and in the web extension (for audience members).
Creators who want to use Web Monetization should:
- Provide an ad-free option. Offer users a button that provides the option to “Remove advertisements” as either a banner ad or a blocking pop-up.
Maintainers of the Web Monetization API and Interledger Protocol should:
- Remember developers are users. Mobile and desktop applications that support payee-payer relationships on their platforms could be potential early adoption partners if they are targeted and curated through better communication and transparency.
To learn more about the barriers to adoption for the Web Monetization API, or see the full list of our specific recommendations, head over to our project page and check out our report and accompanying zine. It is our hope that the issues identified in our research will be addressed over time through improved documentation, quality control, and increased buy-in from major browsers. Our recommendations are ultimately intended to be a first step in the complex process of achieving a more equitable and less economically invasive internet.
Project Leads: Karissa McKelvey and Ngọc Triệu