How can we fund common Internet infrastructure without risking that it will be captured by corporations or governments? He who pays the piper tends to call the tune, which is a bad thing when you don’t actually want the content of your network to be controlled.
This is a problem I’ve been worrying about a lot for the last couple of years. I’ve been working on one organized attack on it that I’m not ready to talk about in public yet (but will be soon; some of this blog’s regulars are already briefed in). I’ve just found something else that might help which I can talk about: micropatronage.
There’s a site called gittip.com that provides a way for people to give small recurring gifts, weekly, to a person or project team. Donors give it payment system information; weekly gifts are then automatically shipped unless donors elect to stop. It’s meant to handle small amounts, with an upper limit of $100 per patron/client pair per week.
Gittip has the interesting property that, as a patronage receiver, you don’t know who your patrons are – all you know is the total amount you’re being gifted. So people can fund you, but they can’t attach any strings. There’s still a kind of market check; if you’re not doing work that your donor base as a whole finds interesting, your patronage volume will drop.
As a mechanism for funding commons development that is insulated from political and commercial pressure this seems very promising. Of course it has other uses, too; creators of all kinds might be able to use it to turn reputation into a steady cash flow.
That is, if there are enough patrons. Chad Whitacre and his team are betting that a lot of people will actually prefer making small recurring donations to single lump-sum gifts. So far there is one piece of objective evidence that suggests they’re right: gittip development is itself funded through gittip.
Watch this space. Soon, the gittip team and I will try an interesting social experiment…