What if social media were paid on a flat rate model?
The idea itself is somewhat old. When Twitter started ads years ago I occasionally heard people suggest to pay for an ad free version. Maybe 5€/month or something.
There were porjects like app.net that charged their users … and ultimately failed.
Though they charged all users for the service they provided - not for the service other users provided. That was always seen as a free gift.
Over the years influencers became quite a thing. Patreon and fundraisers like GoFundMe got pretty popular too.
The porn scene is shifiting to OnlyFans and JustFor.Fans.
Creation needs financing
What that tells me: it’s not just the servers that need payment. It’s also the content creators. Creation is a job and needs to be paid somehow. Social media became an advertising platform not just the tech companies but also for the creators. They use their social media to sell things too - may it be the product they are paid for to advertise, patreon, gofundme or their onlyfans.
What if social media would be a flatrate model not just for paying the tech and servers, but also the creators?
OnlyFans pays 80% of their income to their creators and keeps 20% for their own operating costs. On OnlyFans, there’s a “per channel subscription” with highly varying prices. So, before subscribing to a new channel one does have to think about whether one channel alone is worth it. If you want to support several artists, it easily gets expensive. It’s quite similar on Patreon. Often, there are different pledge tiers offering different perks. Those who pay more get more “behind the scenes” stuff, early access to content, or access to restricted chat platforms. How about not having “big spenders” but rather many supporters?
Buying content online isn’t new. One of the biggest content-creating companies these days does not sell any content. It streams it. On a flat rate model.
Streaming services became so incredible successful because they are easy to use. If you want to watch a movie, you don’t have to buy it. You don’t have to burden of handling a credit card every time you want to watch something.
And semi-legal streaming sites that were very popular 10 years ago didn’t (only) disappear because of harsh copyright enforecement, but because they are annoying. Ads are annoying. Netflix is less annoying. There is neither a wall of ads to fight, nor does it make one find their credit card every time one wants to watch something. It is a reasonable priced streaming service, with a wide range of things one can watch and quite easy to use.
What if social media became similar to that? What if the internet people we like would be just supported by us following them? Not just in some emotional way but actually substantially so they are able to pay their bills with just the money they make by us enjoying their content?
Follow and pay people you like
Between all the ads social media - particularely Twitter - became a toxic shithole. There’s a huge political fight on the whole platform.
There are many opinions regarding whether the platform itself should take a stronger stand or whether it’s freedom of speech.
Twitter and Facebook value debate more that support. Comments rank higher than likes or shares/retweets. The common explanation is, that comments make people stay longer on the platform and the longer people stay on the platform the more ads the platform can sell. So, social media these days are meant to create debates. They are meant to create fights. The toxic shithole it became is wanted as it creates revenue.
“Enemy observation” is a thing. Observe what the people you hate do, so you can react faster to whatever wrongdoing they commit.
Now, what would happen if we were to pay the people we follow? All of them?
Would you still follow your enemies knowing you would have to pay them?
I guess it would mean the “enemy observation” would disappear. No one would give money to people they see as their enemies.
It sure does not solve all political debates. But maybe it would make social media less toxic by removing “enemy observation”, as well as ads. (Ads are, after all, annoying and annoyance easily becomes aggression that will influence the platform itself.)
Public sphere needs to be owned by the public
Social media is however quite the public sphere these days. There are many debates about companies like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube being gatekeepers to the public sphere. Particularely in a pandemic world where human gatherings have become health risks, we are even more dependant on some kind of social media to conntect and to keep the public debate alive. So, pushing them more into another for-profit model doesn’t seen reasonable to me.
So, what if that social media flatrate wouldn’t be platform-specific but rather protocol-specific?
What if there wouldn’t be one company collection the 20% for server costs and development but instead we would have a community run these servers themselves?
What if the social media flatrate would be part of the fediverse?
Mastodon was quite a hype a few years ago and yet, outside of the nerd bubble, it didn’t really catch on. Nowadays servers are even closing - a common occurance in the some “host it yourself!” nerd approach. As long as it’s new and novel, it’s fun to play around with one’s own server. But after some time, maintaining a server just becomes work.
So what, if that social media flatrate would be part of mastodon? What if running a server would actually bring some income, depending on how many people use your server?
A social media flat rate might create 3 solutions at once
- Not having one central company controlling everything but lots instances with their own policies. So it would be suiteable for porn people as well as for “no adult content”-people - other servers having other policies. If you don’t want any porn content, use a server that doesn’t allow any porn and blocks it.
- Some people are really great at creating content, so they have lots of followers and get paid that way. Other people may be not that great in creating content but are very competent in managing servers, so their server runs very smooth and has lots of users. And they get paid that way - so they have an incentive to host that server not just for a few months but permanently.
- It would make a platform possible without ads and without “enemy oberservation”, so maybe also a way less toxic one. And it wouldn’t create one big gatekeeper but instead lots of servers and people may choose the policy that fits them best. Sure, it does not solve the big political conflicts. It will probably not eradicate white suprimacy, racism or sexism. But it might create another perspective on things when not the most controversial one is pushed the hardest but the one with the most support.
Now, that all may sound very nice. And I’d love to have the resources to make this happen. Sadly I currently don’t have them. Not the time, not energy and also not the money to buy me the time it might need to setup something like this.
I have lots of ideas where to start to work on a social media flat rate - e.g. talk with eyeo - the company owning Flattr. I’m not sure if Flattr is the right point to start such a thing but at least talking with them would make that clear. And Flattr is already quite similar to what I have in mind.
Or with Patreon. I could imagine there could be a lot of common ground and they might be interested in developing some test case. Or maybe with the Mastodon Community (Or their main developper).
Maybe it is also something one should just start developing themself. Generally I’m not convinced with creating big projects all by yourself… and my programming skills are not up for such a big thing.
I have been thinking about all of this for the past few months, but currently I need to focus on my degree (If I’m not done by next summer, I will have to invest another year on it, or never get any degree). And also need to earn money. Which lately became a bit of a hustle.
So I’m putting it out here and hope someone will find it and work on it. I’d be happy to help to assist with it too but, for now, I can’t realize the idea myself.
What do you think?
It could also be that the very idea of a social media flatrate is completely bogus. If so I’d be happy to hear proper arguments why the very idea is bad. Or what I missed thinking about it.
I did talk about it with a few people and one thing came always up, so I address it here already: free in freedom does not mean free as in free beer. Yes, paying for a service a quite a burden. Payment might be a very visible barrier but is by for not the only one. Not standing the toxic culture of twitter these days is a high barrier too. People not having the energy to withstand that much toxic are practically banned from the platform. In Germany we have a public broadcaster that need to be paid by all citizens in Germany too, as creating good content is expensive.
There is no world without barriers. The question is what barriers we pick.
I am curious to see, what people may think about my idea, so please email me or tweet at me.
Or talk about it wherever you usually talk about these things :)