Flattr-y will get you nowhere

Dato pointed out on my post yesterday that I had omitted to link to the Ikea catalogue. And then it hit me - I am completely failing to monetize this blog! (Sadly, Ikea aren't in a position to give me any kickbacks right now.)

Since my money would be spent on innovative Swedish design in any case, I present a new microdonations system: Flattr-pack. I'll add a "Flattr-pack this!" button to everything I write, and then you can send me furniture with one easy click.

Unlike other systems, this has the advantage that no one will be taking a 10% cut of your donations. Awesome!

Or maybe not.

For those who don't know what I'm on about, Flattr is a website that lets you donate small amounts of money to other websites. It has been proposed to use this site to support free and open source software (FOSS).

Now a quick modern anthropology lesson: in a 1998 essay titled "Homesteading the Noosphere", Eric Raymond conjectured that FOSS society is a gift economy; your reputation is proportional to how much you give away.

At first sight, microdonations drop neatly into this system; after all, the users are giving money away, right? And yet somehow, I don't think those users are gaining much in terms of reputation. Not in the same way as if they reported bugs, say; joined a localization team; or even just turned up to conferences and volunteered to sit on the front desk.

Both types of activity could be described as "donations" - but in one case, the donation benefits the whole community around the project, and in the other it goes to just a few top developers. It's a plain old exchange economy in disguise. I do hope that those users are not dissuaded from making the more generous donations just because it's more convenient to whip out a credit card. That would not be in their long-term interests, or those of the community as a whole.

I fear this scheme could also incentivize some oddly inefficient behaviour; writing blog entries purely for their donation potential, say, or even content-free search-engine optimization posts.

Speaking entirely personally, I do not plan to join in.

Tim Retout

A solution architect

By Tim Retout, 2010-11-03