EmanciPay

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Project Overview

EmanciPay is a payment system in which individuals can easily escrow a sum of money they intend to pay to any recipient. They can escrow the payment in a place (such as a bank) where the recipient can pick it up with no strings attached.

While EmanciPay was first conceived as a way to make live payments to nonprofits such as the Red Cross, public radio stations or publishers of blogs, it is also positioned as a counterpart to sellers' subscription systems in what the B2B company Zuora calls the "subscription economy", which it says "is built on ever changing relationships with your customers". Since relationships are two-way by nature, EmanciPay is one way that customers can manage their end, while systems such as Zuora's manage the other.

EmanciPay and the r-button

EmanciPay in the long run might make use the R-button (two "magnets" that represent the customer and the vendor) to signal the presence of willingness-to-engage on either or both the customer and the vendor sides. Here is one way it might appear in a browser's chrome:

Kqed chrome.jpg

The user's side is the left magnet, and the seller's side is the right.

Initial code work on this was done here and here.

Digital Asset Grid

A number of VRM developers have worked with Innotribe, the incubation arm of SWIFT (the international payments nonprofit owned by a zillion financial institutions, which moves $trillions per day) on Digital Assets and the Digital Asset Grid aka "The DAG." Working prototype code now exists and is available for building into infrastructure for whatever.

Work on The DAG started with the EmanciPay concept, and can still work with it.

Emancy

EmanciPay is first in a family might also include EmanciTerm and Emanci-whatever.

On the development front, public code work has been done here and with Tipsy.

Emancipay economic case

EmanciPay provides a new form of economic signaling not available to individuals, either on the Net or before the Net became available as a communications medium. EmanciPay will use open standards and be comprised of open source code. While any commercial [Fourth party] can use EmanciPay (or its principles, or any parts of it they like), EmanciPay's open and standard framework will support fourth parties by making them substitutable, much as the open standards of email (smtp, pop3, imap) make email systems substitutable. (Each has what Joe Andrieu calls service endpoint portability.)

Development of EmanciPay has thus far been centered around the r-button, with code developed by students at MIT CSAIL and Kings College London (the latter through a Google Summer of Code project in 2010), building on work already done by the former on Tipsy, which is the first among a variety of logging and payment choice methods within the EmanciPay framework.

EmanciPay is an instrument of customer independence from all of the billion (or so) commercial entities on the Net, each with its own arcane and silo'd systems for engaging and managing customer relations, as well as receipt, acknowledgement and accounting for payments from customers.

Use Case Background

EmanciPay was conceived originally as a way to provide a customers with the means to signal interest and ability to pay for media and creative works (most of which are freely available on the Web, if not always free of charge). Through EmanciPay, demand and supply can relate, converse and transact business on mutually beneficial terms, rather than only on terms provided by the countless different silo'd systems we have today, each serving to hold the customer captive, and causing much inconvenience and friction in the process.

Media goods were chosen for several reasons: 1) because most are available for free, even if they cost money, or are behind paywalls; 2) paywalls, which are cookie-based, cannot relate to individuals an anything other than submissive and dependent parties (and each browser a users employs carries a different set of cookies); 3) both media companies and non-profits are constantly looking for new sources of revenue; and 4) all methods of intermediating payment choices are either silo'd by the seller or silo'd by intermediators, discouraging participation by individuals.

What the marketplace requires are new business and social contracts that ease payment and stigmatize non-payment for creative goods. The friction involved in voluntary payment is still high, even on the Web, where one must go through complex ceremonies even to make simple payments. There is no common and easy way either to keep track of what media (free or otherwise) we use (see Media Logging), to determine what it might be worth, and to pay for it easily and in standard ways — to many different suppliers. (Again, each supplier has its own system for accepting payments.)

EmanciPay will support "buy button"-simple payment choice routines that allow readers, listeners and viewers to pay whatever they like, at their discretion, for whatever media products they use. For too many media the traditional business models -- subscriptions, newsstand sales, advertising and underwriting -- are not sufficient. (Especially in the current economic environment, which is akin to an earthquake that won't stop.) Nor do they support full participation and involvement with their users.

EmanciPay differs from other payment models (subscriptions, newsstand, tip jars) by providing customers with the ability to choose what they wish to pay and how they'll pay it, with minimum friction -- and with full choice about what they disclose about themselves.

EmanciPay will also support credit for referrals, requests for service, feedback and other relationship support mechanisms, all at the control of the user. For example, EmanciPay can provide quick and easy ways for listeners to pay for public radio broadcasts or podcasts, for readers to pay for otherwise "free" papers or blogs, for listeners to pay to hear music and support artists, for users to issue promises of payment for for stories or programs -- all without requiring the individual to disclose unnecessary private information, or to become a "member" -- although these options are kept open.

This will scaffold genuine relationships between buyers and sellers in the media marketplace. It will also give deeper meaning to "membership" in non-profits. (Under the current system, "membership" generally means putting one's name on a pitch list for future contributions, and not much more than that.)

EmanciPay will also connect the sellers' CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems with customers' VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) systems, supporting rich and participatory two-way relationships. In fact, EmanciPay will by definition be a VRM system.

Micro-accounting

The idea of "micro-payments" for goods on the Net has been around for a long time, and if often brought up as a potential business model for journalism by an article by Walter Isaacson in Time Magazine. What ProjectVRM suggests instead is something we don't yet have, but very much need: micro-accounting for actual uses. These including reading, listening and watching.

Most of what we now call "content" is both free for the taking and worth more than $zero. How much more? We need to be able to say. In economic terms, demand needs to have a much wider range of signals it can give to supply.

So, as currently planned, EmanciPay would -

  1. Provide a single and easy way that consumers of "content" can become customers of it. In the current system -- which isn't one -- every artist, every musical group, every public radio and TV station, has his, her or its own way of taking in contributions from those who appreciate the work. This can be arduous and time-consuming for everybody involved. (Imagine trying to pay separately every musical artist you like, for all your enjoyment of each artists work.) What EmanciPay proposes, however, is not a replacement for existing systems, but a new system that can supplement existing fund-raising systems -- one that can soak up much of today's MLOTT: Money Left On The Table.
  2. Provide ways for individuals to look back through their media usage histories, inform themselves about what they have been enjoying, and to determine how much it is worth to them. The Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP), and later the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), both came up with "rates and terms that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between a willing buyer and a willing seller" -- language that first appeared in the 1995 Digital Performance Royalty Act (DPRA), and was tweaked in 1998 by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), under which both the CARP and the CRB operated. The rates they came up with peaked at $.0001 per "performance" (a song or recording), per listener. EmanciPay creates the "willing buyer" that the DPRA thought wouldn't exist.
  3. Stigmatize non-payment for worthwhile media goods. This is where "social" will finally come to be something more than yet another tech buzzmodifier.

All these require micro-accounting, not micro-payments. In fact micro-accounting can inform ordinary payments that can be made in clever new ways that should satisfy everybody with an interest in seeing artists compensated fairly for their work. An individual listener, for example, can say "I want to pay 1¢ for every song I hear on the radio," and "I'll send SoundExchange a lump sum of all the pennies wish to pay for songs I hear over the course of a year, along with an accounting of what artists and songs I've listened to" -- and leave dispersal of those totaled pennies up to the kind of agency that likes, and can be trusted, to do that kind of thing.

Similar systems can also be put in place for readers of newspapers, blogs and other journals. What's important is that the control is in the hands of the individual, and that the accounting and dispersal systems work the same way for everybody.