Three years ago, when ProjectVRM was new, we applied and made it to the second round. Back then EmanciPay was still called PayChoice. (We changed it because we wanted a better name with a URL we could buy, which we did.) Sustainability wasn’t front-burner for Knight then, I guess. Now it is. And, in the meantime, much VRM development has been going in the sustainability direction, including work behind the r-button (some context here). Special thanks for that goes to David Karger, Oshani Seneviratne and Adam Marcus of CSAIL at MIT, our Google Summer of Code student, Ahmad Bakhiet of Kings College London and Renee Lloyd (a fellow veteran Berkman Center fellow) for their good work on that.
a user-driven system for generating revenue and managing relationships
Requested amount from Knight News Challenge:
Describe your project:
EmanciPay is the first user-driven revenue model for news and information media. With EmanciPay, users can easily pay whatever they like, whenever they like, however they like — on their own terms and not just those controlled by the media’s supply side.
EmanciPay will also provide means for building genuine two-way relationships between the consumers and producers of media, rather than the confined relationships defined by each organization’s default subscription and membership systems .
EmanciPay is among a number of VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) tools that have been in development for the last several years, with guidance from ProjectVRM, which is led by Doc Searls at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Here is a list of VRM development projects.
Starting early this year, Doc and other members of the VRM community have been working on EmanciPay with developers at MIT/CSAIL and Kings College London. The MIT/CSAIL collaboration is led by David Karger and ties in with work he and others are doing with Haystack. This work includes developing a UI called r-button for offering payment and for creating and managing relationships between users and producers.
The r-button is the first Web UI element that allows a site to signal openness to the user’s own terms of engagement. Toward this end work has also begun on terms-matching, which will allow engagement to go forward without the user being forced to “accept” terms on a site’s take-it-or-leave-it basis — thus eliminating a major source of friction in the marketplace. (Note: These one sided agreements are increasingly coming under fire by courts and regulators, thus creating a higher risk profile for organizations using them. EmanciPay seeks to lower or eliminate that risk altogether.)
As with Creative Commons, terms will be expressed in text and symbols that can be read easily by both software and people.
While there is no limit to payment choice options with EmanciPay, we plan to test these one at a time. The first planned trials are with Tipsy, which is itself the subject of another Knight News Challenge application, here. (Note: EmanciPay is not a micropayments system. It is a way for users to choose whatever amounts and methods of payment they like, whenever they like, with maximum ease.)
ProjectVRM has also been working with PRX and other members of the public radio community on ListenLog (the brainchild of Keith Hopper at NPR), which can currently be found on the Public Radio Player, an iPhone app that has been downloaded more than 2 million times, so far.
Other VRM development efforts, on identity and trust frameworks, and personal data stores (PDSes), will also be brought in to help with EmanciPay.
The plan now is to step up code development, get the code working in the world, test it, improve it, work with media and their CRM suppliers, and drive it to ubiquity.
How will your project improve the delivery of news and information to geographic communities?:
The first is with a new business model. Incumbent local and regional media currently have three business models: paid delivery (subscriptions and newsstand sales), advertising, and (in the case of noncommercial media) appeals for support. All of these have well-known problems and limitations. They are also controlled in a top-down way by the media organization, and cannot be managed from the user’s side, using tools native to the user. Thus they lack insight into what buyers really want. Accordingly, what we propose is a new supplementary system that makes it as easy as possible for anybody to pay anything for whatever they like, whenever they like, without going through the friction of becoming a “member” or otherwise coping with existing payment systems.
The second is a system for creating and sustaining relationships between the consumers and producers of news and information. EmanciPay is one among a larger box of VRM (vendor relationship management) tools by which individual consumers of news can also participate in the news development process. These tools are based on open source code and open standards, so they can be widely adopted and adapted to meet local needs.
CRM software companies, many of which supply CRM (customer relationship management) systems to media organizations, are also awaiting VRM developments. (The cover and much of a recent CRM Magazine were devoted to VRM.)
What unmet need does your proposal answer?:
EmanciPay meets need for maximum freedom and flexibility in paying for news and information, and for a media business model that does not depend only on advertising or the frictions of subscriptions and membership systems.
Right now most news and information is already free of charge on the Web, whether or not it costs money to subscribe or to buy those goods on newsstands. Meanwhile, paying for those goods voluntarily today ranges from difficult to impossible. Even the membership systems of public broadcasting exclude vast numbers of people who would contribute “if it was easy”.
EmanciPay will make it easy for consumers of news to become customers of news. It will allow customers to pay for what they want, when they want, in ways they want, and to initiate actual relationships with the news organizations they pay — on users’ own terms as well as those of news organizations.
How is your idea new?:
Equipping individuals with their own digital tools for exerting and controlling their means of engagement with suppliers is a new idea. So is basing those tools on open source and open standards.
There have also been no tools for expressing terms of engagement that match up with — and reform — those of sellers, rather than just submitting to what are known in law as contracts of adhesion: ones in which the dominant party is free to change what they please while the submissive party is nailed to whatever the dominant party dictates. Contracts of adhesion have been pro forma on the Web since the invention of the cookie in 1995, and EmanciPay is the first system developed to replace them. This system is entirely new, and is being developed by legal experts on the ProjectVRM team, aided by friends at Harvard Law School and other interested institutions. Once in place, its implications and reformations are likely to exceed even those of Creative Commons, because they address the demand as well as the supply side of the marketplace — and (like Creative Commons) do not require changes in standing law.
EmanciPay is also new in the sense that it is distributed, and does not require an intermediary. As with email (the protocols of which are open and distributed, by design), EmanciPay supports any number of intermediary services and businesses providing services to assist it.
What will you have changed by the end of the project?:
First, we will have changed the habits and methods by which people pay for the media goods they receive, starting with news and information.
Second, we will have established a new legal framework for agreements between buyers and sellers on the Web and in the networked world.
Third, we will have introduced to the world an intention economy, based on the actual intentions of buyers, rather than on guesswork by sellers about what customers might buy. (The latter is the familiar “attention economy” of advertising and promotion.)
Fourth, we will have introduced relationship systems that are not controlled by sellers, but instead are controlled and driven by the individuals who are each at the centers of their own relationships with many different entities. Thus relationships will be user-driven and not just organization-driven.
What terms best describe your project?:
Bold, original, practical, innovative and likely to succeed.
(I left out stuff where I was asked to flatter myself. Not my style; but hey, they made me do it.)