Paid content networks – how to get rewarded for creating content, a case study of yours.org (part 1)

One of the main problems that many people have with the Internet is that is free. Of course we all love free stuff, but is it really free? No, we just don’t pay for it, because advertisers do. The problem is that people create useful content that is then used to attract attention of other people. The content creators are suckers that create content and distribute it for free, while a shampoo ad is displayed alongside the work of a blogger, creative writer or journalist. Let’s think about this for a while. It is increasingly difficult to get attention of people, everyone wants our attention. Our smartphones are filled with notifications. When I accidentally turn of ad-blocker and look at the web, I want to puke, it looks like a cheap flea market filled with ads for products that I am not interested in. Some companies are better at targeting ads, but still – if I create something useful, how do I get paid? Well, I pay to get noticed to the same companies that focus the attention of my customers somewhere else. The authors always have to bundle their writing with something else – subscribe to a mailing list to get a free e-book. Traditional subscription paywalls don’t work either. If I want to read a good article in an online portal once a year, I don’t want to subscribe, because I don’t care about most of the articles.

There are several models that could fix this problem. One of them is “Spotify” model – you pay subscription fee to a corporation and the authors are rewarded in proportion to what articles their clients read. The advantage of this model is that the customer have a fixed monthly budget and don’t need to care if and what they read – they have universal access.

Another solution is micropayments and I am going to look at this in more detail, in particular with now sadly dying platform yours.org. Yours had a great idea – let’s integrate cryptocurrency payments and content and reward content creators with cryptocurrency. Content creators in this case create blogs, so it’s essentially a blogging platform, but the content can be graphics. There are several ways how content creators can be rewarded.

Screenshot of my profile on yours.org
  • First, you can send tips to any author. It is integrated through their profile page. If you like something, you click on a button. Yours creates an onchain transaction with cryptocurrency called BSV from your browser, so the transaction is peer to peer, you do not need to “withdraw” anything, you are sending cryptocurrency directly to the wallet of the author.
  • The authors can put part of the content behind a paywall, meaning the blog can consist of free and paid part. This model is pretty common these days, although usually paid for by subscription fees, not an author-set reward. If you want to create an analysis, you can provide a free sneak-peek and a paid part that the platform only shows you when you pay the fee set by the author (the platform takes a small cut, but again – the payment goes directly to the content creator, no intermediaries).
  • One of the common problems is comment spam. People feel they are entitled to an opinion, which essentially means that any platform that is actually used is filled with trolls, lols and comments that don’t add any value. Content creators on yours can set a fee for posting a comment. If some user decides to comment, they pay a small fee (usually 10-25 usd cents), but if the comment is useful, they can get a tip (and they often do).
  • The last and most important way is that you can vote for content. One vote costs 25 cents (fixed fee, you cannot change that) and is again paid in BSV. The original author has a free first “vote” and all the payments are distributed among the people who have voted before the latest voter. So if I post this article on the platform and someone votes for it, I get 25 cents. If there’s a second paying voter, he pays 25 cents, I get 12.5 cents and the first paid voted gets 12.5 cents.

A business case for voting

Let’s talk about the last mechanism a little bit more. I can make money writing content, but I can make money discovering good content, because if I find something new but obscure and it is worth people’s time, they will vote for it. In addition, I directly pay to the creator of the content when I discover it. So the author always gets paid with votes.

Let’s take an example. My favourite author on Yours is Satoshi Doodles, who creates nice artwork commenting on what is happening on the crypto scene. Note that it is not a “blog” per se, the content is a drawing. There is usually no paywall in the articles, so the author makes most of the money on tips and votes.

So, I like the author, I want to support the author, so when I discover they write something new, I want to vote for the content. Voting also means that the content has a more prominent place on the homepage of yours.org, so it means it will be discovered more easily and get even more votes.

If there is a new post and I click on the vote, the author gets 25 cents. If someone else taps in, we split the 25 cents (Satoshi Doodles and me). The next voter splits the money. You can see your voting balance at the end of each post (per vote, not per user, you can vote more than once):

Here you can see that I made 23.2 cents (that is I got back my 25 cents for the vote and earned an additional 23.2 cents). The sum of the votes is $5.50, you can also tip any amount you like, here you can see that the author got $10.85 in tips. And I can write a comment for 10 cents. There is no paywall in this post.

So by voting, you achieve several goals:

  • First of all, you support the original author, they always get a cut of the votes
  • Second, you can make a little bit of money by discovering content and supporting authors
  • Third, you help the content get noticed, because it is displayed more prominently on the front-page. You can also vote on your own content and it is pretty cheap to be on the front-page of yours these days.

Problems with yours

There are several small problems, one of them is that if you are voting for a content and you are the first, the votes are basically free. If you create two accounts on the votes, you can vote with $10 which easily makes it the first post on the homepage for a few days and you get most of the $10 on the author account. And you also make most of the money out of next votes. Yours tries to combat that by not distributing the votes among yourself (so if you click “Vote” twice, the second vote gets registered, but the 25 cents is distributed among the other voters). You can have any number of accounts though, so this is not really an issue.

The second problem is of course traffic. If you create good content, you most certainly can make some money. The website itself has around half million monthly visits, which is only 26-times more than my personal blog – for a blogging platform, that is basically noise.

The third problem of course is the use of cryptocurrency – and I am a fan of cryptocurrencies. With money, the most important thing is network effects. Yours used to use Bitcoin Cash and due to the fact that they’ve been doing on-chain payments in JavaScript from the browser, that was a good choice. The author has a pretty good information about why they could not use the Lightning Network, even though they were working on payment channels – one of the main reasons is that in order to receive money, you have to be online, which is not the case usually, even when I am sleeping, I want the voter in China to give me my 25 cents. The alternative is to be custodial of money until I log in, but that’s not something the authors wanted.

After the fork of Bitcoin Cash to Bitcoin Cash ABC and Bitcoin Cash SV, the platform was completely offline for days and then they came back with support of BSV, which has a smaller market cap and even less users. Also, parts of the infrastructure that was set up to combat network effects is not working to this day – for example if you want to fund your wallet with Shapeshift, it is completely broken, the button is there, but it does not work and gives wrong QR code. So onboarding new users is almost impossible, unless you are smart enough to register on an obscure exchange that lists BSV, which is 11th in the market cap ranking, you are out of fun. Also, the 11th position is very misleading, because the distribution is showing existing coins that will most probably never move, because people don’t know how to claim forked coins from BTC and BCH. BSV has around 2.5 transactions per minute currently and I suspect most of this is votes and tips through yours.

The whole story of the fork is very sad. You might or might not agree about the scaling vision of big blocks, but it had its place, there was a pretty good software infrastructure (yours, memo.cash, joystream, bitbox, …). But then it turned into a fight of egos. People had to pick sides. There are no really important technical differences between ABC and SV, it was a plain old boring power struggle and the winner is… other cryptocurrencies. If you can totally destroy a decentralized project because you could not agree on how to handle miniscule technical details, this is a way to do it. So yours picked the smaller currency (BCH ABC has 3.3x transaction volume, 2x market cap and 4x trading volume). In addition, the authors of yours handled this very badly – the site was simply frozen after the fork for days, with not even a sentence on the front-page about what is happening.

Network effects

In this part we looked how people could be rewarded for content. The main issue of course is network effects and with content networks, you have to create two or three – you need to have network effect of content creators and consumers, you need to support payment that all these people can use and you need to tap into the existing sharing and content distribution networks (like Facebook). Yours created a small community of creators and consumers and for a while, it was my favourite “social network” – I like the gamification, I liked the fact that I knew most of the authors by their past content and interactions and it was a pretty pleasant community, with occasional begging for money that made it to the front page. There were a few nice projects and charities launched on Yours, like eatBCH. There was a larger amount of Venezuelans who were making money by writing about their lives in Venezuela, posting photos and videos. There was technical analysis of crypto trading patterns, technical discussions.

On the monetary side of the network effect, at first, you could fund your wallet with credit card through coinbase, you could use any crypto through Shapeshift and of course you could use BCH, which is very controversial, especially in Europe, but it was still in top 5 and could be used outside of yours. Now these options are limited, the community is split and BSV will most probably slowly die, because it does not bring anything new or better compared to BCH, is much smaller and does not have enough of required infrastructure of exchanges, wallets, etc.

The sharing outside of yours could be better – share buttons that allow sharing on different social media, maybe a way to reward people for sharing good content would be a good idea. One of the problems for example was that Yours did not provide a good preview picture in OpenGraph for sharing on Facebook, so all the yours posts looked the same and were not attractive for clicking – even if the post contained an image.

Conclusion of part one

In this part we looked at an attempt to reward people for creating content called yours. The authors of yours are working on a project called Money Button, which could provide the same functionality for any website in existence, the only problem is the use of a fringe cryptocurrency.

In next part, I will look at the monetary aspects of yours and at my (successful) attempt to write a front-running script that would make use of the voting mechanism to pay for my sushi dinners with crypto. I wrote a lot of code that I am going to release and I will discuss the role of bots in content networks that reward authors. Stay tuned!

Pre-release of the front-running software

You can front-run the front-runners and support my work at the same time. There is a script that automatically votes on articles, it paid for a few of my sushi dinners, but YMMV. It is written in nodejs and requires some knowledge of nodejs. Tested on Linux and macOS. I do not and cannot support the code, it works for me. Feel free to play, but note that you are supporting me and getting access to pre-release of unsupported software, not a support contract. You can get access on yours.org.

Before you go

If you like my writing, please note that I am currently working on a book called Financial Surveillance and Crypto Utopias, where I explain what happened to banking secrecy, how the current payment networks are regulated and how crypto can solve these problems, thus creating the unique value proposition for cryptocurrencies. Other peoples’ mistakes are the best value proposition for competing projects and this is the case for old-school financial sector vs cryptocurrencies. Read more about the project and sign up for updates and releases here.

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4 Comments

    1. Yes, I should have mentioned it, but it’s not operating yet as far as I know, it’s a project that is in development, but I like that it is open-source.

  1. Let’s have “Bitcoin” to be defined as a complex system described and implemented as reference by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009.
    There’s a hypothesis this system is sustainable and contains no security flaws. This is being tested over the time and there’s even bounty for disclosure of any vulnerabilities: https://bitcoinsv.io/security/
    To have this “testing” process going on, the subject (system) is required to not to be diverged from given origin. Any other mutations including Core (segwit, rbf, …) or ABC (ctor, dsv) are not subject to this. Their association with Bitcoin should be purely explicit and their implementations considered as related thesis to be tested per se.

    1. This was not an article about Bitcoin SV, although I criticised low network effect in relation to content networks, which is true.

      Great that you have bug bounty, maybe you can also enroll Bitcoin SV in Hacktrophy. Hacktrophy is a bug bounty platform, anyways, I am glad that you do bug bounties, as do other crypto projects. There is always an implicit bounty – the price of stealing someone’s funds, so it’s good to allow white-hat hackers to find vulnerabilities.

      Bitcoin SV has one huge vulnerability that has been demonstrated in the wild – possibility of double-spend because of low hash-rate. In this regard, the security of Bitcoin (core) is superior. Even Bitcoin Cash ABC has higher hashrate. This is a well-known problem, only the network with highest hashrate is secure, assuming >50% honest nodes. In Bitcoin SV, you need to count dishonest nodes that can switch hashrate from other networks. Hashrate of Bitcoin SV is miniscule compared to Bitcoin and lower than ABC, so I consider this a well-known and very real security vulnerability.

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