Många bäckar små blir en stor å.
[Many small streams will form a larger river.]
— An Old Swedish Proverb, and the flattr motto (apparently; apologies if I got this wrong, my Swedish is incredibly rusty and I sorta trusted Google-fu on this)
“Tunturipurosta ei perkele tonnikalaa narrata.”
[You can’t catch a goddamn tuna fish from a goddamn mountain creek, goddamn it.]
— A Rather New Finnish Proverb, and my new motto (apparently; apologies if I didn’t adequately convey the intended meaning of the vibrant emphasisatory words of our fine language in this mediocre translation)
In July, I joined the flattr micropayment system.
We can all agree that social media is so wonderful, is it not? If you have ever wandered in the social media—Web 2.0—rainbows and unicorns—pastel shades–candy dimension land thingy – and I only call it a “thingy” because it’s kind of hard to come up with a solid term for it yet – I’m sure you have heard by now that flattr is one of those things that’s going to revolutionarise the way we fund creative endeavours. Artists are actually going to get paid and industry fat cats get bupkis! Bloggers can get paid, without bothering with the one-sidedness of mainstream media! And—
—no, actually, it’s a tip jar.
In my case, it’s a tip jar that’s gathering cobwebs: In the first two months, I got precisely 0€ out of it, just as I expected. I mean, I didn’t post that much new stuff in these summer months, but holy heck, you’d expect something to come out of this thing. It’s painfully obvious it won’t.
But while the results were predictable, did I rig the experiment? Did I start from the correct premises to begin with?
It’s kind of weird to write a blog post that started out as wholly predictable, but I didn’t know where my conclusions would end up. I knew I was going to blog about these exact points back this spring – and now it’s time to actually go out and say them. A lot of things happened since that time, however, and it made me think of the real reasons for these minor hardships.
Fortunately, this didn’t end up as a rant about this brave new digital economy and digital payments and crazy foreigners who still think credit cards are the only way to pay for things. I would have joined flattr back in the spring, but I had no way to transfer money to flattr. Now, as a mixed blessing, the Finnish banks have started to decommission their invoice-payment ATMs, which finally forced me to get into the Internet banking era – and now I can transfer money to flattr. Internet payments are still overcomplicated and stupid, but at least things work somewhat nowadays.
The basic essence of flattr and tip jars
I’m somewhat cynical about tip jar economy. Mostly because it requires the artists to continually point out where the tip jar is, and that’s quite unbecoming to me. Tips are supposed to be voluntary, after all.
The same thing is happening in self-publishing. According to some new media proponents, self-publishing is going to get really big. With the new self-publishing outlets like Amazon’s ebook service and fully-automatic print-on-demand houses like Lulu, it’s going to be easier and easier to bypass the publishers – all you need to do is to pay for someone else to edit the manuscript, format the manuscript yourself or pay someone to do it if you want to do it right, and of course pay for the gigantic marketing campaign yourself and try to convince people that your book is actually well edited and totally worth their money – oh, and you need to spend time puffing the book on every outlet you can imagine… and sooner or later, you realise that the old-school publishing did something right: the writers could focus on writing and not worry about marketing and other activities where they sink their own time and money. You can write a book, which cost you no money to do, and get a substantial advance from the publisher, who will do all of the rest of the boring and expensive gruntwork – because they are actually convinced that the end product will make profit for them, and they know how to reap it.
The tip jar model requires people to market the tip jar. And this brand new epic Web 2.0 social media revolution is basically telling us that the tip jar marketing is now essential to success.
I suck at marketing. I especially suck at telling people that supposedly voluntary activity is in fact mandatory when you really think of it. I don’t want to market stuff – I just want to write. Using social media just gets me depressed. I don’t usually submit my blog posts to Reddit, for example, because they get ignored, or get the one (1) allotted downvote. I can lead individual people to interesting content, but getting the masses to be excited about it is absolutely futile and beyond my comprehension.
Which kind of raises a few questions. Are the tips and tip jars mandatory, really? I wasn’t interested in getting any money, why should I apply social pressure for people to give out tips? Why bother with flattr in the first place, if the whole idea is patently ridiculous as a primary source of revenue? Why have it on this site at all? What do I want out of people? It’s plain and obvious that the money isn’t going to help me in any sense, so what it’s going to prove anyway? What does the zero revenue mean?
I noticed that flattr isn’t going to help me get what I really wanted. But I think it’s justified to have it on the site, solely as a voluntary way of showing support. But I can’t, and I won’t, read too much into it.
I will continue to remain cynical about the whole thing – on this blog, I described flattr as a potential source of income for buying some coffee, and that’s realistically about as high as I can set it. (A single bag of coffee costs a bit under 3€. Considering minimum flattr monthly amount is 2€, this presents a fairly difficult test of confidence.) I’m surprised if it’s going to ever make me any money at all. If people want to give tips, that’s fine, and mighty appreciated. I’m just not going to beg them.
Instead, I’m a flattr member because I’ll divide my monthly 2€ among awesome projects that I really like. I may not get anything out of flattr, despite the rose-goggled promises, but hey, at least worthy causes from other people will get something out of it.
Basically I’ll just quit being a content producer who seeks compensation for work done, and… um… become an user who compensates other content producers for work done. (…flattr’s marketing department is so going to hate this conclusion. Moving on…)
Incidentally, this is the same reason I use Reddit: there’s interesting news and interesting discussions there. But damn me if it’s ever going to be an interesting way for me to promote my stuff – I can barely get people to get interested of other people’s stuff that I post.
Sorry. I just have the natural tendency to blend in the landscape and get lost beneath the noise. Social media isn’t going to fix this.
Flattr is a hurdle – just like OpenID
It’s fairly easy to draw one conclusion: the fact that flattr shows that I’m getting zero responses doesn’t necessarily mean anything. After all, while it is a tool that has been made as simple as possible, Flattr still costs money, dammit – it’s a hurdle that people have to go over.
Here are some of my problems as a content creator:
- I don’t release a lot of stuff. I’m really trying to whip myself to produce more content for this blog. If I don’t release a lot of stuff, then people don’t necessarily stay interested.
- I’m – for the lack of a better definition – a writer who tries to strive for some professional level of output (which may or may not be successful). This means that while a lot of interesting stuff gets started, most of the stuff goes right into the drawer, and releasing it will take some time. Some of the stuff might never really see the light of the day. People obviously don’t want to pay for material that isn’t out there yet.
- I have absolutely no idea who reads this material, and I don’t want to concern myself with that. I hope my writings and stories and art reaches some other people, and I hope those people enjoy the things I offer. That’s all I can do as a writer and artist. I don’t have any idea of the readership demographics and I don’t really care. I don’t know what my readership is looking for - I’m just making stuff I find neat.
- I do no marketing. I just hope people find it interesting – I don’t need compensation out of it. Hence, marketing the stuff only helps me find new readers – and I may not make the best impression on new readers, because…
- …I don’t get that much feedback. I get dangerously deluded about my skills as an artist; each time I get proper critique about my works, I’m punched senseless for a day. (Luckily, I’m often able to learn something from my mistakes if they’re pointed out to me. Also, luckily, I think I’m able to write better stuff as time goes by.) I just have to be clear-headed and acknowledge that my published works may, in fact, suck. Now, you don’t need to be a genius to figure out that for me, trying to actively market material that I know to be flawed in some respects is somewhat difficult.
- I don’t have projects that are concrete and easily definable. I don’t mean they’re intellectually difficult to grasp; I just mean they’re not exactly the sort of things that sound too exciting if I reduce them to elevator pitches. Here are some elevator pitches: I have this blog, which is bunk. I have another blog about video games, which is bunk and hasn’t been updated for a while, but I swear I’m going to do something about it. I have been developing a fantasy world, which may or may not materialise into interesting literary and art projects. …now, I would need severe persuasion to actually make people to care enough about the thing to donate anything. There’s no instant gratification involved. Things that are not instantly interesting are not necessarily instantly flattr’d.
- I don’t flood the social media world with my stuff. I mention some of the stuff I release on my identi.ca stream (and Twitter). Yes, I know flattr has features to give tips to Twitter users. If you’ve ever read my identi.ca or Twitter stream, I know you’re asking “why would anyone do that?” …yeah.
In essence, by nature of things I do, there are things that make flattr’ing harder for people. As said, flattr basically presents a series of hurdles for the people who want to show their appreciation. This is unavoidable, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I know there are people who are motivated to do things and these hurdles won’t matter to them.
The hurdles are unavoidable because no matter how you cut it, reader participation is really hard. It’s almost as bad as commenting here.
I could always just ask for comments – plain simple comments which don’t cost anything to write. I accept all non-spam comments that come to my blog. The problem with comments is that people actually need to write their thoughts down, which takes valuable time. And, since I’ve disable anonymous commenting, you need to actually have an OpenID login (and OpenID, while quite simple in principle, still flies over regular users’ heads), and you have to wait for me to come back and approve the comments.
When you really think of it, commenting on any blog these days is quite an ordeal. All of these hurdles, all of this wasted time and effort, just to show appreciation. Flattr provides the same sort of hurdles: You have to register a flattr account and send actual real money to a whole different country while experiencing the sheer madness of international banking to participate in flattr.
Are you there, dear reader?
I guess what I really wanted out of flattr wasn’t donations. I wanted a counter in the page sidebar that has a positive number in it – a positive integer – a number that is, and I can’t emphasise this enough, greater than zero.
Being a web geek, I know hit counters, Google hits, or random conclusions from web log analysis prove absolutely nothing. The reason I have Google Analytics on the site is just that I see which web pages refer to my site, and what search terms people use to find the site. (Frankly, GA isn’t actually even the best tool for this.) What I’d really want to see are the people who found this site interesting. Some proof that there are actually some readers out there, and that these people have constructive opinions on the site.
I don’t know I would want to know who these readers are – upstanding citizens, I’m sure, but that doesn’t help me improve the artistic and journalistic output. I just have a few deceivingly simple questions: Are my writings being read? If not, why not? If they are, what did people think of them?
This “social media revolution” is both positive and confusing at the same time. It’s kind of ridiculous that with all this investment and all this gigantic hype about social media that’s going on around, we’re not seeing that kind of services springing up. Or, rather, we’re seeing a bunch of services that try to solve that exact problem, while pretending to do something else entirely. (It’s kind of how Facebook and Google+ are calling themselves “social networks”, a whole new class of service, while they’re basically trying to tackle and older and much harder problem: SMTP is an archaic relic that must be destroyed, and we need something infinitely better to replace email.)
Flattr is one of these services that try to solve two problems while pretending to solve just one of them. It’s a micropayment service, but it’s, coincidentally, also a service that offers the functionality I’m really looking for: A flattring tells me that someone said “I thought this thing was worth my time and money”.
We need better tools that tell me where are all these people who think my stuff was worth their time. There’s a bunch of tools out there, and all of them
I could stick in Facebook Like buttons and Google +1 buttons, but I’ve previously spoken against that rubbish. Firstly, it’s pandering to people who don’t know how to use their web browsers, and secondly, we live in a giant big thicket of competing services, and I don’t want to waste space catering to all of them. So please do share my posts on social media, but heck, don’t ask me to tell how you’re supposed to do that – I trust you’re smart enough to do it on your own. It takes whole three seconds to copy/paste the page address to your social media site of your choice – one second, if you use the bookmarklets or browser extensions the sites in questions inevitably provide. (I’ve previously plugged the Shareaholic Firefox extension. I would plug it now, if they just would implement Google +1. Bloody hell, this takes time. Did Google manage to produce something that is unbearably complex?) Flattr buttons are much more justified in this respect – you’re not sharing the content with the world in a wholly unpredictable fashion you choose, you’re just sending donations to a specific person in a specific manner. Your donations primarily help me, and if you elect to display your donations to your social circles via flattr, that’s an extra.
I really don’t know how I could promote my works so that the readers would not become desensitised. Do I really want to close every blog post and comment with a “if you liked this post, please share it in your favourite social media site or social network, and please remember to tip us through flattr?” …it runs the risk of being just another pointless social media phrase. I’m starting to become totally immune to the constant begging of “don’t forget to vote/favourite/subscribe” in YouTube. I’m already ignoring “downlaod and reccomend” (sic) in Halo: Reach.
Nope. What I’m going to say instead is this: Check out my stuff.
Check out my stuff!
So we’ve come to the part where I tell what I want you to do. I don’t want you to go and hit the flattr button because I failed to advertise things before and I’m a kewl flattr user now and flattr users must be flattr’d in two seconds flat. I don’t want you to scream “someone didn’t get any income? Holy hell, we can’t allow this individual to expose the inherent banality of Web 2.0 social media revolution! flattr’d!”…
…what I want you to instead do is to check out my stuff. I hope that it is already obvious to everyone that meta-stuff isn’t really worth our time. Don’t flattr me because I blabbr about flattr. I’ve blabbered about a lot of things.
Now – please take a look at this blog – I hope the ravings of a random geek are interesting. You may also take a look at my video game blog – it’s a fairly long-running blog, and I’m definitely blowing the dust off of this sorely neglected thing. New content is coming soon! If you are interested of fantasy literature, check out Avarthrel – I’d especially love to hear what people think of my web comic, Kara the Assassin, which is currently on a hiatus and will probably continue before the end of this year.
Of my recent creations (as in “sometime this year”), the comic is probably something that most likely resembles a work that is actually somewhat work-like. I am currently working on new stories and hopefully interesting blog posts – flattr’nce and thoughtful commenting upon Avarthrel and this blog is very much appreciated if you enjoy the stuff that already exists and wish interesting stuff to continue to materialise.
Want to comment here? Avarthrel pages use Disqus. For blog comments, you need OpenID; if you are unfamiliar with OpenIDs and where to get them, see OpenID Foundation’s awesome guidance. (Perhaps you already have one and don’t know it yet!) And my flattr page? Oh, right this way, friend. For your information. No need to get worried about donating anything. Comments are cool too.
Anyway, seriously, check this stuff out. I get next to no feedback on what’s going on. If you can’t provide me with critique because critique would take precious time, please at least hit the flattr button. Comments are appreciated too. Check the stuff out. Seriously. I’m begging you.
In summary of what flattr really does, I think they’re trying to needlessly tie together money and appereciation. Perhaps flattr needs to branch out to non-monetary forms of feedback.
Maybe they need to start thinking of the social capital, too. Maybe we need “nicr”: click this button if this thing was sorta adequate, but not really worth the 0.05€ of your precious money. Maybe we need “losr”: click this button if this thing left something to be desired, and you now hate us with the fury of thousand suns.
Or maybe they need “usr”: click this button if you actually sorta visit this site sometimes, maybe, because there was once this thing on the site that was sorta interesting.
And, finally, sorry for all of the hassle. =)