Founder at Write.as

This is a (Partially) Paid Article

As I wrote about in July, this year we started experimenting with paid content on Write.as and WriteFreely via a proposed standard called Web Monetization. Now we support paid articles, which we'll be fully announcing this week. Here's a demo of what that looks like.

If you're reading this from my blog at write.as/matt, you would've just clicked a “Read more” link to get to this point in the article. I created that with a shortcode that allows you to add an excerpt. Further down in the article, I'll use another shortcode (<!--paid-->) to indicate that all content past that point requires payment.

Design

I really don't like paywalls on the web — not because of what they stand for (or between), but because of how they're presented. To a reader, they're usually ambiguous and more annoying than helpful. Browsing a digital publication feels like walking into a store with blacked-out windows and no rules on the door.

Upon arriving, I'm left wondering: Are you going to refuse service because of my ad blocker? Do I get to peruse your articles before buying? How long can I loiter until you kick me out? Do I have to agree to buy from your store every month / year? And so on. There's an incoherence to it all; an opacity; ultimately, a bit of desperation.

When I go to a publication or website or whatever, I want to know up front what I'm in for. Are we buddies just having a conversation, you sharing your thoughts with me? Or are we working toward a commercial transaction? It's pretty normal to want to know these things up front in the real world. We shouldn't throw out these customs online.

So for this first iteration on Write.as, if you're browsing a blog, you will know when you're about to go from the open-access front room to the VIP area. Paid articles have a large indication that they're paid next to the title on the blog's home page.

You can certainly tweak the design with some custom code — and we'll improve the structure to help with this in the near future. But overall I think the idea is there, and it helps the reader clearly see what they're in for when they arrive.

Distribution Considerations

Web Monetization is strictly a browser technology right now. So where does that leave our other distribution channels, like email, RSS, and ActivityPub?

Today, we simply funnel readers on all of those channels back to the browser if they want to read past the paywall. This was just the path of least resistance for getting someone from, for example, reading the first part of a post in their email inbox to unlocking the remaining part of the article.

Could this be improved? Absolutely. Built-in support for WM in native RSS readers, maybe? Payment pointers in the RSS feed itself? WM support in my desktop email client? WM support in Mastodon and other fediverse platforms? (More thoughts on the fediverse behind the paywall below.)

There's also a new property on Write.as posts in the API: paid (boolean). Clients that consume Write.as posts this way can use this property to show a transparent “Read more” link back to the article.

Web Monetization in the Fediverse

With the common goals of decentralization, privacy, and an open web, there is plenty of opportunity for Web Monetization to see wider use and adoption within the #ActivityPub community.

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