As we pointed out above, of all areas of innovation we’ve covered over the last few years, the heat in payment innovation has been consistently ferocious. Everyone’s mad at it, from banks to payment companies to mobile networks to hardware technologists.
The flow of cash and currency is, after all, the lifeblood of economies: future solutions are almost certain to be distinct from the cash and card systems we have now, and will come to effect most people on the planet. The ‘winners’ should win big.
Despite the efforts going in, it sometimes feels like we’re not much closer to that future. Watching developments has felt like watching a long game of chess. Or perhaps more accurately, Risk.
Mobile networks have rallied into alliances. The influential Apple have flashed the odd card, but continue to be watchful like an owl, while banks have largely pursued peer-to-peer payments. It left us wondering if top down tweaks to the existing ‘system’, might not be where the future will come from. Perhaps instead, it’s Bitcoin?
Bitcoin might be maligned by established players, but it’s doing quite alright on its own, thank you very much. It’s risen 5,000% in value this year. At its peak, it’s bubbled towards $785 for a singlecoin.
That means it’s growing in influence. And it might be Bitcoin’s general attitude of, “who needs a rule book if you’ve got users” that ultimately, sees it start to win.
We’ve only to look at what a few new startups are doing in the world of micropayments, to better see its potential.
Take content as an example. Paywalled or ad-funded, lots of models currently operate. But the gap that’s missing – the third way perhaps – is micropayments: the ability to make a small contribution per demand, 10p for a news article, say. It’s an approach often referred to as the fabled, Paywall 2.0.
At the moment, it’s proven prohibitive, largely because card companies charge a fee & percentage per transaction (and of course, most people can’t be bothered to tap in their card details to spend diminutive amounts). But because Bitcoin operates outside of ‘normal’ boundaries, it offers the potential of transactions without that fee. Accordingly, increasing numbers believe that Bitcoin holds some answers for how we navigate and digest content on the web.
Two startups in particular, BitWall and Bitmonet, want to lead this movement. They see a future where content makers can charge circa 10p for an article, maybe 15p for an hour’s access to a site, charged by fractions of a Bitcoin. In order to ease the cryptocurrency into the popular mind-set, they offer payment options such as ‘watch this ad to access article’, or ‘tweet this link for access’ – or ‘pay by Bitcoin’. For businesses, not paying handler transaction fees could prove attractive. And it beats the likes of Apple, with their 30% revenues fee.
And it’s being adopted, albeit in relatively ‘techy’ circles. A popular blog in Brasil, SUPER, has claimed it’s the first journalistic site to accept the currency. And others want to take a portion of this digital wallet. TheDishDaily has announced that it too, will start to accept the currency.
So could these very early days point to a future where the internet operates its own currency? Could it become the first global currency? Persuading consumers that Bitcoin is the way forward, will be no mean feat. Some might say, impossible. But while major world players struggle over payments, Bitcoin might find itself at no less of an advantage. It’s enjoying more buzz than any other concepts out there. And its highly organic growth, and irreverence for rules, opens up much creative potential.
If a major news provider backed one of these startups, it would effectively be following in the steps of Chinese search engine Baidu, becoming a major brand to get behind the currency. It’s still really only for the intrepid, but perhaps fortune favours the brave.
The more we see of the currency, the more we wonder if it is slowly knocking over the apple cart, while ultimately hoping to trundle off with the lot. If you haven’t already, swot up on Bitcoin.