The story about the new Flattr – Making your content flattrable

Let’s go into how ownership recognition works on the new Flattr. When a URL is flattred we need to be able to look up who owns it to transfer money from a consumer to the respective content creator. This post will explain how that works and why we do it this way. Our goal is that every creator knows how to link content with Flattr.

There are basically two types of places where content is published. The first is on a publisher’s/creator’s own webpage, like the publisher’s news site or something like a self hosted wordpress blog. Secondly a site for “content distribution”, like Youtube, Medium or Soundcloud, or a social network e.g. Twitter. When someone flattrs a page, the URL of the page is sent to us and a series of ownership checks are initiated on our servers. At this point there are two primary* ways we carry out ownership recognition, one for each of the site types. Let’s start with the easiest:

Content on platforms: Link your accounts

If you have your content on a service, e.g. a blog on Medium, videos on YouTube, code on Github etc. then starting to earn flattrs is as easy as clicking a button. You can simply link your accounts in your Flattr profile. By linking the accounts we know what content is yours and it will show up in your public Flattr profile. If we receive e.g. a YouTube URL we can look up who owns the video via YouTube’s API. Then we can match that with any linked YouTube account our Flattr users have. This goes for all of the third-party connections we currently provide.

If you can’t find the profile settings you most likely need to become a creator via the large link found in the top menu first. Once done, you will receive money when someone visits and flattrs any of your content on those platforms.

Self hosted content: Use the Flattr meta tag

This is the solution for anyone that runs their own website or anyone that has control over their page code. This could be a small private blog hosted by the creator themselves or a big international publisher. Getting Flattr to recognize that you are the owner is as simple as adding the Flattr meta tag to the <head> of the page code.

You can find your personalized meta tag and instructions on the “Manage domains” page in the profile settings.

The Flattr meta tag is based on the meta tags that are now commonly used to identify the page owners’ social accounts e.g. Twitter. It works in same way and it defines who you are on Flattr. The fact that it is actually written in the code of the page, a place only the owner of the page can edit, is the verification that we need to trust the information is what the page owner wants it to be. When our servers receive a URL that you flattr we check if we can find the Flattr meta tag in the source of that page to  know who should receive the money equivalent to the flattr made.

We also provide a tool to link domains that allows you verify that the meta tag works and adds the page to your public profile. You can always just add your meta tag to any page you want without linking the domain via this page. We always look for the Flattr meta tag on all flattred pages regardless of them being added to the profile or not. This  also means you need to have the meta tag on all pages (not just the root page) and that allows different pages (on the same domain) to have use different owners (meta tags). E.g. for different editors of a blog.

We hope this helps you understand how the content ownership recognition is done on Flattr now. As always, any questions, just throw us a comment!

 

* There are others legacy ways, like the flattr button. But they are not the preferred ways (and not guaranteed to work) so we do not write about them here. You should switch to the above described ways.

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Key elements of the new Flattr – the all-knowing, privacy-friendly algorithm

Flattr in a gif, the extension automatically flattrs content

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new Flattr is completely automated, meaning that it flattrs your favorite content for you based on the attention you give it. This is done through our smart algorithm, but how does it really work? What does the algorithm know? What does it tell us? Let’s take a dive into automation, algorithm and privacy!

The challenge

As described in the last post, we realized quite a while ago that to make Flattr more convenient, we needed to make it easier to use. So the goal became to make it automatic. Of course, your flattrs should still reflect what you care about, like, consume and engage with. So the challenge was to create a profound connection between what you give attention to, engage with and flattr. We knew we would need to connect it to what you do – more precisely, what you do in your browser – something that is, and should be, very private.

We believe in privacy!

Most companies do not feel as strongly about privacy as we do. Au contraire, they want to know as much as possible about who you are and what you do so they can use all this data and turn it into additional profit. For us, this is unacceptable. We have been and will always offer our services in the most privacy-friendly way. So how would we tackle the challenge of making your flattrs personal, but keeping your personal data private? Quite simple: by keeping your private data on your own device. It is possible to locally, on your device, figure out what to flattr. Locally measuring in detail what you do in your browser is not a problem if we never send that data anywhere else – which we don’t, of course! With the Flattr extension running locally in your browser, it can collect and measure everything needed to determine which content you engage with the most. This data is then used to decide what to flattr. To make a transaction and send money to people who created the content, we need nothing but the URL. Only these URLs are sent to us; no other data relating to your browsing behavior is sent. So yes, you can provide personalized services without invading privacy.

The all-knowing, privacy-friendly algorithm

It’s true, the Flattr extension knows your browsing activity. In fact, it needs to know as much as possible, so it can make the best-informed decisions about which sites it flattrs for you. But by keeping the information and algorithm on your device, the solution is as privacy friendly as it gets. The algorithm is a part of the extension that we know will be continuously improved. This means that trying to describe how it works right now would make this blogpost out-of-date very quickly. So let’s instead explain how we think.

How we measure engagement

As you now know, we want a flattr to happen when you consume something that receives enough attention and engagement. This is done through the extension, which registers when you engage with content (meaning you actively give it attention). Let’s use a news article as an example. The algorithm measures the time you spend on the page as a basic metric. But just time spent on a page is not enough to know if you are actually paying attention to the content, or if you got up and went to the coffee machine. So the extension uses other information to understand this e.g. if the window is active and in front, if you have scrolled the page recently and if the mouse pointer has moved or if you moved the page with the keyboard. This to understand when to register attention.

Once enough attention has been gathered, the extension flattrs the URL. The exact threshold is set differently for different types of content, e.g. text versus video. Other visits to the site, earlier flattrs and other metrics. We plan to make these differentiations even more granular to reflect all the different kinds of content and consumption patterns.

These are of course simplified examples, but they hopefully give you an idea of how we work and also why the new Flattr extension needs to register these quite personal data points. Let us emphasize again that we regard your privacy with the utmost importance and ensure that your data stays on your own device and is not sent anywhere.

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Key elements of the new Flattr – a status update

Soon we are officially launching a completely new, hands-off way to Flattr. So it’s about time to explain how it works and why we decided to do it this way. This is the first of a series of posts where we will also go into more detail about the internal work process around the new Flattr, as well as developer updates for some technical aspects.

Problems of the past

Flattr has up till now been a service demanding explicit user action – a click on a Flattr button. It was a technical solution for how to “mark” content that should get a part of your monthly contribution. It worked, but it had two major issues: First, the button needed to be implemented on the page you wanted to flattr. And second, you needed to remember to click the Flattr button. The button was a Javascript code snippet and nowadays it’s nearly impossible to add that at most sites. One click is not a big deal, but you needed to remember to do it or a site wouldn’t receive anything. We’ve needed a better solution for a long time; the new Flattr aims to solve these two problems.

Goals of the new Flattr

The first challenge was to create something that flattrs “automatically” so there is no need for the user to perform a task. The way forward was to create a clear connection between consumption and payment, something that actually was the origin of the Flattr idea almost 10 years ago. The logical solution was to let a flattr happen once enough engagement with the content has been made. This will make Flattr users flattr everything they care enough about by giving it their attention. Implementing such a simple idea is not necessarily a simple task. But that’s what makes it fun!

A browser extension

The solution to this problem is your browser. The browser knows what page you are on and what you are doing there. It can locally, and in a privacy-friendly way, make independent decisions based on that data, without us knowing the data itself. We understood that this was the way forward. The result was an algorithm that figures out what to flattr based on your local browser information. It then sends just the URL once a flattr happens. This keeps all the private data used for the decision on your device but still allows an automatic, smart flattr to happen. Of course you will always be in charge of where your contributions go. It’s a quite complex area so in a coming blogpost will we go into this in more detail.

Content ownership

The second problem to solve was to make flattring possible on any webpage without the need to add something like a special button to the page. Moving ownership lookup to our servers opened up simpler options for the creators, through the extension, we only receive the URL that gets flattred and than our servers look up which creator added the site to Flattr. Creators and publishers can easily link their sites and all their social accounts within their Flattr profile.

These are the core elements of the new Flattr system. Stay up-to-date by following us on Twitter and Facebook!

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New Flattr extension in closed beta

First users to test the revolutionary zero-click payment solution

For many months now, we’ve been internally testing the new version of Flattr. The browser extension cleverly understands which content a user really likes, and on what content he / she spends a lot of time. These sites are automatically flattred by our shiny new Flattr extension and content creators / publishers receive a share of the user’s total monthly Flattr budget.

With the relaunch of Flattr, we’re taking the next step in completing our vision of putting the user in charge of a fair, profitable web. Flattr and eyeo, the maker of of Adblock Plus and Adblock Browser, teamed up a little while ago to work on improving Flattr. Just recently, the Flattr guys officially jumped on board the eyeo team. Even before joining, both teams felt passionately that users needed an easy tool to reward the content makers they love. Now that we’re working together, it’s time to double down on that vision.

Today we dare to open the circle for a few users to test the ins and outs of the closed beta so that the open beta, coming later this year, is ready for the general public to take on.

This version is fully functional, allowing the first beta testers to use the completely revamped interface, and of course to witness how the built-in algorithm automatically flattrs whatever they love: cat videos, real news, fake lashes tutorials, tech blogs, poetry sites and on and on … As always, users can see what they flattred and delete flattrs on flattr.com. The closed beta will allow users to flattr without money, as one of the goals of this version is to make sure that everything runs smoothly once users can actually put in real money to reward their favorite content creators online.

All of you who signed up for access to the initial beta release will get an invitation. We are starting with those who signed up first and will increase the number of users within the next few weeks. So if you signed up, check your inbox to find your invite code!

You’ll get access to the new extension if you already use Flattr.

Want to use the new Flattr but haven’t signed up yet to the list? You can still do so at Flattr.com!

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Join us as developer!

Join us as full stack web developer

We’re looking for someone who is passionate about the web to help us prototype new ideas and update and maintain the Flattr service. This includes the website, our public API and various internal systems that keep it all running.

You will get to work with a smaller team based in Malmö, Sweden but as a part of the larger organization of eyeo, based in Köln and Berlin, Germany. You will be a new piece of a bigger picture of exceptional dedication to making the web a better place.

We offer startup drive and ambition, but we still believe in real work hours and good compensation. What we do creates ripples in the fabric of the Internet.

You are
A developer with at least 3 years of work experience as a PHP developer, and speak the common tongue of Internet.

As a person you are communicative, passionate about programming and transferring knowledge. You have a professional attitude and understand that discussing problems is better than beating your head against the wall. You put code quality above prestige.

You need for this role

– a deep understanding of how the web works.
– in depth knowledge of PHP, SQL, Javascript, HTML and Git.
– experience using and developing on free software platforms like GNU/Linux.
– great social skills and the ability to work independently.
– be passionate about the future of the open web.
– excellent communication skills in English.

The ability to iterate and ship ideas quickly, with loose (at best) direction.

WHERE: Preferably Malmö, Sweden
WHEN: We hire continuously

How to apply
Send your application to jobs at flattr dot com. Don’t forget to send your github, webpage, code etc. We neither care for CVs or formal education. Instead, we want to know what you do, what you can do and who you are.

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Adblock Plus & Flattr join forces

Today is a very happy day for us and we want to share some great news with you: Two of the most out-of-the-box thinking organizations on the web have joined forces in order to build a sustainable Internet!

The new Flattr extension will allow users to directly and sustainably fund content they love – simply by browsing the web. “Together we will be able to create an Internet which is fair to all, sustainable and safe.” says Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi, co-founder of Flattr.

Since we partnered up last year to create the new Flattr, we noticed that we had similar values and goals for our projects. Subsequently, we decided it makes more sense to remove the barriers that come from working as two separate teams and integrate into one united team. Our goal of making the Internet safe and fair for all is much better served when we’re totally aligned. Thus today, eyeo, the company behind Adblock Plus, has acquired 100% of Flattr AB, the company behind Flattr.

Flattr has been creating the world’s first micropayment system that works for virtually all content online. Our model is based on how the distributed Internet works, with lots of information from an endless amount of sources. We no longer read just one newspaper or listen to just one album, we read all and listen to all. While the media industry is struggling to overhaul their analog business models to survive in a digital world, we’ve modeled a solution that takes the status quo into context. We’ve made a new, fair for all, way to pay for content.

Primarily used as an ad blocker, Adblock Plus is also viewed as the open web’s largest content curation platform. It allows users to block content they aren’t interested in, but still helps content creators earn revenue. With the Adblock Plus user base of more than 100 million and the technology of Flattr, we will create a new Flattr. It’s a game changer for how money is distributed to creators directly from their fans, readers and consumers. All in a transparent and fair way.

“At eyeo we’ve always looked for ways to make the web more fair and less annoying. We started with Adblock Plus, which helped pioneer the idea of constructive ad blocking: letting in better, more respectable ads that ad blocking users accept. Flattr makes micropayments automatic and effortless, thus it will be the most user-friendly payment solution on the internet. Together, constructive ad blocking and Flattr complete eyeo’s vision of putting users in control of an internet that is fair and still profitable,” says Till Faida, founder of eyeo, the company behind Adblock Plus.

Flattr will be able to provide content creators payment for their work and also act as a quality shield. Creators will earn more money for producing higher quality work that keeps the audience engaged, while clickbait will earn much less. Sometimes you need to totally rethink how a system works – and that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ve thrown out the old way of thinking and replaced it with a new way of thinking in order to be helpful to all parts of the chain.

In Sweden (where Flattr is based), there’s a saying, “många bäckar små, blir en stor å,” which roughly translates to “many small streams form a big river.” Flattr is a river of hundreds of millions of revenue streams.

The core team of the original Flattr company will continue its operations with all staff members from Malmö, Sweden. Peter Sunde acts as the visionary advisor he is known as and his co-founder Linus Olsson will continue to head the operation and implementation.

To get early access to the new zero-click beta Flattr join the waiting list.

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It’s always darkest before spring. fp-progressYes we live in Sweden and the winter is damn dark. But in this case, spring is the release of the beta version, and the sun is already peeking over the horizon.

So you can imagine, that we are pretty busy these days. But now it’s time to give you a quick update!


Current status of Flattr Plus
The add-on itself is basically ready for beta. What we are currently fine-tuning is the brain of the browser add-on, the algorithm that makes sure your money goes to the sites you really engage with and want to be funded. We are testing multiple versions of that algorithm internally to identify the one that will make it to the beta release.

Meanwhile, our designers and UX people are putting the finishing touches on the add-on as well as on the “new” sign-up experience for creating the Flattr account. As Flattr Plus relies on Flattr.com as its backbone, here is where users and publishers will sign up to use Flattr Plus.

To make sure we develop something that you want to use, we are continuously talking to potential users and publishers. Right now, we are conducting a couple of interviews to better understand users’ needs and expectations of Flattr Plus and their attitudes towards rewarding web content that they enjoy.

What’s next
Before the end of the year, we will start a closed beta version to get in-depth feedback for the functionality and the overall experience with Flattr Plus. We are super excited to finally get to that milestone, and will keep you posted.

And for the ones who prefer text over pictures, we have something special on the way: as we put a lot of thought into the idea of voluntarily funding content, and especially the development of the algorithm, we decided to write all of that down in a detailed whitepaper, so anyone interested can understand our approach. And of course challenge or even modify it. As we want to include the beta version of the algorithm and the results from the closed beta, the whitepaper about Flattr Plus is scheduled to be published early next year.

In the meantime, stay warm in the winter darkness!

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Flattr Plus update #2

Howdy! The dog days of summer are passing over us hotly, turning most people into lazy sun seekers and vacationing hordes. But not us. Nope, we’re keeping our shoulder to the wheel, diligently hammering away at this revolution called Flattr Plus.

The Swedish summer is the best day of the year.

The Swedish summer is the best day of the year.

Ugh? Nope, actually, zero “ughs” are being uttered round here. We’re having fun reinventing the way the internet gets paid. Our summer labors come amid a bit of crisis in publishing, as more and more users reject ads that are too intrusive. So it’s no surprise that according to recent research, most publishers are looking beyond ads for monetization. In fact, only a scant 11 percent rely exclusively on ads – a full 78 percent rely on the “ads-plus-other-stuff” model.

That is to say, Flattr Plus’s timing couldn’t be better, because while some of that “other stuff” is just fine, the web needs an easy, automatic solution that is not exclusive to particular sites. Here’s a rundown of how our project to do just that is progressing:

 

Data
The data science we’re tinkering with here is always the most interesting category. Sorry, other colleagues, but it’s theoretical and expanding and evolving from week to week.

Data is fun!

Data is fun!

This time is no disappointment, because recently we’ve been working on creating a whitelist of sites that will be enabled for automatic flattring as standard. This means sites that Flattr Plus are allowed to flattr by default (users can add sites beyond this list to their personal whitelist).

But what qualifies a site for flattring? And how are we specifically deciding what to include on the default whitelist?

Well, we broke it down to a single, core question that must be answered affirmatively in order for a site to qualify: do you think the majority of internet users would like to flattr this page? Clearly, though, that means we have to figure out what content most people would want to flattr. This has been a big challenge, but here are the (very) simplified criteria we’ve been using to fill that list:

  • The website provides content for free, e.g., journalistic content, news, blog articles, information, videos, music, podcasts, etc.
  • The website monetizes via ads, donations, a (soft or hard) paywall or does not have a monetization model in place.
  • The website does not mainly serve as a way to promote or use a product or service that needs to be paid for, e.g. shops, marketplaces, product websites, restaurants, banks, insurance companies, etc.
  • The website is not provided and/or maintained by the government.

But there are other sites that we felt should not be automatically flattrable? So even though our approach is pretty much content agnostic, websites that serve pornographic, racist or illegal content do not qualify for the whitelist. (If they qualify for Flattr at all.)

Where to begin to fill up such a list is a wholly separate challenge. We started by looking at the top 100,000 Alexa domains, but because we don’t have the person power to go through 100,000 sites and compare them against the criteria above, we’ve been hiring this out by posting short-term, crowd-sourced jobs.

We’ll let you know when the list is full!

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Flattr Plus update

Since we announced Flattr Plus in early May we’ve been working hard to perfect what we believe is the web’s missing (monetization) link. It’s been encouraging, and exciting, developing an easy, automatic solution to fund content. We’re still on track with the closed beta, which will be ready in the early fall (sign up here), and the open beta, too, which is planned to launch late fall or early winter.

For now, we wanted to inform you about the developments on Flattr Plus that have happened since May. Specifically, we wanted to show you how the design is progressing, give you a peek into the data intelligence and development going into the add-on and tell you about the new API on Flattr.com.

So we’ve done a lot of conceptualization and engineering to make Flattr Plus run like a well-oiled machine on the inside. But what about on the outside? How does it feel from your perspective as a user? Sure, Flattr Plus will allow you to easily and automatically fund your favorite content, but is it free-flowing and intuitive?

The short answer is yes. This is an interface we created for testing and collecting feedback. Bear in mind, this is just a testing screen we’re using to sharpen the algorithm.

beta-review

The interface for collecting user feedback for the beta algorithms.

One of the biggest challenges the Flattr Plus project faces is determining what signifies a flattr? What browsing activity, in other words, should trigger a monetary transfer to a particular site? And how do you keep that as private as possible?

It’s sort of the crux of everything: making flattrs automatic is what makes Flattr Plus unique: no one’s ever made a payment system quite like Flattr Plus – even Flattr. One of the first things we did to shine light into this unknown territory was to just gather browsing behavior from our friends, colleagues and family, who volunteered to share all their browsing data. The idea was that by taking the maximum amount of data possible, you find the minimum amount required for the add-on to work. The process is a bit like whittling a stick: you start with a large, unwieldy piece, then carve it down to something small and intricate.

After analyzing all their browsing habits, we developed several ideas for algorithms that would trigger a flattr. Next we implemented a dashboard to show the output various algorithms produced.

bubble-UI

Another test screen, the Add-on itself.

And of course we did some good, old-fashioned interviews of our friends/guinea pigs. However, before we could extend the test to real beta testers (you), we needed as privacy-friendly a way as possible to get useful data. This was made possible by the stick-whittling process I refer to above, but beta testers will have to volunteer some information if they want to test (of course we absolutely tell them this in a big, fat disclaimer). The final version available to the general public will be 100 percent privacy-friendly. This is a requirement for us, not a mere priority.

For now though … still whittling that stick, not to mention polishing up the code and freeing it of issues. Finally, deciding what triggers a flattr is relevant to how the add-on will function – but what happens when the add-on sends data to Flattr.com, so that it can disburse money to worthy content creators?

Well, the rollout of Flattr Plus demands a fairly significant number of changes to the existing Flattr system. The most substantial part of this is a rebuilt API and a new approach to how flattrs are handled. Chief among those new approaches is getting rid of “things.” Previously, as existing Flattr users knows, Flattr worked by allowing a number of elements – “things” – to serve as identifiers for what was able to be flattred. For Flattr Plus the sole identifier for what is flattrable will be the URL, i.e., the add-on will send the URL to the Flattr API using a secure connection, and the Flattr API will determine the owner of the URL without knowing the behavior that led to the flattr; so obviously, we had to do away with “things” as identifiers as mentioned in our last post.

We are now also starting to create the all-important onboarding for new users, how Flattr Plus will be integrated into Flattr.com. Getting the add-on in the browser, creating an account, the payments flow and the dashboard all have to work perfectly together with Flattr Plus.

Finally, we’ve been speaking to publishers worldwide about opening their sites to receive funds from Flattr Plus users. Thus far those conversations have been very fruitful, and we’re pleased to report that publishers have shown a great deal of enthusiasm to employ Flattr Plus when it rolls out.

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Flattr developer update #8 – Some API updates

In preparations for our upcoming launch of FlattrPlus, we are refactoring our internal system structure which in some cases means that we need to make rather large changes to how the system operates. In this particular case ‘things’ as a concept must go.

We will no User-Interface-Exit-iconlonger allow the creation of things. In fact we will no longer store most of the data that is now presented as a thing. For most users, this mean nothing. The new system has already dropped all lists of things, the thing pages has been stripped down and you can’t edit the information for a thing. All this because we have understood that things would be dropped as a concept in the future, that is now.

But, if you are a developer building an application that either relies on the creating or fetching things endpoints in the current API you need to know what these endpoints will soon be deprecated. We have checked and already contacted all developers of registered apps that we see are are using these endpoints. But if you are building something that yet has not seen the light of day we can’t know that.

Since fetching or creating things are not necessary in order to Flattr a URL we would want to know more about how you are using the API and how we can help you transition to another solution. Please contact us and we will help you out.

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