Content Publishing and Compensation for Non-Profits using Blockchain Solutions
This is an excerpt from my draft step-by-step guide for non-profits to implement and utilize certain existing blockchain solutions to assist in extending their membership reach and earning passive donations for content (articles, images, etc.) that they routinely publish. All feedback welcomed.
This topic is also the subject of a proposed panel for SXSW 2020. The voting and comments period for panels is August 5 to August 23, 2019. Interested readers can review the panel here.
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Why non-profits should care
The goal of this article is to merge two seemingly disparate areas – non-profit organizations and blockchain technologies – to the benefit of both. Non-profit organizations are in constant need of more members and more funding. Blockchain solutions are in need of users, to use solutions that have already been validated, and to validate others.
Full disclosure – as of this writing I am on the board of the non-profit Texas State Historical Association, and support several of the others mentioned in these writings – either with time or money. I also own tokens in several of the blockchain technologies that are mentioned. I’ll note which ones as I mention them.
These writings are targeted mainly at the non-profits who would use these solutions. The technical level of the reader is assumed to be low. However, blockchain enthusiasts should find this information useful as well, as they describe true use cases for existing or proposed solutions. A solution without users is not very useful.
On April 15, 2019, the non-profit website archive.org (one of the top 250 web sites by traffic according to Alexa rankings at that time) published a blog article entitled “A “Brave” New World.” The article summarized the web sites implementation a couple of years earlier of support for the Brave browser, and letting those browser users “tip” the content on the archive.org website.
The week before the blog post, archive.org hooked up their wallet to their Brave creator account, and found they had been tipped more than 9,000 BAT (Basic Attention Tokens). At that time, 9,000 BAT tokens were equivalent to $2,500.
BAT tokens and the Brave browser are blockchain technologies, and in 2017 when archive.org first implemented their support for these technologies they were in their infancy. The blockchain and cryptocurrency market crashed in 2018, and a weeding-out process of those companies that were not in business for the long-term occurred. (Note: I do own some BAT tokens but only through participation as a creator and an ad viewer. This will be seen in the examples and screenshots). Readers interested in trying this out can download the Brave browser here.
This is but one example. These writings will go into further detail on:
- Compensation for Content (writings and images)
- Proof of Content Creation (writings and images)
- Content Curation and Reputation
There are several solutions supporting these goals that have matured in the last few years. As with all technologies there are still some challenges. But there are ways for non-profits to implement and benefit from these technologies with little effort. The strategies described here work at for-profit organizations as well, but the implementations described here are targeted specifically as the issues faced by non-profit organizations.
Most non-profit organizations face similar challenges:
- Small marketing budgets but a constant need to increase membership, visitors and attention.
- A perception and ofttimes reality of being “low tech” which impacts not only web site visitors but also does not attract that part of the populace that considers itself “tech-savvy”.
- The struggle of whether a non-profit should monetize their content.
Compensation for Content
Many non-profit organizations are sitting on a wealth of content. Museums and historical organizations have articles, books, art, images and many other forms of content to share with both members and the public (some examples: the Texas State Historical Association, with the Texas Almanac and the Online Handbook of Texas; the El Paso Museum of Art with its collection of southwestern United States art). Other non-profit membership organizations have valuable data to share, in the form of usage statistics, roadmap plans or other data that could be utilized by external entities (some examples: the Trail Foundation in Austin, Texas). And all of these organizations are constantly growing their content.
In some non-profit organizations, “Compensation” is a dirty word, a concept that is diametrically opposed to the phrase “non-profit.”
Creating content, whether it is a research article, a blog post, a gallery of your own photographs or some other creative work, requires time, effort and knowledge. Monetizing content is usually not a concept that non-profits consider. And ads on non-profit web sites are generally frowned upon, either for tax reasons or just for the incongruity they provide with the purpose of the non-profit. But revenues from “tipping” for content are akin to memberships or other types of donations.
The current internet utilizes a browser user’s activities as the property of either the browser, the search engine or the website being visited. In fact, as the phrase states, these are the “user’s activities” and should be their property. They should not belong to any random third-party. But with “free” search engines, social media and other websites, this is how the paradigm of the internet sits today – users do things in a browser expecting (or not caring) if their activities are tracked, logged, sold or used to sell the user some other product.
Many users look upon this as a convenience. If a user has searched for an article or a product, it could be considered a service provided by a website or a search engine that delivers to the user results featuring a similar article or product. The issue with this convenience is transparency; is the delivered article or product one that comes from a paid placement? Does it come from some reviewing system with visible reputations of the reviewers?
Transparency and data ownership are two main facets that blockchain solutions are targeting in the web experiences that they provide. These two features are necessary for content creation, proof of content ownership and ultimately monetizing that content.
Proof of Content Creation
The concept of “attribution” used to be done through footnotes and bibliographies (and in some cases such as printed books, it still is). The creator of the content would get credit, but more often than not they were not compensated for the re-usage of their original work.
With the migration of content to the world-wide web, an attribution could turn into a link – this is more of a “passive attribution” unless the content originating the link explicitly cites the creator of the original content. Though there is some value for search engine optimization (SEO) with outbound and inbound links, they do nothing for content compensation or proof of content creation.
One of the features of blockchain technologies is the concept of an immutable public ledger. This is important for content creators as this solution can easily be used anytime content is posted. The date and time, plus other meta data (and in some cases, even the entire content or a pointer to storage, or a representative sample) are saved into the ledger for all to see. Some blockchain technologies like Po.et call this “proof of existence 2.0.”
Po.et has added the capability to support images (i.e., not just textual content). Art museums and other visually oriented non-profits can utilize this capability for proof of content creation. There are other blockchain solutions (e.g., Truepic) which are targeted at images (and in Truepic’s case, currently at specific commercial industries). Solutions such as Po.et that include textual and image content provide a much simpler implementation path for non-profits.
While this does not prove origin (e.g., someone could plagiarise the content and load it to the ledger themselves) it does provide the tool set to prove existence of the original content at a specific date and time, posted from a particular origin.
Curation and Reputation
The Texas State Historical Association, one of the oldest non-profit historical organizations in the United States, created The Handbook of Texas. The first print edition was published in 1952. This original Handbook of Texas consisted of two door-stopper sized books containing several thousand articles. A supplemental third volume was released in 1976.
Obviously that wasn’t big enough to cover everything! In 1996, the New Handbook of Texas was published, consisting of six volumes and over 20,000 articles.
The Handbook of Texas online launched in February 1999. The visionary decision to skip CD publication and go directly online made the Handbook instantly available to anyone with Internet access. The articles in the handbook are written by history majors and history professors, and are curated by a staff familiar with the topic.
Below is a screenshot of the end of the Online Handbook of Texas’ article on Sam Houston (which can be found at https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fho73). Note the extensive bibliography and the citation at the bottom. The article author’s name (Thomas H. Kreneck) is at the beginning of the article and in the citation at the bottom. The citation example also requests direct attribution versus the “passive attribution” of a link. The presumption here (due to the reputation of the Texas State Historical Association) is that this article (and others like it) are curated by people with training and an interest in Texas history.
Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that provides users the ability to edit and update any article. The articles are curated by general users and for some articles the editing history is quite extensive. In the Wikipedia article on Sam Houston accessed on June 2, 2019 there were 92 references cited – all but fourteen of them from the book written by Haley. The article does not state who wrote it or last updated it, but at the bottom it does state when it was last edited. Interestingly, in the external links section there is a link to the Samuel Houston article in the Handbook of Texas Online.
At the top of the article is a tab called “view history” which when clicked shows the most recent revision history (depicted as of June 2, 2019 in the screenshot below). The usernames of the editors are shown, but not their real names. The presumption here is that this article has been heavily curated but it is hard to tell if these users are history professionals, history knowledgable or what their background is. In the list of revisions by each username is a link to their Wikipedia contributions. The information in the “contribs” links shows the exact contributions, but does not count contributions in a particular subject matter, or contributions which were later refuted, or contributions that were solely of the grammatical or spelling type.
This comparison demonstrates the importance of both curation and reputation. Both sources (the TSHA and Wikipedia) have curation and reputation but of different types and sources. Either may be applicable to a particular usage case.
Membership Growth for Non-Profits with Blockchain Solutions
Non-Profit membership must grow, or at a minimum replace any attrition with new members in order to keep membership revenues constant. Membership for most non-profits drives other areas of revenue, including the sale of merchandise (books, prints), attendance at events (annual meetings, galas, fundraisers) and others.
Many blockchain solutions as of this writing need users, not only to further prove that their solutions work as planned and advertised but to increase the “network effect.” The network effect is the principal that a solution’s value increases as the number of user’s increase. The best example, although old and hopefully soon archaic, is a fax machine. A single fax machine alone is useless – it has no other fax machine to send pages to and from. Two fax machines can have a single conversation. As the number of fax machines increases, the value of the fax network rises since more conversations can take place (and, given what my company does in healthcare, it pains me to use that example).
Most of the blockchain solutions discussed here have the opportunity to promote the solution while promoting the non-profit. In the area of content compensation, an example would be the relationship between the non-profit content creator and the technology solution offered by Brave and BAT (Basic Attention Token). Content creators can register with Brave, and are featured on Brave’s list of content creators. Content creators can also put a notice on their website denoting that they are a registered content creator and invite users to download the Brave browser and participate in that network (and the tipping that comes with it). Thus content creators promote Brave, potentially increasing the network size and potentially enlisting recurring tippers, and Brave promote the content creators by informing Brave users which sites are utilizing their technology solution.
In the area of proof of content creation, a good example is the usage of Po.et to denote the existence of content (Po.et is a moniker for “Proof Of ExisTence 2.0”). When content is created/published, if the content creator has integrated Po.et’s proof of existence solution into their publishing process, several steps occur (most if not all of them automatically) to get the content and metadata about the content onto the blockchain. The visible result is a Po.et badge that states that the content was verified on Po.et with a date and time. The user can click on the badge and they are then taken to the web page of the Po.et explorer. Below is an example from the Po.et explorer of the proof of existent pages for one of my recent articles.
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Future chapters/articles will include:
- a How To Start section
- Step-By-Step: Monetize Non-profit content using Blockchain solutions
- Step-By-Step: Prove Content Creation/Content Existence using Blockchain solutions
- Step-By-Step: Curation and Reputation using Blockchain solutions