Kevin Owocki woke up at 4 am this morning with an idea. When someone visits a news site and their web browser uses an ad blocker, he thought, what if the site replaced ads with an invitation to donate a fraction of a bitcoin? Even in blocking its ads, readers could instantly contribute to the site’s well-being. They could pay, albeit a very small amount, for the stories they want to read. “You read all the time about how publishers are having trouble migrating their business model to the 21st century,” says Owocki, a software developer in Colorado. “It just seems like micropayments are where that should go.”
So, at 4 am, Owocki built a tool that makes this possible and threw it onto GitHub. By mid-morning, the tool—AdBlock-to-Bitcoin—was a popular topic at Hacker News, a major online hangout for software engineers. “Personally, I think bitcoin is the move,” said one commenter. “The long-term deflationary nature, the hivemind of sage engineers swarming around scalability, with the end-goal being a tiny machine to machine-payments, and the precision of value that you can achieve make it perfect.” In other words, he liked the idea.
This isn’t something that will appear on news sites and online magazines tomorrow. But it’s designed to prompt conversation about the possibility of funding online publishers via micropayments. In that sense, it’s already working. In fact, it’s stirring up similar ideas publishers and engineers have offered in recent years—and in recent weeks—in an effort to mitigate the influence of ad blocking. Developers have built similar tipping services for publishers. And early this fall, the bitcoin outfit Coinbase proposed a browser that would let people pay small amounts of bitcoin for almost anything.