When the Internet blew up, how we consume and pay for content changed forever.
Instead of having to buy the whole newspaper, or magazine, we were able to browse just the articles we were most interested in. Publishers moved to sell digital ad space, just as they did in physical publications before.
Since then, banners and display ads have formed the mainstay of monetisation tactics for content creators and publishers. But, these only work at scale. What do you do if you haven't yet got the large traffic numbers to make advertising work?
You may have seen donation buttons (often linked to PayPal) on some smaller blogs that you read, but revenue channels like these are rarely significant or scalable.
But, with the arrival of the cryptocurrency revolution, a range of new apps and plugins is making such donating and tipping easier.
Same models, different money
You might have seen products and technology from the likes of BitPay and Coinbase on your Internet travels, but realistically this is taking the PayPal 'Donate Now' button from your favourite, specialist blog and making it send bitcoin.
These new products into the market add further diversity, but they are very much site specific, pay-at-the-door - not part of your rapid, polyamorous user journey throughout the Web.
What was needed was something that we carry with us, not a button or widget put up by web-masters, acting as a sub-optimal digital tip jar. We need passive tipping.
Cryptocurrencies have been touted for their potential to solve many problems - how we pay for content, especially across the long-tail of smaller sites and blogs, being one of them.
Hope from new models
ChangeTip - which launched in summer 2014 - heralded the emergence of a new crypto-tipping ecosystem, raising $3.5 million to grow their closed source, centralised model. ChangeTip allows you to tip a range of online interactions, especially social media activity, and has been widely featured in the media.
Some of this controversy is due to a perceived fine line between tipping and handing out pennies, via bots, to strangers online, as part of a growth hack to drive them to sign up.
Nonetheless, having first mover advantage, ChangeTip is making the biggest ripple in this space so far, though it doesn't have the stage to itself.
Only a matter of time before WordPress plugins
Content Management System (CMS) to the global blogosphere, WordPress was always going to be a fertile environment for which to develop crypto-tipping apps. Thus it was no surprise to see Tibdit launch - a semi centralised app, delivered via WordPress plugin.
The barrier to entry for bloggers to install Tidbit is fairly low and even though the payer has to login to a central server using social media or email the technology does allow the receiver to put a bitcoin address inside of the plugin script so it can be found on the page.
It is just a matter of time before you see similar offerings appearing for sites powered by Drupal, Joomla and more enterprise level CMSs.
These tipping products also add diversity to the ecosystem, again, but are still limited in their reach by their site specificity and to be honest, their lack of ease of use too - having to login to pay is still too costly a payment (in money and time) for such micropayments.
Then came the fully decentralised models
First of the decentralised models is ProTip, launched by London-based bitcoin journalist, Chris Ellis, and his team.
ProTip works from your browser as a bitcoin wallet, looks for bitcoin addresses on webpages and automatically pays your top visited sites each week, reducing the hassle of making payments at each web property.
This sort of passive tipping gives smaller content producers the chance to build connections with a fanbase they may not have done in the past, allowing fans to more easily 'leave money on the table'.
Whilst ProTip is still in its early infancy - currently running an IndieGoGo campaign - future features are said to include private messaging and 'Content Passes' (like old school paywalls) in which anyone can setup a content pass on their site without needing email addresses.
ProTip represents the a solution that, via browser, comes with you on your journey across the vast range of blogs and sites we tend to consume on our daily Internet journeys.
Privacy and security are chief concerns at ProTip and when discussing his product Chris Ellis explained that:
"There's nothing more private than money and we are private by default within the app itself. No data is sent back to us, we do not hold your bitcoins. This keeps with Bitcoin's original white paper."
AutoTip: another decentralised solution
Developed by Chris Priest, AutoTip is another decentralised model, also running as a browser based wallet.
However, AutoTip does require some technical knowledge, as bitcoin addresses won't be found unless placed in the html header. This might prove trickier for web-masters, but it also means that bloggers and vloggers who don't host their own web properties won't be able to receive tips.
Overall it's good to see another decentralised model arrive though and with ProTip and AutoTip we can now passively tip during our universal browsing experience.
The ease of this passive tipping is the key, which needs to be backed up by security and privacy.
From the tiniest acorns...
It truly is the earliest of days in the development of these technologies and this crypto-tipping ecosystem, but a handful of products are now maturing, to growing attention and media coverage.
As the entrepreneurs behind them raise more money and invest further in the development of their offerings, product quality will improve, whilst new entrants will naturally arrive too.
New ways to pay for our favourite content are here. Time will tell if they do reduce the number of banner ads we have to suffer.