Appreciating TipJoy

It’s shocking and sad to read Jason Kincaid‘s  Tipjoy Heads To The Deadpool story this morning in TechCrunch. Ivan and Abby Kirigin were neighbors just up the road from Cambridge (I understand they’ve recently moved back to California), and kindred spirits to the VRM community as well. Keith Hopper and I had a nice get-acquainted lunch with them a couple months back, and talked often in conversations about how EmanciPay might use the excellent TipJoy API, among other possibilities. The key paragraph from their final blog post:

When we evaluate why there’s been so much hype about payments on Twitter, and yet so little traction for us (and even far less for our competitors) it is clear to us that the reason is that a 3rd party payment service doesn’t add enough value. We strongly believe that social payments will work on a social network, provided that they’re done within the platform and not as a 3rd party. “Simple, social payments” is *the* philosophy needed to do digital payments right, but once a service groks that, they need only to implement it on their own. We’ve been the thought leaders in this space, we see the hype and excitement, and yet we know very intimately the difficulties in gaining actual traction. The only way to get around this is for the platforms themselves to control payments – then all people wanting to operate on that platform would have to play along. We believe that a payments system directly and officially integrated into social networks such as Twitter and Facebook will be a huge success.

This is consistent with our thinking as well. It’s why we’re designing EmanciPay not as a payment system but rather as a lightweight customer-native and -controlled set of methods (rather than a “system,” which implies something big, heavy and central) for choosing not only how much to pay, but when, where and under what terms — and leaving payment itself up to the Twitters, Facebooks, PayPals and Google Checkouts of the world.

EmanciPay is also not a business in itself. When it’s done it will be a set of specifications (data types, protocols, logic) rather than a commercial venture. It will add to the still-small portfolio of native customer capabilities as independent actors in the marketplace.

To leverage what Dave said long ago, Ask not what the marketplace can do for you. Ask what you can do for the marketplace. VRM is about answering that second question.

Meanwhile, we salute the pioneers. TipJoy did much for the marketplace. I just hope that the marketplace will repay Abby, Ivan and their colleagues generously. In fact, I have faith that it will.


  1. Crosbie Fitch

    Well, if you were going to use the TipJoy API, there may well be others.

    I have been assuming that for EmanciPay you are only inclined to use some kind of microformat/distributed approach where a centralised system is avoided, but presumably where each person’s preferred payment provider can be advised to take note of their chosen microformat IDs, public keys, etc.

    Anyway, whilst I’m surprised at TipJoy throwing in the towel, I’ve never held out much hope for a business based on enabling tipping/donation/charity/altruistic payments. If people are going to give, they’re going to give to a needy cause, and give significantly.

    Professionals (intellectual workers) aren’t needy causes – they need a revenue mechanism certainly, but it has got to be based on the exchange of work for money, not on the giver’s guilt or godliness, or even, in the case of tipping, good grace.

    In any case, a tip is usually an amount added to a transaction that must occur anyway – it’s avoiding the friction that would otherwise preclude it by piggybacking on the momentum of another transaction. In other cases the tip is intended to sweeten a relationship (a demonstration that this tipper is investing in it). Or at least it’s the exchange of a street-performer’s thanks (whether acknowledged, noticed, or not) for the warm feeling of having rewarded/encouraged their performance. When the relationship is extremely tenuous, a tip doesn’t amount to much.

    NB The ‘voluntary’ nature of giving to charity should not be confused with the volition of making a payment in exchange for work. All payments (all exchanges) are supposed to be fundamentally voluntary. What one should thus watch out for is the scurrilous insinuation that payment is compulsory/obligatory, that one should feel guilty if one doesn’t pay, e.g. “Well, you’ve received my work, now you owe me, so here’s how to pay up.” Nope. It doesn’t work like that. Exchanges are voluntary. It is only when people agree to make an exchange that they are obliged to maintain equity (to exchange or not, but not to take without giving). And that’s ‘agree’ as in without duress or shrink-wrap/EULA trickery.

    So, what am I getting at? Online tipping may have a future, but it is not the basis of an online revenue mechanism for intellectual workers. Its failure should not then lead people to abandon all hope of exchanging their intellectual work for the money of those who value it. We already know there’s little money to be obtained in giving work away, and now we recognise there’s little work to be obtained in giving money away. The future of online revenue mechanisms is in enabling its exchange: art for money, money for art*.

    * Motto circa 25-Sep-04

  2. Ivan Kirigin

    Thanks for the note, Doc.

    For digital content, flexibility and ease for the user will win in the end.

    @Crosbie, we agree. Tipping isn’t the best model for all content. I think it was a failure in our branding, really. We wanted to be a flexible payment system – not just voluntary donations. You could use our API to mandate payment just by checking if a pledge had been fulfilled.

  3. Crosbie Fitch


    Ease, minimal friction, minimal decision cost, yes all vital to those who want to pay. Flexibility is a nice-to-have (but can sometimes add a decision cost).

    TipJoy is a tad nominatively deterministic. likewise. I presume you felt it could succeed where failed.

    I think it’s important to separate the value proposition from the enabling system, i.e. in your case, the ‘facility to tip’ from the ‘flexible payment system’. That’s what I’m doing with 1p2U and ContingencyMarket, though I’m working on facilitating exchanges rather than payments.

    I thought microPledge was going to be a little longer lived, but then they didn’t exactly start at the shallow end.

    So, what are your plans for the future? Same field or pastures new?

  4. Business Small Starting

    So, what are your plans for the future? Same field or pastures new?

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