Who Owns the Future?
by Jaron Lanier
$28.00 List Price
Flattr is a three-year-old Swedish company. Its goal is to enable people to pay for things that they might not ordinarily pay for: YouTube videos, Flickr photos, GitHubs, Instagrams. The idea is for you to fund a monthly balance for your Flattr account and use it to monetize your own patterns of Web-based approval. At the end of every month, your Flattr balance gets distributed among the things that you had “favorited.”
A number of us took this experiment to Twitter. Flattr had been baked into the Twitter platform, so that the very act of “favoriting” a tweet was later accompanied by some fraction of a cold, hard euro.
In my first month, I spent 15 euros, and I made 6.63 euros from other people. This was a rather solid beginning, I thought.
Then Twitter noticed. And Twitter told Flattr that there could be no “compensation attached to a Tweet Action” whatsoever. (A “Tweet Action” is any user interaction on Twitter, and also, quite possibly, the most terrible name for a band imaginable.)
In other words, all the money that is to be made on Twitter is to be made by Twitter, by selling users to advertisers. Flattr users can still use a browser plug-in to deliver money to tweeters, but the seamlessness, the payment via action, has been exterminated. Thus ended our experiment in online fairness, pleasure, and capitalism.
This would be a minor example of the way in which we have made the Internet incorrectly, argues Jaron Lanier in Who Owns the Future? (Simon & Schuster, $28). We have traded being tracked and sold in exchange for free services. We have been hollowed out to