Is Using Coil to Monetize Prompts Gonna Work?

October 03, 2019

How Coil Works

A couple days ago I announced a new little daily drawing app called Prompts and mentioned that I was going to use Coil as my primary monetization strategy. For those unfamiliar, Coil is a passive monetization platform based on the proto-standard Interledger Specification. You pay $5/month into a fund that gets distributed penny-by-penny to sites you visit around the Web. It couldn’t be easier to support sites you actually visit. From a content creator standpoint; with a single <meta> tag pointing to my “tip jar” I’m now set up to passively generate income.

With Prompts, I decided to make a small bet on using Coil and its new way of monetizing for my side projects. It’s still early days in the life of the project, but I’m already asking myself the big question…

“Am I going to get rich?”

Unfortunately, I already know the answer and it’s “No… at least not yet”. It’s too early to be worrying about money, but we’ve been talking about monetization so much on Shop Talk recently it was important for me to add “revenue generation” as a project constraint. Here were some of the potential tradeoffs I considered going down this route…

The upsides of Coil for Prompts

Coil’s attention-based monetization strategy aligns almost exactly with what I want for Prompts.

  • Prompts is an IA Writer-style Focus Mode drawing app. Ads would crush that user experience. Ads don’t serve the design ethos whatsoever, whereas Coil aligns perfectly. It runs behind the scenes, never interrupting the User Experience.
  • Prompts is designed to be a tool you use a little bit every day, I think the attention-based funding model aligns pretty well with my objectives; If I make something people like and want to use every day, I make more money.

For me, Coil seems way less invasive than ads, extremely more private (I hope), and better overall for performance. This is important to me.

The potential downsides of Coil for Prompts

But going with a rogue new technology is not all sunshine and roses. Taking a step back and putting on my realist hat, there are a few things going against me:

  • Users installing the PWA will also need the Coil extension. Now I have two-factor install problems, not just one. I’m not even sure how extensions work with PWAs across platforms. iOS users will have to use this in the Puma Browser on iOS. Without this being baked into the default browser, there’s little hope here for monetizing PWAs.
  • With Coil I only have a single tip jar, so I have no data segmentation and no charts and graphs that I can use to measure the revenue of Prompts vs. revenue from my personal blog.
  • Coil is probably not popular enough to sufficiently fund my side project… yet…

One other route I could have taken was to wrap this up with Phonegap, put it on App Stores, and sell it for $5-$10. But then I’m dealing with app stores, device provisioning, certificates, and most worrisome of all: PAYING CUSTOMERS! People who paid money and feel entitled to leave one star reviews when it doesn’t do enough. Causing me more stress and keeping me up late at night. That’s a lot of overhead for a side project.

A lot of my potential success here depends on more people being convinced Coil (and other ledgers like it) are good for Web and better browser adoption of the Interledger spec. Which leads into another topic regarding monetization…

How will I measure success?

From a money making standpoint, I don’t expect to make much from this. This is not my retirement plan unless Adobe wants to buy it (if you work at Adobe, feel free to hit me up). If I start accruing data storage fees or API fees, I would hope Prompts could at least cover its own costs. But for now, it’s a good little experiment I don’t mind funding to some degree.

For the last few weeks we’ve been talking about monetization with Coil on Shop Talk. I’m pretty bullish on the concept and I desperately feel that the web needs a new monetization pathway, so I’m happy to experiment with this direction. In the future I could see building out features for Web Monetized users only or only showing ads if document.monetization == undefined.

The best outcome that I could hope for is that more people sign up for Coil (or something like it) and paying for content becomes normalized. Then browsers might hop on this Web Monetization effort. Sadly, I suspect Chrome will be last to the party because it undermines Google’s revenue model. But I yearn for the days where we have a Pay What You Want monetization model be versus a Give Up Your Privacy for Content monetization model. In some ways, my decision to choose Coil is an optimistic bet on a future I desperately want to see.

But if you like Prompts or this blog and want to support it, sign up for Coil! For $5/month you get to support content creators and small indie web apps. It’s probably the most just and equally distributed monetization platform we have. And who knows, maybe I’ll even get a slice of that Grant for the Web money.