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Create Blog post “2019-06-09-introducing-retribute-a-decentralized-open-effort-to-support-creators”

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layout: post
title: 'Introducing Retribute, a decentralized, open effort to support creators'
date: 2019-06-09T10:19:03.005Z
---
If you're reading this blog or following me on the fediverse, you may know that financing creation is an important topic to me.
Last year, [I wrote a thread on the subject](https://eliotberriot.com/blog/2018/05/11/funkwhale-content-monetization-trust/), with a focus on Funkwhale. However, I tend to think the problem isn't specific to Funkwhale.
# The problem
*How can we finance creation?*
You may be tempted to answer: "Just pay for it!", so let me elaborate a bit.
*How can we finance creation without*:
1. Creating too much centralization
2. Spending too much time thinking about it
3. Excluding people with little or no resources
Why do these three constraints matter so much?
## The plague of centralization
Centralization constitutes a threat to creators, because it makes them vulnerable to censorship, sudden loss of income and lock-in. Imagine you are using Patreon or Tipeee to finance your work. Your audience can tip you there and everything is shiny.
But what if the platform's terms of use suddenly change and explicitly forbid the type of work you're doing? Or if they decide to increase their fees? Or simply disappear because it's not profitable anymore, or for any other reason? This would directly affect your income, sometimes dramatically.
All these issues are symptoms of centralization, which is why it's always better to rely on multiple and/or decentralized options whenever possible.
However, the more options you add, the harder it is to maintain, and especially to inform your audience.
## The difficulties of financing
Additionally, the way we finance creation today isn't on a par with the volume of content we access. When you watch dozens of videos each week, listen to hours of music each month and read hundreds of news articles and blog posts each year, it's impossible to keep a track of *everything*.
You're probably consuming content made by hundreds of creators each year. Where should you finance them? How much should you give to each of them? And how often?
Some platforms offer answers to these questions. Spotify, for instance, hosts the content that is consumed, charges a monthly fee for access, and handles the redistribution in a way that is invisible to the user. However, this remains a centralized service, with all the issues described above.
Another, decentralized example is [Steemit](https://steemit.com/faq.html#What_is_Steemit_com), which is blockchain based. People can vote for the content they like on the platform, and creators receive coins based on their number of votes.
However, storing your creations on a blockchain has some huge downsides. First of all, you can't ever, ever remove your content. Also, if you're relying on this income for your daily life, crypto can be dangerous and volatile, as opposed to regular currencies. Finally, cryptocurrency based platforms can also become effectively centralized, due to the nature of cryptocurrency mining.
Both approaches also suffer from a bigger issue: by tying together the content-hosting and financing aspects of creation, platforms can only offer a limited user experience. You cannot consume and finance video content on Spotify, Steemit seems limited to text-based posts, etc.
Because of that, decoupling content hosting from financing looks like a better solution.
## Wealth shouldn't limit us
Finally, platforms that require payment *before* accessing content, such as Spotify or Netflix, are de facto inaccessible to lots of people that don't have the necessary resources to pay for the service.
This only reflects my personal political opinions, of course, but people's growth and happiness shouldn't be limited by their wealth. Everyone should be able to enjoy what they need, and finance them only if they can. Yes, that means richer people should pay more, and poorer people should pay less, or not pay at all. Otherwise, payments are basically a flat tax and, as such, hit the poorest hardest.
What matters is that everyone can enjoy creations and that creators have sufficient resources, stability and income.
# So, what is Retribute?
Now that we have a clear vision of the issues to solve, let me introduce Retribute.
Retribute is an idea that has been slowly growing in my mind for more than a year now. It is an attempt to design and build a financing solution that honors the constraints described above.
In its final form, Retribute would give creators an automatic way to receive donations and other kind of contributions from their audience.
Individuals would use Retribute to support their favorite creators, in an automatic or semi-automatic way, according to their budget and content consumption, reducing the cognitive load of doing all this work by hand.
All of this using decentralized, open and simple enough technology.
## Design principles
Because of the complexity and scale of the issue, Retribute can't work as single app or service. Instead, it will rely on a set of several components and parts that will, together, provide a solution.
I plan to write a dedicated blog post in the upcoming days or weeks, so I won't dive into the technical details here; however, I'd like to outline some design principles that are structuring this work.
First, Retribute will *not* require that creators change the way they are hosting their work. To give immediate value to both the contributors and creators, it must be compatible with existing platforms such as Mastodon, Funkwhale, PeerTube, YouTube, SoundCloud, and even plain websites.
Because implementing compatibility with lots of platforms is costly, Retribute will also offer a small, lightweight, and standard protocol for any content hosting platform to expose the required information. This will ensure the effort benefits everyone, not only the big players.
Secondly, Retribute will *not* require that creators and contributors use a specific payment or financing platform; instead, it will support *any* of them.
Thirdly, Retribute *must* be as simple as possible. Its technical foundations should be easy to grasp, integrate, and have a minimal footprint in terms of resources usage.
From a user perspective, it should be, as much as possible, automatic to use Retribute. The whole point is to make it *easier* to finance lots of creators.
From a creator perspective, no manual action and maintenance should be required to be Retribute-compatible, except for a restricted and specific set of scenarios, in which case manual actions should remain easy to perform. Creators shouldn't have to know about Retribute to benefit from it.
## How can it even work?
At this point, you're probably wondering how this theoretical soup can *actually* offer a decent solution, and I can't blame you!
Let me show you the small prototype I've been working on over the past few weeks. This is a small web application, built for individuals, that:
- lets you connect to one or many accounts on content hosting platforms (Mastodon, Funkwhale, PeerTube, etc.)
- gives you a ranked list of creators whose content you are interacting with (more interactions from you means a higher rank)
- for each creator, retrieves the links to financing platforms from the creator profile, such as Patreon, Liberapay, Tipeee, BandCamp, etc.
- presents you those links so you can proceed and make your donations
All those steps are featured in the video below, where I connect my Mastodon account to the Retribute app, and get a list of the creators I favorited the most:
<video src="https://eliotberriot.com/assets/2019-06-08-retribute-prototype.mp4" controls></video>
If you have a Mastodon account and you want to try it yourself, simply visit [https://app.retribute.me/](https://app.retribute.me/)!
Funkwhale support is on the way, this time to let you donate to the artists you are listening to the most. And if that works, we will then iterate and support additional platforms, meaning you can gather all the relevant financing information, from all your accounts, in a single place.
Obviously, this prototype is still missing some of the core features that would make possible the ideal solution I described earlier. Budgeting, especially, would improve the user experience, by pre-computing amounts to give to each creators, limiting how much you want to give in total and for a given period, etc.
This prototype should be a start to better understand how all of this could actually work, from a user and creator perspective.
## What's next?
Once Funkwhale is supported, I will probably take a step back from app development, and focus on writing more blog posts and specifications. This is needed before going further, to ensure the technical foundations are reliable, understandable and future-proof.
Regardless of that, if you are interested in the project and want to contribute, here is a couple of things you can do:
- Use it, and share what's working for you and what's not. This will help *a lot*
- If you are a creator, suggest new donation options that are not supported so we can include them, and report any issue you may face
- If you are a developer and interested in bringing retribute compatibility to your app, get in touch
- If you are an application designer, or have UX/UI skills and want to contribute to the app, get in touch
- Anything else you might think of!
You can reach me on [the fediverse](https://mastodon.eliotberriot.com/@eliotberriot), by email at [contact@eliotberriot.com](mailto:contact@eliotberriot.com), and I've also started [a public Matrix room to gather discussions](https://riot.im/app/#/room/#retribute:matrix.org).
Thank you for reading, sharing, and see you soon!
### Credits
This blog post was proofreaded by [@DashEquals@linuxrocks.online](https://linuxrocks.online/@DashEquals), anon and Audrey, kudos to them!
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