Exclusive interview with Flattr

Can the Peer-to-Peer principle be applied to money as well as content? Peter Sunde and Linus Olsson think it can and the result is Flattr – a “social micropayment” system that effectively allows users to pool their resources together and “tip” content and software they like on the net.

Instead of casually clicking a “Like” or “Digg” button, Flattr challenges its users to put their money where their mouse is and financially contribute to software and projects that they use and enjoy. Users pay a small amount every month to their Flattr account (a minimum of €2) and then click Flattr buttons on sites and software they use and like to share out the money in portions as little as 1 cent.

To learn more about the project, I aimed a few quick-fire questions at Flattr co-founder Linus Olsson:

1. Explain briefly how Flattr is different from traditional online payment methods such as PayPal.

It’s a system built “backwards” from the notion that people want to pay and how to make it easy to pay for free stuff. Basing the system on a monthly budget that you as a user know you will not exceed and therefor it’s “safe” to give money to as much things as you like.

2. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in developing Flattr?

All the laws surrounding handling money.

3. Are many software developers using Flattr and are there any developer success stories using Flattr?

We have lots of open source software that uses Flattr and many of them make quite a lot, so absolutely.

4. Why should a developer use Flattr instead of PayPal for example to encourage donations for their work?

They should not, Flattr and PayPal serves different audiences. We would recommend people to use all services people want to use.

5. Have you noticed Flattr has been more successful in certain countries than others?

Yes, Germany is a lot bigger than other countries.

6. You only take 10% of each transaction made on Flattr. Do you think you can maintain this low level?

We actually plan to lower it and not rise it. We think it’s quite a lot right now, but we figured it’s better to start high to be able to lower it.

7. You depend on credit card companies and giants such as PayPal for users to transfer money into their Flattr account. Are you planning to change this?

Yes we have lots of plans, we don’t want to become dependent on others.

8. PayPal and Mastercard have recently stepped into politics and blocked people from donating to WikiLeaks. Do you think its the role of payment sites to decide where people can spend their money and would Flattr ever take such a step?

No absolutely not, it’s not our job to impose morals on people. We have governmental institutions that has the sole purpose to decide what is legal and not it’s nothing we should do or ever will do.

9. Flattr seems to undercut the traditional corporate gatekeeper model and put more power in the hands of people to decide which work gets funding and which doesn’t. Have you suffered any legal challenges yet?

Nope, if we do we will love the fight!

To learn more about Flattr and how it may be able to help you fund your website, blog or software, find out more at the Flattr website.

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