Pay Me

Almost 50 years ago, my mom’s friend Eddie Maranowski was a photographer for the Daily Local News but he also owned a shoe store right next door to the Warner Theater where I was an usher.

Eddie hired me for a promotion for a brand of shoe he sold. I was the (very local) “Kolonel Keds” for the opening of a now-forgotten movie at the Warner. I greeted kids, handed out trinkets, and looked heroic.

Keds™ is an American brand of canvas shoes with rubber soles introduced in 1916 by U.S. Rubber (the company later known as Uniroyal). In 1960 they became the first mass-marketed canvas-top “sneakers” because the rubber soles let us sneak up silently on spaceships. Kolonel Keds flew Bell™ jet packs, rescued kids, and extolled the virtues of the scientifically designed, built-in booster pad in the shoes.

Eddie gave me a few bucks and a brand new pair of sneakers. I didn’t get to keep the Bell crash helmet, though.

Keds logo
I got paid to wear the logo. There’s a lesson there.

Everybody wants to “monetize” the Interwebs. “It’s been 25 years of ‘free free free’,” Internet inventor Al Gore said. “It’s time we start understanding nothing is free.”

I agree.

See, when you hear an expert say we should monetize anything you know he means he wants money to flow from you to him.

That’s backwards.

Ralph Lauren wanted me to embroider his polo pony on my shirt for free, not to tell the peeps I met how cool I am but to market his shirt to the peeps I meet. He never responded to my request for a share of the profits, so I don’t wear his shirts. On the other hand, I painted Lanson Machine on the fenders of the race car because they did pay for that.

Data is the currency of the Internet.

The World Economic Forum in a 2011 report called personal data the “new oil.” Data brokers estimate information about you is worth a fraction of a cent for a single piece of data to $5,000 or more for a full digital profile.

The Denver Post had 25 trackers on a recent visit: Adblade, AddThis, BrightTag, ChartBeat, Crowdynews, DoubleClick, Facebook Connect, Google +1, Google Adsense, Google Analytics, LinkedIn Widgets, Lotame, Mixpanel, NDN Analytics, New Relic, Newstogram, Omniture (Adobe Analytics), Outbrain, Press+, Quantcast, ScoreCard Research Beacon, Twitter Badge, Twitter Button, Tynt, and Visual Revenue. Surprisingly, set only seven the same day: Audience Science, Brightcove, ChartBeat, Conviva, Dynamic Yield, Google Analytics, Krux Digital, New York Times Beacon, ScoreCard Research Beacon, and WebTrends.

Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District Court of California found last year that Google might have violated wiretap laws.

It’s time the money start flowing from them to us. Amazon wants to set a tracking cookie to see where I click next? That’ll be one cent, please. TVGuide wants to sell a third-party cookie so someone else profits from where I click next, too? That’ll be a nickle, please. Verizon wants to know where I am to connect my phone call? Cool. Verizon wants to sell where I am to the donut shop? I want a dime for that. Andy Monfried might sell my email address to ABCMegaUltraCorp? I get a tenth of a cent each time. Spamford Wallace emails me an ad for a penis reduction tool. That’ll cost him a buck. For the record, I never did collect from Spamford.

This could work. All we need is a micropayment system to collect it and pay us.

A micropayment is just what it sounds like: a very small sum of money that usually transfers from my account to yours (or vice versa) online. Unfortunately, ystems that allow transactions like these, from fractional pennies to a few cents each have seen little success so far. W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium) planned to include micropayments in HTML but those efforts have stalled, so there are no widely used micropayment systems on the Internet. CentUp is a mostly blogging and podcasting system that collect donations for content. I haven’t seen many sites that use it. Flattr uses actual banks. M-Coin and Zong charge your phone bill. PayPal will do charges under $12 but their fees are high. IBM and Visa are among the big operators who have tried and failed. It was just too expensive, I guess. Bitcoin might work.

Once upon a time, businesses spent money directly — with surveys and coupons or discounts on their products, for example — to harvest data about us and to mail us enticements to buy more. Now they want to do it for free. Eddie paid me to help him sell those sneaks.

Who knows? A side benefit might be to the post office. If we raise the cost of entry high enough, advertisers might just go back to snail mail.