Recently I was made aware of a micropayment “donation” website, kachingle.com. I would like to be able to open this commentary by saying that the core concept of Kachingle is interesting and sound, but if this is the first you’ve heard of Kachingle, I don’t want “Kris had a nice thing to say about it” to be your initial impression. Most of what I have to say is extremely negative.
Okay, you know what — I have to present the core concept to discuss why Kachingle is doing something absurdly irresponsible. So here it is. Micropayments don’t work, as they have been presented in the past, because I can’t afford to give 25 cents — even 5 cents — to every site I use and like on the web. Even in those tiny increments, we would be talking about $30-$60 a month, and I’m not willing to pay that, even though if pressed I would say most of the sites I use deserve it.
Kachingle asks, okay, what if we made the upper bound on your spending each month $5? Whatever number of sites you wish to say thanks to, they’d split your $5. If there are more sites, they’d all make less, but at least they’re getting something, and the good news is you’re not on the hook for more than the $5. That seems kinda reasonable, right?
Not the irresponsible way Kachingle is managing it. This is not the micropayments solution provider anyone asked for. And I think Kachingle knows it. This is how they present it:
Imagine you visit my site chainsawsuit.com. You enjoy the comics and you want to give money to me, Kris, the creator. This requires that you forget:
- the fact that by just viewing the site, you up my pageviews and I serve more ads, which pays me;
- the fact that if you want to give me money and get something great out of it, you can buy merchandise from my store;
- the fact that if I wanted people to be able to donate, I’d have a Donate button on my site.
“Never mind all that, Kris! As a user of your site, I want you to receive a little cash from me as my thanks.” And as a user of chainsawsuit.com, in order to donate money to chainsawsuit.com, you would go to which URL?
You’re right: kachingle.com. Obviously!
So you go to kachingle.com and notice that Chainsawsuit doesn’t have a profile on there. That’s okay — as a user, you can register my site there yourself. (In reality, Chainsawsuit does have a profile on there. A profile which I didn’t create, nor did I agree to the existence of, nor was I even aware of, nor did I give permission for Kachingle.com to accept money on my behalf.)
Okay, you’re all set to donate. You fork over $5 to kachingle.com, and they hold onto it. You “Kachingle” the Chainsawsuit account (their preferred verb) and now the Chainsawsuit account is in for a cut of that $5. Wait — I’m sorry. The cut that the account is in for is $5, minus Kachingle’s 15% fee for providing this service.
I want you to understand what just happened. Without any permission from me — possibly without the permission or knowledge of any of the “member” sites on Kachingle — Kachingle has just made a little money off of your generosity that was intended for me.
Here’s the amazing part that takes it from naive to insidious: because it’s not opt-in — that is, because the owners of the sites that have an account on Kachingle don’t need to be present for that account to be created — it behooves Kachingle to list as many websites as they can. That lets them play the numbers: maybe someone browsing Kachingle realizes they like a site listed, and they Kachingle it. Kachingle.com gets a cut. They get a cut anytime a Kachingle user donates to a site they like, one time a month. So of course, as the business, you’d want to increase the chances of that first donation every given month. If you want, you can see who donated initially to most of the accounts listed on Kachingle: it’s almost entirely Kachingle employees doing it.
I guarantee you no Chainsawsuit reader thought “huh, I’d love to donate to this site” and ran over to Kachingle to do so. Kachingle did that, not you, oh loving reader.
In fact, Kachingle.com offers a browser plugin that sits on top of any site you visit, meaning you could be reading an article by some columnist at CNN.com and, in a fit of generosity, decide to Kachingle it. I don’t know how the plugin works; if you can donate per-URL or if it resolves to the root domain. (Hmm, so does the money go to the columnist?? Or to CNN?)
By the way, CNN.com can be listed at Kachingle. Google.com can be listed on Kachingle. In fact, Google Maps is listed there. Do you think Google is going to be excited about some third-party website accepting donations for them? Google, one of the richest companies in the world? So what happens when it’s time to pay the site owner? Who at Google gets contacted with the exciting news that there’s $4.84 waiting to be collected?
The New York Times filed an injunction against Kachingle late last year for this very reason: the newspaper wasn’t happy with donations they never agreed to let Kachingle collect on their behalf.
It is a total crock. Over time, maybe the site would have built up to the point where it was a more natural progression — especially if they had content providers on their side promoting them. But we have no reason to. We don’t even have reason to be neutral about them.
This is another sketchy part. Kachingle just starts accepting donations for sites, without the sites’ knowledge. Maybe they have some money for Chainsawsuit now. So how do I get paid when I don’t even know that money exists? Kachingle’s own Twitter account explains, in a response to a querying Indigo Kelleigh:
@indigo_k We… attempt in about 20 ways to reach the sites. If after some period of time we cannot, the money goes to a charity.
What are the “about 20 ways” to try to contact a site owner? Are there really 20? I would love to see them listed. Can I tell you how I was contacted about Chainsawsuit? Kachingle tweeted at me, once. You know who else tweets at me? Spambots that also say I can make money now. How should I have differentiated their tweet from those?
Scott informed me that Kachingle’s president and creator, Cynthia Typaldos, was holding a live online chat and answering questions. I brought these problems up with her and I was civil. I was not interested in vitriol or tearing her down. I wanted to know if she had considered these things. You could hear the defensiveness in her voice — not the defensiveness of someone caught in a lie, but rather that of someone who just wanted to do This One Thing and that she’d figure out all the details once the ball started rolling. That is not the way to run a business. Her answers can be summed up thusly: I appreciate your concerns and your input, but we have chosen to do it this way.
If Kachingle was opt-in instead of opt-out, it would solve everything. If Kachingle sent an e-mail to lots of different site owners asking if they’d like to opt in, it’d be fine. Kachingle could even allow visitors to create profiles for their favorite sites — those profiles would just remain hidden until the site owner could be contacted so they could opt into the program.
But we know why it’s not opt-in, don’t we? Because I guarantee you 99% of site owners would say “Wait, what? No. No thanks.” Or they wouldn’t respond at all thinking it was a come-on. That’s what I would have done. No, making Kachingle an opt-in service would be the responsible approach, but making it opt-out means they can start collecting money from you right now with no permission or awareness necessary on the part of those who should have been aware from the beginning.
We cartoonists have seen the same reasoning used by comic scrapers, which I have written about in the past. People that co-opt others’ content or brand or goodwill are stealing. They are thieves. It doesn’t matter how good-intentioned it may be. It is possible to be a thief, but actually think you’re helping.
Do I think Kachingle is evil? I don’t. No, if Kachingle were evil they’d have a better answer for these questions. They don’t. In fact, they have terrible, poorly-thought-out answers. If you read any of Typaldos’ writings, it seems like she is earnest about wanting to do something good. But it is such a rotten approach, and when questioned, is met with a brick wall of defensiveness. Kachingle is not going to learn that what they’re doing is wrong. I guess that starts to make the case for evil, hmm.
Many eons ago, I belonged to a webcomics collective that took it upon itself to collect money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. We raised on the order of $30,000, which we stated would be donated in its entirety to the Red Cross. How did we ensure this, with no claiming of fees or cuts?
There actually was no way to do it directly. We would have been up Kachingle Creek had we implemented it that way, and we probably would have been sued by the Red Cross and had the money frozen by PayPal or whatever online banking equivalent we chose. Our donation button just passed through to the American Red Cross’ own donation page. We never touched a dime of it. So our tracking could only estimate donor amount and intent with a reasonable margin of error.
Of course, we didn’t do it for money. Kachingle is a business, and they want a fee for their microdonation solution. Here’s another suggestion for Kachingle: if you want to get paid for that, then sell your implementation to content owners. Repackage it as a widget or script that the site owners can install as a one-click PayPal solution. Although, now that I’ve typed that, I’m thinking PayPal wouldn’t allow a one-click implementation on sites, because people could be tricked into clicking it or accidentally click it.
That poor core concept. The $5-per-month-split-x-ways idea? It’s the best micropayment concept I’ve heard of. Which I guess isn’t saying much. But that sliver of a good thought lies buried beneath all this nonsense, which ranges from irresponsibly naive, to irresponsibly conniving.
If you made it this far, thank you and congratulations. Now go find out whether your site is a Kachingle affiliate and if they made any money off you recently. I have asked that my sites be removed. I recommend you do the same thing. If you want a donation, make a PayPal button. You keep it. You don’t need another middleman on that line. PayPal is already a middleman, albeit a much more needed one. Kachingle is a middlemiddleman.
Postscript: Something else occurred to me just now. I can ask that they remove chainsawsuit.com. But what happens when I launch a new site? Do I have to inform them to block that one too? After all, I don’t have to be around for it to get added. I can’t fucking police Kachingle every time I put content on the internet.
Post-postscript: Let me turn it around. Starting right now, I will be collecting donations for Kachingle.com. If you like Kachingle, send me money. I will later give Kachingle 5% of your donation. I know it’s a lousy deal and I’m keeping 95%, but they should be happy to be getting some money, right?
Of course, they’re welcome to opt out.