Editor’s Note: If you’re old enough to remember the Internet boom of 1999 and 2000, you’ll know that micropayments for content is hardly a new concept. Huge, important newspapers (that was a thing) were looking at it as a way of countering the then-newish concept of free news and other content moving online, and reclaiming the advertising dollars that were beginning to follow.
It may not have come to anything then, but micropayments are back, fueled in part by blockchain technology that makes it almost free to send cryptocurrency in a peer-to-peer transaction—making a payment of even a few cents viable.
That’s the business Josh Petty—otherwise known as “Elon Moist”—has created with Twetch, a social media platform that pays content creators $0.05 per “like,” $0.03 per “branch” (share or quote) and $0.08 for tags. It lets viewers add substantially more than that in tips simply by typing “/pay” and the dollar value of the tip.
He’s not alone in the blockchain-based micropayments game. Journalism platform Civil was an early entrant in the space. More recently, there has been the Steemit/Hive EOS-creator Block.one spun off its own trusted journalism platform, Voice, with a $150 million investment. Tron’s DLive does much the same for video content.
Petty is first in using Bitcoin SV (BSV) tokens as the currency of his social media site.
The use of BSV—a Bitcoin hard fork—is a double-edged sword. While it has a number of advantages, he says, in the cryptocurrency community it connects Twetch to the staggeringly unpopular Craig Wright, who created and champions the fork, and calls it the “real” Bitcoin. Wright, whose claim to be Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto is widely disbelieved, managed to get the sixth-largest cryptocurrency by market cap ejected from the Binance and Kraken exchanges by suing people who denied his Nakamoto identity.
Petty also has a thing for name games. His favored pseudonym, Elon Moist, comes off as a slightly sexualized play on Telsa-honcho Elon’s Musk’s moniker. And Twetch is enough like the enormous gamer-focused streaming site Twitch that Google assumes that’s what you meant to type.
Our own Brendan Sullivan has interviewed Petty (who insisted on having his face “Kermited” over) several times via Skype. Here’s what he had to say:
Writer’s note: that was the longest “editor’s note” in history.
Twetch CEO Josh Petty (aka “Elon Moist”) believes the internet will pay you to use social media in the future.
Twetch is an ad-free decentralized social media application where you can make money from content creation and own your data.
But more than that: it is the business model we will see a lot of in 2020. A tech company that, according to Josh Petty, is profitable on day one. That matters in the tech world. Uber has never made a profit. Casper, as Scott Galloway so aptly stated, would make more sense as a business if they mailed you a free mattress stuffed with $300.
Elon and I had a great chat on Skype where we talked about his pseudonymous authority as CEO, the word “Moist” and why the current internet sucks.
Okay, we’re live. First of all, how are you and where are you?
I’m in Berlin, we are about to give birth to our first child so stuck here for a bit. Stay safe in NYC. I have a good friend working at the hospital and they said it is chaos.
So, what you’re doing is interesting; I’ve been having fun with Twetch.
My editor came back to me with some questions, so let’s start with those. Running on BSV earns you a lot of animosity from Craig Wright’s many detractors in the crypto community. Given this, why focus on attracting the Bitcoin community?
I think whoever says that has no imagination and is not paying attention to what’s going on in the world. Sadly, there are many people who would like Twetch to fail because they can’t imagine a better future where you can own your data and profit from your content that you create. If you use Twetch, you see a different story playing out. One much bigger than “BSV cult”.
People like @archillect [it’s actually an AI with nearly two million Twitter followers –Ed.], @dannytrejo, and @eliroth, etcetera, are using Twetch—they have nothing to do with BSV. They are looking for a solution to the problems that exist on the internet today. Twetch solves problems.
If you have been following Twetch, you may have noticed a growth in artists lately. Meme and Sketch creators. Twetch is evolving. We like to think of it as a marketplace for memes.
The site was recently called a refuge for Twitter-battered BSV fans by Decrypt. How are you doing attracting users, particularly from the broader cryptocurrency industry?
Very soon, the experience for signing up for a Twetch just like any other application on the internet. There will be no difference in the onboarding, in fact it will be better. No mention of BSV necessary. Everyone in the world can experience the benefits of Bitcoin without having to join some lame cult of boomers worshipping Satoshi. We are not interested in this and it does not help our business to be more successful.
We have a simple yet big vision. Making a change on how the internet and social networks work. The killer application for Bitcoin is Micropayments. BSV provides that. Therefore, we utilize BSV. When you have the ability to pay small increments for work, art, etc., it changes everything. Think Twitter + Fiverr + Dribbble [micro-gig platforms that can do a quick photoshop job or logo design for $5]. That is what Twetch is becoming and we are seeing the signs of it already. On top of that, users can sign data, it’s archived on the blockchain, and access that anytime. That’s the service Twetch provides.
So why would a person who doesn’t know what BSV is join up?
Check out Pix: he earned about $220 on a single meme. Had nothing to do with BSV or anything, joined because Twetch is a fun and creative culture. If you look at our website you would never know it had anything to do with BSV. Here is Pix:
Neither of these examples have anything to do with the “BSV cult”.
How old is Twetch, by the way? I’ve been hearing about it for a while.
You know, the idea’s been around for a long time, from the early days of Bitcoin into Ethereum, and other crypto blockchains sort of experimented with this idea. Twetch has officially been around since we incorporated in, I think, July. So, for about six months or so.
Okay, so speaking of social network: you’re six months into a social network that is popular and moving, but you’re not taking any funding?
Nope! Twetch was revenue-positive from day zero.
Yep. It’s all based on microtransactions. The data is hosted on Bitcoin, which is BSV. [Aaand cue the BTC vs. BSV battle. –Ed.] The actual live transactions that are being posted, as well as every interaction, is being logged on Bitcoin [BSV]. When there’s an interaction or a post, Twetch is actually earning a small fee. So, there are no ads and no aggressive data collection or maneuvering of your information. We don’t really have to do that. We can actually bootstrap it from this local niche we have, which are the bitcoin enthusiasts.
Right now, it’s very much MVP [Minimum Viable Product, version 0.01]. We’re figuring out how this works technically. We know the vision. We know people are going to find a lot of value in owning their information and being able to trade that information. The interface is the actual experiment. Bitcoin itself, with information and money built-in, is absolutely the innovation of it. We’re just trying to figure out a good user experience for that.
So, we make money when you like and when you share. “Branching” is what it’s called when someone shares your post or your information onto their feed. If this happens and someone else “likes” it, you and I split revenue. You can sort of generalize this to say, “Twetch makes a penny every time there’s an interaction.”
Okay, and something that makes Facebook unequal is that they have an ad-based model. A user in the United States is worth something like $130 per year, or nearly $11 per month. But to attract a user in India, for example, they’re only worth $11 for the entire year. So, this creates an unfair user balance where people who are in the developing world are “worth” less to tech companies.
Yeah! Well, in the world we’re building, it’s going to be really interesting because it doesn’t matter where you are in the world anymore: it matters how valuable your information is, and if there’s a market. So, every user is a sort of “node” in the network of Bitcoin.
When you’re looking at Twetch, every user is propagating their own information. They’re essentially sending a signal to the market and saying, “is this entertaining? Is this valuable?” And every like, share, or comment is some sort of microtransaction. If a user in India creates something super interesting, they get an opportunity from day 1 to be monetizing that, so they get way more control and empowerment. I always joke that Bitcoin is going to be the thing that ends all prejudice because we don’t even have to know what you look like or where you’re from. We can just look at your reputation (it’s on the Chain) and look at the information you’re bringing and its value. I don’t care about what your “profile” is in society; this is about if you’re trustworthy and if you’re interesting.
That was a promise of the early internet. It was said that you could be 13 and have a conversation with an adult; you could be from the “wrong side of the tracks” and still be included in this more open world. I liked that. I grew up on that internet, and I preferred it over what we have now, where everyone uses their full name and your mom reads everything you say.
Right. And, in this world, we’re going to have people who can create their pseudonyms, but they can also be themselves. Regardless, they’d still have the same “key” from the technical perspective where you can sign your transactions. Maybe you choose to operate under a pseudonym, but you create a really interesting idea that gets popular. You’ll be able to go back and prove that was you. It’s sort of like the “Satoshi” conundrum.
One of the problems I have as a journalist is, in terms of revenue, I think that maybe, someday, I’ll write a book about Craig Wright. Along the way, I’ll write other stories, which I get paid for. But everything I do on social media—which is a lot—every time I post a court document to Twitter—I don’t get paid for that. I’ve done a video Skype with Craig —which was the basis of several articles on Modern Consensus.
I’m constantly contacted by rude people on Twitter who say, “Release the whole thing or you made it up.” But to post that video—there’s a production and editing process involved, and I don’t get paid for that. So, I just don’t go through all that trouble. I collect it and I keep it in case I do something with it, but I’m like, “Why would I do extra labor for you when nothing is ever good enough for you and you’re just going to scream about something else?”
Yeah. We have to figure out what the “free” internet means.
I did an experiment recently on Twitter. I said, “by the way, I’m breaking a story on Friday night. I probably shouldn’t, but here’s the new document leak; it’s very important,” and I also included my handcash name. And I got lots of deliveries ranging from $0.70, $5, and even a donation of $100 from someone just for that one post. That’s not a huge amount, but it is enough for me to put some extra time into it.
Yeah! And on Twetch, you could do a test where you say “I’m going to release a story I just wrote about Craig Wright if I get 10 likes,” and there you go! That’s what the future is going to be like. People will say, “I’ll make a video if I get $100 worth of interest (whatever that means).” If you use “normal people” language, you could simply say that people will be “crowdsourcing” information. In the future, you could just have “Brendan.com,” where you can fund your work individually, or through connections on Twetch if you wanted, and you’ll find ways to get value for your work from that market of people and their attention.
I do a lot of fundraising for crowdfunding campaigns, and what is the hardest for me is that I want what I call the “Bernie Sanders model,” where more people are involved with smaller donations instead of a few people being involved with large donations. My biggest problem is that it is almost impossible to donate only $1 to worthy campaigns, because what you’re really doing is giving Visa or MasterCard $0.37 in the transaction. But in the case of my handcash, people were donating nickels and dimes, and they were actually really adding up.
Right. Basically, Bitcoin unlocked the “under $1 economy” on the internet. You could just never do that before, and even if you could get credits that amounted to pennies, like Amazon Points — and Amazon has a whole market for this called Mechanical Turk (MTurk), and if you haven’t heard of it, you should definitely check it out; it’s basically a microtransaction market — but in this system, people who earn the Amazon Points have to go find a way to liquidate that. Even then, they have to deal with things like transaction fees or selling to people on a secondary market. In some cases, after all of this is done, they may only receive half of what they actually earned.
With Bitcoin, the process is simply that you can complete a transaction and it costs you less than a penny. We’re about to see this happen on a larger scale. Some people keep pushing back the timeline for this by saying it will be 5-10 years from now, but I think that, thanks to the clearer vision we have thanks to things like Bitcoin SV (BSV), as well as the screw-ups we’ve learned from along the way, the timeline could be somewhere around 2-3 years. And really, while there could be $1 million in transactions, this really empowers the transactions that are for amounts less than $1.
People don’t understand the “free internet.” When the internet first came out, people would say, “why would I type an email when I could just call you on the phone?” Bill Gates would say, “you can turn on your internet and listen to a baseball game from halfway across the world,” and people would reply with, “can’t I just turn on the radio and find the channel?”
[Editor’s Note: I questioned this timing, so Brendan came back with a 1995 YouTube video of Bill Gates on Letterman. It’s two minutes long, and you get to see Gates say “electronic mail.”]
Of course, that sounds dumb to us now, but at the time, it was the majority opinion. Right now, the majority opinion is, “why should I pay for my Twetch internet when everything else is basically free if I just ignore some ads?”
You’d pay for it because you will have control over it. That’s the vision that is being implemented. Whether it’s Twetch or someone like Twetch, someone is going to implement that vision. There will be a small microtransaction to post content and share ideas, and you’ll have control over who has access to that. I don’t think ads go away entirely; I think they become opt-in and more targeted. With my content, I’d be able to allow people to access my data and pay me, say, a penny every time they use my content for an ad network.
Okay. I was going to ask that. The biggest hurdle to signing up is funding your wallet. But someone could switch to ad-mode to start earning.
Basically, the “free” internet doesn’t allow the common user to profit in any way, while all the other guys do, and they become very large. There’s nothing inherently wrong or evil about companies like Google or Facebook; these are companies that changed our lives, but you don’t have complete control as a user and you’re losing money every time you use their products.
Let’s shift to a question of user adoption. With an app like TikTok, you don’t really create anything of value and you don’t really earn anything, but kids like it because it’s fun and silly. It’s easy to jump on TikTok and say, “I have no idea what this is, but I’m entertained,” and transition into, “Okay, I can actually make a TikTok video, so I will.” Do you see a day where Twetch will have a system with a free version that is ad-funded, but once you want to start creating your own content, the ads you’ve been paid to view lead to you creating more content on your own?
First of all, Twetch is free to view. Anyone can create a Twetch and view it. But to be able to interact and do certain things on the top-end, there is a cost. The point is that you will also be able to be on the receiving end of those things. It’s a matter of putting up these steps towards building a reputation. I do think there can be a “free” system where you are earning twetches by watching an ad. Those twetches are just a $0.01 interaction. When we’re talking about Bitcoin at scale, we’re talking about fractions of pennies. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. We can do it today.
Imagine 1/10th of a penny is what it costs to send a message on Bitcoin right now, and it’s going to go down drastically from here. To operate that cost is so low compared to anything else on the internet that we know today. I do think there will be TikTok-like environments, but instead of simply giving your attention and creating audiences out of hope of becoming super popular and monetizing through sponsorships and ads on your channel later in the future, you’ll earn money all along the way, even if it’s just $0.01 per day or $0.01 per share on a viral video. You’ll make money along the way. Instead of hiring an agent once you get famous, it’s “I made $1 million while getting to 1 million followers.”
We know that Jack Dorsey from Twitter [and bitcoin-friendly payment processor Square] is looking into doing a decentralized platform next.
“Looking into it” is a good phrase; it’s even nicer than I would say. Jack said he would fund a platform like that.
Josh Petty is an American entrepreneur focused on building a new breed of internet applications on Bitcoin (BSV). He is co-founder and, as “Elon Moist,” is the CEO of Twetch.com, an ad-free decentralized social media application where you can make money from content creation and own your data.