Mozilla and Creative Commons want to reimagine the internet without ads, and they have $100M to do it

09.16.19, By Steven Melendez

Funding online content with small consumer payments rather than intrusive and privacy-compromising ads has for years been a goal for many internet theorists and publishers.

"We're at a point where it's clear there's kinds of negative side effects for people and even for democracy of the data-driven ad economy that funds the internet," says Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation.

Now, Mozilla, Creative Commons, and a new micropayment startup have announced a $100 million grant program to finally bring that dream to fruition. The program, called Grant for the Web, will give roughly $20 million per year for five years to content sites, open source infrastructure developers, and others building around Web Monetization, a proposed browser standard for micropayments.

"When we started Coil, Coil was essentially the first Web Monetization provider," says founder and CEO Stefan Thomas. Coil users pay a fixed monthly fee that's distributed among sites they visit that have Web Monetization enabled, such as the web development site CSS-Tricks, based on how long they visit the sites. The underlying technology supports other providers routing user funding as well.

The organizations behind Grant for the Web are setting up an advisory council to determine exactly how the grant money should be paid out. Surman says he's hopeful the project can help create a web economy with more room for smaller players and publishers.

"That's one of the big dreams that we have with the other partners around the Grant for the Web, [that] we can get back to a place where the small guy really has a chance to make it on the web," he says.

Funding for the grants comes chiefly from a grant Coil itself received from Ripple, the cryptocurrency and money transfer company, says Thomas, who was previously Ripple's CTO.

"This is actually where we got ver, very fortunate," he says. "Most of the time when you're promoting an open standard, you don't get to reward people or you don't get to fund it in that way."

They aim to give at least 50% of the funds to organizations using open licenses like Creative Commons licenses, Thomas says.

"The business models of the web are broken and toxic, and we need to identify new ways to support creators and to reward creativity," says Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons, in a statement. "Creative Commons is unlikely to invent these solutions on its own, but we can partner with good community actors who want to build things that are in line with our values. Creators have told us through our own user research that gratitude is a core element of why they choose to share their work, and micropayments may be an excellent way to display that gratitude."