- Give me fifty loaves of bread for that pair of shoes.
- Sorry, I don't want any bread. Do you have butter?
- No butter, sorry. But I still want those shoes.
- Sorry, I can't use the bread.
Result: the shoemaker starves, the breadmaker loses his feet, the shoes rot, the bread molds.
Now on the Internet:
- Give me fifty cents for my insightful political analysis.
- Well, I have two quarters, but I forget my credit card number and it takes too long to type anyway and is your site really secure? because I don't remember my PayPal password. Never mind, I'll find another political analyst.
Result? The excellent political analyst starves, the world economy is not saved, and humanity faces economic extinction.
Different kind of friction cost, but in effect no different from barter. We beat barter some time ago, but the web hasn't done for money what it has done for data.
What exactly has the web done for data, though? Created a universal mechanism of transfer -- a universal medium of information exchange.
And what makes the data-exchange medium universal? Standards, like protocols, languages, APIs, and so forth.
So why not build a standard for a universal medium of money exchange on the web?
This is what PaySwarm is trying to do. No doubt a universal micropayment system will be hard to get right, but it has to start right too -- and building micropayments as a standard is an intriguing proposal. Do for money what the web did for data -- and do it like the web did it.
The official unofficial draft of the PaySwarm vocabulary was updated this week, and it's a nice read. So far the document is really just a lexicon -- classes, constants, and properties -- but outlines the ontology of a universal web payment standard pretty clearly.
No doubt many crucial elements are missing, and many existing elements will need to change a lot. But check it out, and maybe contribute a few thoughts to the corresponding Web Payments Community Group, if the idea of a universal web standard for digital (micro)payments sounds like a good idea.