Tipping online — Stupid or brilliant or both?

Have you heard about TipJoy and the still-very-small phenomena of tipping (real money) on the web?

It’s quite fascinating, in my opinion, and I certainly have very mixed feelings on this issue.


  • I admire how the founder gets “out there” to talk about his service… but not only about his service. 
  • I think there’s a true need to reward outstanding authors/contributors on the web with real money, and I think tipping is better than huge ad clutter / massively off-topic ads.
  • In particular, I love the idea of tipping in the context of supporting artists and art online.  Give me great MP3s, and then give me a culture in which MANY of us offer tips… even $2-7/album, which’d be WAY more than the artist would normally get via CDs or iTunes, etc.
  • TipJoy is pretty easy to use.
  • The fees seem reasonable.


  • I hate tipping as an institution overall, at least in the “real” world.  Hate hate hate it!  Why shouldn’t people just be paid a decent living wage? By extension, then, one could argue… why shouldn’t bloggers and artists online just be able to charge an honest fee for their work?  The answer, of course, is that too many of us are freetards, if you’ll forgive the nickname I’ve stolen from Fake Steve Jobs.  We expect, no, we DEMAND content / entertainment / information for free.  Frankly, that in itself seems horribly messed up, but I digress.
  • TipJoy, and indeed, tipping on the web on the whole hasn’t gotten anywhere near the—no pun intended—tipping point.  People aren’t gonna tip unless they see many other people tipping.  So it makes me feel, sheesh, does my 10cent tip mean anything at all?  The fact that TipJoy now offers tippers the option to broadcast their donations is a step in the right direction (Friendfeed does this as well), but it’s nonetheless a small step.
  • It’s still not seamless.  With TipJoy—one of the more fluid / well-set-up services, IMHO—you still have to sign up for an account, fund the account… and to fund it, you still have to use (at least for now) the evil PayPal.  Blech 🙁

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Don’t just read, do!  Give it a try 😀
Clicking the button at the bottom of this post will establish for you sort of an “IOU” of, well, 20 cents (TipJoy will, I believe, ask you to pay up via PayPal when you’ve tipped a total of $5 around the web).

What do you think?
Anyway, even more than your donations, I look forward to hearing your thoughts about not only TipJoy, but also the idea of tipping on the web.  Do you think it will ever become popular?  If so, what will need to happen in order to make it an oft-used part of the web economy?


  1. On the “I hate tipping” point, I doubt you do in general.  You hate the institution that expects you to tip a certain minimum amount on services where you are already paying.

    The key with tipping is that you pay for the service/product partially or totally after it is rendered.  This seems awkward in many cases because we don’t like to judge, and because there are customs built around the whole mess (10%, 15%, 18%, aah).

    However, for things like a small useful widget, short article, or music from an unknown band, the idea of tipping makes alot of sense.  You can’t reasonably determine the quality of the product before consuming it, and so it is very difficult to evaluate whether or not you are willing to pay to consume it.

    If I asked you to pay first (micropayments), you wouldn’t in many cases – the variance is too high (worthless all the way to wonderful) and the majority is worthless.  Wonderful content creators would have to price their content too cheaply to sell it, and worthless content creators would proliferate.

    Tipping works in theory.  You are basically paying after consumption, based on your perceived value.  The problem, at least on the internet, is anonymity.  In a restaurant, I’m not that anonymous: I may never return, and the waiter may not know my name, but I will get an angry look and will feel social guilt.  In the worst case, next time I won’t get a good haircut or quick refills on my drinks.  On the internet, there is no repercussion of not tipping, real or even psychological.  That is the real problem.

    What if you tried something different?  Here is a proposal: before you could read my article, you have to verify first with tipjoy.  You don’t have to provide money, but you do need an account and a verified identity (credit card).  That is a big hurdle, but imagine a future where internet verification was trivial and commonplace (certainly not there yet).  Now, when you decide to read the article, I present a “recommended tip” which you can accept or decline.  If you accept, you can read the article and leave any tip you want (even zero).  But, if you consistently never leave tips or consistently leave stingy tips after agreeing on the recommended tip, your account builds up a reputation of a stingy tipper and some content providers will automatically start refusing your service, or maybe providing only the first article unless you tip to see the next, etc.

    This works both ways – it lets you consume content before rewarding it incenting content owners to generate good content, but it also incents you to tip when you do indeed find the content rewarding.

  2. Well, the on-line tipping phenomenon is certainly worth pondering about. It seems to me that an idea of post-transaction payment may gain some recognition among internet users. Due to much of free stuff available on the net many users will simply refuse to pay before, for example, reading an article. However, giving them the opportunity of expressing their gratitude by means of a single tip looks quite tempting and perhaps it has some future.

What do you think?

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