One of the web 2.0 startup hypes du jour is called Flattr. It's a micro-payment service that enables readers to allocate a monthly budget they can use to "flattr" blog posts and other content by clicking a simple badge. The monthly flat-rate is then distributed to the "flattred" authors as a way of appreciation.
More on that in this short video.
A lot of people are jumping on the Flattr bandwagon, and of course, rewarding creators is always goodness.
But I'm not convinced.
Why? Because IMHO there's no need for a middle man handling the "Thank You" transaction between a blogger (or other content creator) and the reader (or other content consumer).
Instead, here are ten (10) better ways to accomplish the same thing (supporting your favorite creator). They can involve money or not - you choose - and in each of them, everybody wins.
First of all: This is not intended as "fishing for compliments" or anything similar. I simply want to point out that, while the intention is good, the way of using a service like Flattr is utterly redundant.
Anyway, here are at least ten alternatives that will benefit your favorite creators and help you say "Thank You":
Just so we don't lose count, here's a TOC:
Let's start with some obvious, but often overlooked ways of supporting bloggers that don't involve money (and by "blogger", I also mean "podcaster", "artist", "programmer" or any other creator of web content).
Yes, they're free to you but they're worth a lot to creators!
Every blogger loves feedback. There's nothing worse for a blogger than writing great content without anybody noticing. So if you like a blog post, a podcast, a self-made YouTube video or something else, give feedback to the author. They'll almost always appreciate it.
Tell them what you liked about their blog post. Tell them how it changed your life. Or what new thing you're about to begin as a result of reading their blog.
If you think differently than the author tell her and start a conversation. If you find a typo, a missing fact or anything else that would improve their blog post, tell them. Everybody wants to improve, especially bloggers, and they'll be glad you showed them how.
Whenever someone sends me feedback, I take the time to read it, think about it, then answer it. Really, sending me feedback is the best way to get my attention.
Provide feedback often, feedback is always good.
Feedback is nice, but it's only between you and the author. Better yet: Use the comment function and place your feedback where others can see it.
When doing so, don't just say "Great post" and then leave a link to your site. This is often considered link spam.
Instead, add to the conversation by saying what you think, where you agree and where you don't, or adding to the blog post by offering your own advice, viewpoint or additional resources and links that may be useful to your favorite blog post's readers.
This will turn the post into a conversation and allow it to flourish, while the author will be glad that her post was able to grow into something bigger.
To help you place comments on my blog, for instance, I've installed the Disqus system. It eliminates the hassles of registering and logging in etc. because it uses the other accounts you're already logged in with. It also takes care of filtering away spam and it adds a nice picture of you (if available) when you comment.
Comment often, comments are good.
Bloggers love readers. It's the very nature of a writer to want to be read. The more readers the better.
Yes, bloggers use web analytics software to try and figure out how many page visits etc. their blogs or blog posts get, but that's an inaccurate science at best.
A real reader is someone who comes back. Real readers wake up in the morning and wonder what else their favourite bloggers have written. They want to stay in touch with the author so they can listen in on their thoughts and share their viewpoints with them, provide feedback, add to the conversation and so on.
A real reader subscribes to a blog by hitting that nice orange RSS icon and adding their favorite blogs to their RSS app of choice. That's much more valuable to a blogger than any number of hits that could come from a robot, a spider or the occasional erratic surfer who came in by search engine accident.
If you like a blog, subscribe to it. Add it to your reader's list of trusted sources. The author will notice, I know I do.
Counting subscribers is the single best way to measure a blogger's success: It tells them how many people regularly check to see if there's a new article. It keeps authors pumped, it motivates them to write more blog posts, it's the liveblood of any blogger.
For my blog, I set a goal to reach 500 subscribers by summer, and 1000 by the end of the year. BTW, if you haven't already, why don't you add this blog to your reader now? I promise you 100% good, useful and spam-free technology content every week!
Subscribing to your favorite blogs, make their authors happy.
There's another thing that gets bloggers even more excited than subscribers: Inbound links. Why? Because inbound links will bring new readers every day!
They tell Google that their blog is good because people link to them which will bring them even more readers through Google and other search engines.
If you like a blog, link to it. If you're a blogger, add it to your blogroll. If you participate in a website, blog, wiki, forum that is even remotely related to the blog post or blogger you want to highlight, link to them.
Better yet: Blog about other bloggers' great blog posts and send them some link love. They'll most certainly appreciate it and of course, they'll reciprocate. Everybody wins by linking to each other!
Check out my blogroll ("Recommended Thinking") at the right of this page, it's full of great people writing great articles in their blogs, some of them you can also follow on Twitter.
Pick your favourite blogs now and link to them. Linking is good.
At first glance, this looks like another variant of linking to your beloved blog post or blogger. And to a certain point it is. But it is much better, because using a social service to highlight a blog post is a personal recommendation.
If you want to show your appreciation about a blog post, Twitter it. Or Digg it. Add it to your social bookmark list or use any other social network.
Many blogs have buttons or widgets that will help you spread the word about your favorite blog posts or blogs, use them. Ever noticed the fancy "Share the Knowledge" bar at the bottom? It's sexy for a reason: So you are intrigued to use it and spread the word!
Share your favorite blog posts on the social web!
What's true for Twitter, Digg, etc. is also true for real life: If you like a blog because you find it funny, useful, engaging, entertaining or of any other value, recommend it to your friends, colleagues and anyone who'd listen.
Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to grow for any website, product or service, because it is trusted, personal and genuine.
Everybody loves recommendations!
While the 6 ways we discussed above are all very valuable to your beloved creator, they don't involve money. Sometimes, though, it's good to earn some nice, hard cash for all the efforts of creating good content.
Creators tend to use their hard earned money to be even better creators: Buy new hardware or equipment, software, or maybe hire someone to improve the website.
So let's check out monetary options of rewarding bloggers, podcasters, programmers and other web creators.
The first is free, yet it can still pay your favored creator quite handsomely!
Some bloggers write reviews or recommend products. Often, they use affiliate links to link to those products. And this is where you can help them:
Affiliate links tell a merchant (say, Amazon) who (the blogger) sent them their newest customer (you). If you then proceed to buy the product, the merchant will pay some commission to the blogger and everybody wins: You buy something you wanted, the merchant gets to sell their stuff and the blogger gets a commission for recommending the product to you. Oh, and you don't pay anything extra, so it's completely free goodness!
Affiliate links should be marked as such for two reasons:
So the reader knows the blogger has some interest in recommending the product, and
so the reader knows they can reward the blogger for their good recommendation by using the affiliate link instead of going to the merchant themselves.
But wait, isn't that turning bloggers into sleazy, corrupted sales-droids?
Not if you apply common sense on both sides: Bloggers should only review products they really like and that they can vouch for. After all, they have a reputation to defend.
As an example, I blogged a while ago about some cool science fiction books I love. I didn't earn much from the affiliate links (read: nada), but I don't care. The important thing is to stay honest.
Because readers have their BS filters always turned on and they recognize if they're reading just a cheap money-making sales pitch or if they're reading the account of a genuine user and fan of the product.
If both the reviewer and the reader are cool about that, clicking affiliate links are a good and free way to give back to your bloggers.
So, the next time you read a product review and decide to go for it, thank the blogger for pointing you into the right direction by using their link to buy the stuff. It's that easy.
Which is another free and easy way to give back. Just check out if your favorite blogger has their own Amazon Shop, a "recommended stuff" list or any other affiliate way of letting you buy what you want while leaving something for them, too, and use it.
People sell stuff on the web all the time. Some of them combine blogging, podcasting or other forms of content creation with what they sell, so there's always something in it for you no matter whether you want to buy something, or just consume the free content they create.
For example, Matthew Ebel (affiliate link) is one of my favorite contemporary singer/songwriters. Think of him as Billy Joel 2.0: He produces [great musicy/a> in his own home studio, he blogs, he Twitters, he performs live on YouTube and UStream and he's a great guy to interact online with. You can listen to some free music from him or become a Matthew Ebel VIP like me and get music, albums, and other goodies all year long! (yep, another afflink).
Other cool people create their own T-Shirts and other merchandise. For example, everyone's favorite geek web comic xkcd has its own store, featuring books, prints and of course t-shirts. Other cool t-shirts can be found at Questionable Content's store which is another cool webcomic. Even "regular bloggers" have their own t-shirt shops, as an example, Andreas recently created some cool new Tees (German).
Hmm. Maybe I should start doing "Constant Thinking" T-Shirts?
If you like what I blog, consider buying more from Sun and Oracle - and let me know, just like Bernd did a while ago. That'll make both me and my boss happy :).
My old trusty Las Vegas travel guide included a whole chapter on Tips: They say it stands for "To Insure Proper Service".
Still, some people feel kinda awkward when tipping, especially on the web. There's no need to: I worked in a bar before and I can tell that everyone loves tipping!
I know Flattr is trying to lower the tipping barrier for bloggers, but there's already a way to tip web creators and it has been there since more than a decade:
It's called PayPal.
In fact, many cool blogs, podcasts, personal websites and other outlets of web creations include a neat little PayPal button so fans can tip them with the click of a button.
Some people give their PayPal donations a purpose. For example, one of my favorite podcasters, Tim Pritlove, asked for donations so he could afford a German flat rate train ticket that allows him to travel around and continue recording great episodes of Chaosradio Express with interview partners from across the country. He even got some more so now he can use the extra donations to equip his podcast studio for the benefit of other podcasts he produces.
POFACS, another German podcast centered around alternative computer systems is accepting PayPal donations, too. Check it out.
Tipping is good, especially on the web.
If tipping is not personal enough for you but you still want to express your gratitude in a tangible way, here's another nice possibility, again available since more than a decade ago:
Many bloggers have them, so why not check them out? You can tell from their wishlist what gifts would help them become better at what they do. So by choosing what you give them, you can also help them do more of what you want them to do. Again, everyone wins.
For example, Johannes Schlueter, one of my colleagues at Sun, is a MySQL developer and the release manager of PHP 5.3. And he's a blogger, too. Johannes has an Amazon Wishlist that he features on his blog and if you want to thank him for his work on MySQL, PHP 5.3 or his blog, now you know what he'd like to have!
Granting wishes is cool.
Of course, if you see that Flattr button and for some reason the other 10 options above aren't for you, then hit it. After all, the important thing remains to reward creators.
The real reason that Flattr exists (and more so if it proves to be successful) is the following: People are not doing enough of the 10 things above, especially not enough of the last 4.
Good content should be rewarded so authors are more motivated to create more good content, that is the issue to resolve.
Flattr is trying to lower the barrier to doing that for everyone who didn't consider other options before. Which is a good thing. But remember that Flattr will also keep a 10% fee for keeping it alive.
Now, you know 10 ways to help, and you get to decide where to put those extra 10%, too.
What's your take on Flattr? Do you still think there's a need for such a service? Or would you instead opt for one of the alternatives mentioned above? What other ways of Flattr-less flattery can you think of? Feel free to use #1 (Feedback) or better yet: #2 (Comments) and let me know your thoughts on Flattr!](http://matthewebel.com/main/music/)