A Change(Tip) for the Better


Photo credit: kconnors from morguefile.com

Last week I talked about patronage as a viable alternative to the per-unit model of paying writers and other artists for their works. While writing that post I was mostly focused on recurring payments through a mechanism like Patreon, but that's not the only way to approach patronage. It's not uncommon in life to pay a one-time arbitrary amount in gratitude for something, i.e., to tip someone.

Just like restaurant wait staff and other service providers, creative people can be tipped for their creative efforts too. If you've ever dropped a coin in the hat (or violin case?) of a talented street musician, you've tipped an artist. In the past it has not been very convenient to tip small amounts online, but one of my readers pointed me toward ChangeTip, which makes one-time online tips very easy. Read on for more details about how you can use ChangeTip, whichever side of the tip transaction you're on, and why their approach is more workable (and fun) than other methods.

One of the obstacles to online tips in the past has been the issue of transaction fees. There are other services that allow sending (relatively) small amounts without fees. For example, Dwolla allows sending amounts up to $10 without transaction fees. However, there are obstacles just to get started with Dwolla, including that you must have a bank account, connect it to Dwolla, and verify it before you can complete funds transfers. I really like Dwolla, but for casual one-off tips it's not really convenient yet. (There are other areas where it really shines, but I won't discuss those in this post.)

Another obstacle with online tip services has been the size of the transaction. Just how small can you go? I'm assuming (but have not verified) that you could use Dwolla to transfer a single cent. But what if you wanted to tip even less than one cent? Not only would Dwolla not handle that, but any service oriented around the standard government-run currencies (like the US Dollar) won't handle that.

Ease of use is another critical issue. If a tip process isn't easy, the time and/or hassle cost — added to the financial cost — will make people steer away from it. Tips have to be easy for both the person giving the tip and receiving the tip.

These are all areas where ChangeTip offers a lot of promise. By using off-chain Bitcoin transactions for tracking balances and exchanging funds, they avoid transaction fees for the movement of all funds within their system. By orienting the service around Bitcoin, they make truly tiny tips possible, for those who want to send them. Also by using off-chain transactions, they avoid the problem of excess fees from "dust" collection, which is a problem for tiny Bitcoin transactions on the public blockchain.

ChangeTip is so easy to use that it's actually fun. Once you connect ChangeTip to a social network account (which I assume uses OAuth), you can send a message to someone on that network and include the tip in it. This could be a monetary amount ("hey, Rick, here's that $5 I owe you") or it can be one of a variety of labels that map to monetary amounts (e.g., sending a "biscuit" sends 25 cents worth of Bitcoin, while sending an "answer" sends 42 cents). You can create your own labels if the labels they provide don't meet your need. Furthermore, these messages can be sent on quite a few sites, including Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube, and more.

One concern when connecting to a service like this is whether it is safe to use. The power you grant to ChangeTip is controlled by the sites you connect it to. When you make the connection, you can see what permissions you're granting. All of the permissions I noticed were for public information anyway. For example, if you connect on Twitter, you're allowing ChangeTip to read tweets from your timeline and see who you follow. That's it! You're not granting more powerful permissions. ChangeTip will not be able to follow people for you, update your profile, access your direct messages, change your password, or even post Tweets on your behalf. That makes it a lot lower impact than many services that at least want Tweet permission.

If you want to make it easy to send someone a tip, just sign up for ChangeTip and move some funds into your account. (This is very easy if you already own Bitcoin, since they'll give you a receiving address.) If you want to receive tips, just sign up for ChangeTip and let people know you've done that. It's really simple!

Readers might think my enthusiasm is faked, but I assure you, I have no affiliation with ChangeTip. I'm just a regular user -- but one who sees a lot of value in the service they provide.