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Flattred yet?

Last week, Flattr went from beta to full release. You don't need an invitation for it anymore. Not that invitations were hard to get or anything. But now all you have to do is sign up.

In case the buzz went past you (which, despite the Comixtalk and BoingBoing coverage, is pretty likely for non-Europeans, statistically): Flattr is the newest of several sites (Kachingle being another) combining the regular Web 2.0 "like" button with a tip jar. So you don't just give your thumbs-up; you make it pay, too. Peer-to-peer patronage, if you will. Flattr was co-founded by Peter Sunde, formerly known as "one of the guys behind the Pirate Bay". (A fact a lot of commenters seem to have issues with. But I won't get into that here.)

Here's how it works, roughly: Every month, you pay a certain amount to Flattr (at least 2 Euros), then spend the rest of the month clicking your peers' Flattr buttons. (If you don't click any sites, the money goes to charity. Either way, it'll go. It wouldn't work otherwise.) At the end of the month, your 'stock' will be shared among all the sites you 'flattred'. The more you clicked, the less of it they get, but that's okay - it just means there are more people on Flattr to spread your clicks over, and they're all spreading their 2€ just like you are.

From what I hear, the beta phase has been quite successful for some sites. In Germany, some heavy bloggers and at least one major newspaper made hundreds of Euros. A lot of webcomics people use it, too, and from what I hear on Twitter, they're very enthusiastic about flattring one another. It's too early to say anything conclusive about the system, though - several bloggers have installed it "just to see if it works", but don't seem to have come around with any results yet. Blogger Giorgio Fochesato started an extra blog about his experience, but that was only two months ago.

Me? I'm still having my doubts.

I haven't tried it yet, so bear in mind that I'm watching it from a distance here. (If you have any Flattr (or Kachingle, or whatever) experiences to contribute, feel free to do so in the comments section.) I like the general idea, and I'll probably check it out when I got my new site up, at least for a limited time.

But I'm not so sure that the math really adds up.

The people most likely to profit from Flattr are the ones with a large, web-savvy following. The rest of us may end up being that web-savvy following rather than having one. Granted, €2 a month isn't much, and even a small amount of Flattrers may get that back for you. But if all the people who participate also have their own Flattr buttons, only a fraction of these people will make a profit. Especially considering the 10% fee Flattr takes out of the profits.

It could work for everybody if enough fans join, supporters in the literal sense who don't see their Flattr contribution as an investment. But so far everybody I've heard talk about it expected to get something back from it. If most or all flattrers turn out to be site owners, the Long Tail will end up paying for the Short Head.

Which also means the Long Tail may get even longer and, pardon the pun, flatter from it. The further down that slope you are, Flattr may make it even harder for you (i. e. more expensive, by up to 2€) to move up.

This may sound as if Flattr is only helping the same old "winner" sites, and several critics have pointed that out, but this isn't exactly true, either. The Long Tail of Flattr isn't necessarily the same as, say, the Long Tail of Amazon. After all, Flattr caters to behaviors you're more likely to find in the bloggers' community. Flattr and the likes may well help shift internet profitability from already successful companies to more diverse sites, to a certain degree. Probably better than a regular tip jar, too: Since everybody who joins Flattr also has to contribute, the incentive to actually click the buttons is much stronger.

There is a good chance Flattr will work for a lot of people, at least better than the current (advertising, tip jar, micropayment) systems. But I doubt it'll work for everybody.