Ever since I read Reinventing Comics, Scott McCloud's deeply flawed book on webcomic theory, I have been convinced that someone would make micropayments into a serviceable method of web funding. In theory, it makes perfect sense: If everyone who read a New York Times article online paid a half-cent, to use an overly simplistic example, the Times might not have suffered the financial difficulty it's been living through for the past few years.
One of the big problems about micropayments is that, basically, everyone—content providers, content consumers—would have to agree to start doing them at the exact same time. I wrote a books lead a few months ago about a couple of books that had ideas for micropayments and the web. One of the ideas floated in one of those books is that the government would have to get into the paywall business.
A new company, Flattr, is trying to make micropayments into the next big social thing. Here's a video explaining the service:
The social aspect is clever, but I'm not sure it's going to be the thing to break micropayments into the mainstream. The last things blogs need is one more goddamned badge at the bottom of every post, for one thing, and for another thing, the payer doesn't really get anything out of it but goodwill. If there was some way to make micropayments pay off for the giver in prestige or social standing, this could be a huge deal in social networking. I don't think Flattr is necessarily the future of micropayments, but I think the future of micropayments could look something like this.