This is a revival of the micropayments concept first introduced in 1994 by a Dutch firm called Digicash, which developed a solution to the problem of making small payments online. It boasted the geeky merit of being provable mathematically – by a powerful equation embodied in a simple software product.
Digicash's system was extraordinarily elegant. It featured persuasive benefits, such as anonymity for users, bullet-proof security for merchants and no limits on transaction values, ie, it could have been used to make payments of only a few pence or even a multi-million pound transaction.
To make this possible, Digicash relied on its own recently minted digital currency: Cyberbucks. Plenty were impressed by Digicash's apparent potential to short-circuit the global financial system by replacing large, centrally-issued contracts with untraceable private ones.
Sadly, they were the only people who got excited about Digicash. Cyberbucks never talked on, and the company absolutely went bust, despite having a core business in smart cards for governments and banks.
The problem was that merchants hated the anonymity part, hated the alternative currency part, banks hated the competition and Internet users could not be persuaded they even needed micropayments at all.
Meanwhile, giants such as Visa and MasterCard began to pay attention and launched their own products and services for the Web. The rest is history.
But there is a new interest in micropayments that aims to tap the potential for very small online transactions by finally making them economic for merchants. The main problem with such transactions is that fees imposed by banks and credit card companies eat into the whole profit if the transaction is too small.
To get around this, new schemes simply need to batch microtransactions and complete a credit card transaction on a set amount, say, US $ 20. As a merchant, payment from a micropayment service may actually be received for only 1 in 100 completed transactions. The micropayment service will choose when to pay a merchant and how much to pay. If 100 customers have each spent 10 pence at your website, it will discard 99 of those transactions, but then pay out a larger sum in one go.
Therefore, the money paid by those customers will always arrive, even if, day to day, you may find yourself down (or even up) on the sum owed. Companies like Yaga and FirstGate explored these types of features in their content payment solutions, but have a different approach to the setup. FirstGate offers an ASP model where the content provider connects to FirstGate services and do not worry about managing the payment service. Yaga, on the other hand, integrates its technology in a content provider's system and can run the service for the content provider, if required.
Unfortunately, like those precedenting, Yaga and Firstgate have essentially ignored the fact that in terms of demand, no one is really listening.