On payments, content, and new kinds of work

Back in 2014 something simultaneously nerdy and amazing happened. A sub-train on twitch.tv hit 800 people during which Lirik streamed a newly released game for almost 24 hours.

If that sentence doesn’t make much sense, you’re not alone. Let’s unpack what happened:

  1. Twitch.tv is a platform for watching people streaming video games, brought by Amazon for $970 million.
  2. Lirik is a popular video game broadcaster
  3. A sub-train is an unbroken stream of people subscribing to a channel. It’s worth noting that subscriptions are monetary.

Yeah but games are for nerds, why should I care?

Because the peak in subscriptions coincided with the release of a new feature on the platform — the ability to subscribe to a channel using a wide variety of gift cards, like Subway for example.

Twitch has made paying for content as easy as possible. They’ve iterated the number of available payment options multiple times.

Again in mid-December 2015 they increased the gift card option to include over a hundred major brands:

“100+ major brand gift cards. You can now buy channel subscriptions by trading in popular brands such as Walmart, Starbucks, Target, Best Buy, Gamestop and more. Because who doesn’t have a few unused gift cards lying around?” http://blog.twitch.tv/2015/12/pay-for-channel-subscriptions-with-major-brand-gift-cards/

There are two reasons why I’ve been watching this development for over 18 months now — the future of payments and the future of work, so let’s dive into them.

1. The future of payments

The big innovations in the mainstream are often started off by niche services, and what’s happening on twitch feels like classic niche and long-tail economics. In the hands of the mainstream it could get even more exciting.

With my developer hat on, the services that twitch appears to be using are very interesting.

It’s always fun to speculate about the future, and I have plenty of questions as a result:

  • Are there any startups in EU doing this?
  • What’s the transferwise of gift card redemption?
  • Presuming this takes off, is someone going to build an app to streamline the giftcard-to-subscriptions process (connect your gift-card to twitch, twitter, FT.com, etc) and make subscribing a one-touch experience?
  • Or rather, is someone going to build a digital wallet to do all of this, with cash, bitcoin, gift cards, etc?

One of the most popular and understood commercial models for startups involves subscriptions.

Whilst many startups, including Somewhere, rely on enterprise packages to boost their revenue, it’s not hard to imagine that a streamlined payment solution involving gift-cards would increase the conversion rate for cheaper, on-demand subscriptions.

Still, I suspect that paying for content using gift-cards might be the fastest way for this to get to the mainstream.

Paying with gift-cards to access and support content online seems like it would remove some of the mental barriers around those kinds of transactions. After all, gift-cards don’t feel like real money, and they’re often gifted as presents.

Going back to my days as a games developer, I know from experience that offering as many localised solutions for payment always improves conversions.

So much so that game-specific gift-cards became the norm, and didn’t take long before you go into your local store and could pick up gift-cards for titles like Moshi Monsters, or World of Warcraft.

Now imagine that happening for internet giftcards. Wouldn’t it be a great way to start paying for things online?

2. The future of work

Time and again on Somewhere we tell ourselves that the future of work is already here. Work has altered beyond description, and our job is to document those changes.

Lirik is a broadcaster who has worked hard to build his community. He’s reluctant to show his face, something rare on a platform where the majority of broadcasters regularly using a face-cam. He’s also managing a large, and excitable community, just like many startups.

How many people do you know have to deal with the problem of fans donating too much money? There are times on stream when Lirik struggles with a viewer sending multiple donations of $500 or $1000 at a time.

He’s struggled with burnout too, eventually deciding to take one day a week off — streaming for over seven hours a day, seven days a week, clearly took a toll.

With my Somewhere hat on, I can see yet another example of how messy work is becoming. There’s no way to represent what someone like Lirik does using the tools that we have at our disposal. A CV/resume couldn’t accurately describe the many skills that a streamer needs in order to establish and maintain their brand, manage a community, balance their work and personal lives, and make a living.

Here’s what work sharing looks like on Somewhere.com:

It might seem as mundane as it is messy, but sharing pictures of what you do at work really is a better way to tell people what you do all day.

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