Imagine a Web without clutter. A Web without flashing banner ads. Imagine with me, friends... Don't misunderstand me; I'm not naïve. I know that someone has to pay for all those helpful Web pages. I just think that perhaps a better payment model--one talked about quite a bit 10 or so years ago but never adopted--might be better overall. Instead of relying on Web ads to drive revenue for content-bearing pages, let's look seriously at micropayments.

The idea with micropayments is simple: Right now, most of the content on the Web is free to read, so long as the banner ads don't drive you crazy. In a micropayments scheme, one or more companies would offer Web-based technologies that would let any Web site put a button somewhat like the all-too-convenient “One-Click” button on Amazon pages on any or all of its Web pages. Surfing to a Web page containing some interesting content would reveal some, but not all, of the information on the page. If you wanted to read the rest of the page, you'd click the “make a micropayment” button, which would transfer money from you to the owner of the Web page.

"What's the big deal," you might ask. I think it's safe to assume that anyone reading this online column buys stuff on the Web all the time, so how would a “micropayment” be easier? A successful micropayment scheme would, I think, incorporate two aspects: ease of use and a small-payment-friendly format.

The ease-of-use part is easy: Implement something along the lines of One-Click--assuming that there's a way to do that without invoking the wrath of Amazon. As I'm not a lawyer, I'll just say that for a micropayment system to be successful, it should have no setup overhead on a page-by-page basis. For example, suppose I put together a 10-page monograph on the A-to-Z of repairing user profiles, and put it on my Web site with a micropayment button on the page. You find the page through a Google search, read the first two pages for free, and decide that you'd like to read the entire article--for which I'll charge you $0.50. Here's where it gets tricky, though--what must you do at this point to complete the transaction? If you had to jump off to some other page and create an “account” on my Web site to pay $0.50, I'm pretty sure that 80 percent of would-be buyers would just say, “The heck with it.” To be useful, the micropayments system would have to be something you'd set up just once. I'd also set up the micropayments system as a vendor, as would many other Web sites. Thus, if you had, for example, purchased an article from the Windows IT Pro Web site in the past, and if the Windows IT Pro Web site used the same micropayments system as I did, then you'd be ready to go--just one click and, probably, a login, and I'd have the half a buck and you'd have the information.

A micropayments system must also be “micropayment friendly.” In the real world, it would be silly of me to use something like Paypal to collect my 50 cents because of the way that Paypal charges e-merchants 30 cents up front per transaction and some percentage thereafter. In other words, you wouldn't be paying me for the profile-repair information, you'd be paying Paypal. I think that's important because I don't think micropayments can work unless they're small. I mean, you can buy a 1,800-page book that I wrote on Windows Server 2003 for about $45. At about 250 words per page, you're paying about a hundredth of a penny per word for the book, so what would you expect to pay for 10 pages? I'm not sure if it'd be 2 cents or 50 cents, but I'm pretty sure that most people wouldn't pay 10 bucks.

Okay, entrepreneurs out there, whaddya say? Micropayments: The time has come.