September 1998: Millicent LIVES
Millicent was developed by Digital Equipment Company at their Palo Alto Research Center. What will happen to it after the COMPAQ acquisition isn't clear. Millicent is a way to let web users send from a fraction of a cent to a few dollars by clicking on a web site button.
The mechanism is complicated but using it is very simple. You charge up a wallet with a few dollars (which is entirely refundable) that is good for one or several sites. You can use any payment method you like: cybercash, credit card, a 900 number phone call, or sending a check in the mail. That money goes to the broker. The broker has arrangements with the site owner.
The software includes a way to let you buy some site scrip easily. I omit the details.
A user comes to the site, and is offered a chance to go further: say a dime gets you into the rest of the site. Options might include a couple of dollars for a subscription lasting from hours to months. All this is set simply by the site owner.
The reader can "negotiate" by making a counter offer: say nine cents when the browser asks for a dime. If the site owner has set his system to accept 9 cents, then the transaction is completed. A coded message is sent from your computer to the site owner; that is accepted; and 'change' is sent back to your computer. Your 'change' is now worth what was in your wallet less what you just spent. It can't be spent but once through mechanisms I won't describe. You are unlikely to hack the encryption, which is strong.
Other site owners may make cooperative arrangements whereby scrip from one site is good on another; it's anticipated that this will happen a lot.
It can get more complex but the point is that the transaction costs for Millicent are tiny, literally in the order of a thousandth of a cent, so that transfers of small amounts of money become feasible.
Dvorak and I still intend to use it for a lively debate available weekly for a dime. We haven't got things set up because
It's Pournelle's Fault
Actually, the real fault is that DEC never got a broker.
LATE NEWS: the Compaq purchase put Millicent on a way back burner and it may not happen at all, in which case the Dvorak/Pournelle site will be sponsored. We may also have some kind of mild subscription system, but I don't know how it would work. We will make it easy to get to, you may be sure of that.
And all that was written before the BYTE fiasco. Sigh.
News as of September 1998: Millicent LIVES!! They have a broker in Europe, and expect to have a US broker in 1999. Millicent is not dead! It's coming, and when it does, you'll know.