The Tweet Paywall

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If it's true that attention is a scarce resource, drawing attention to something ought to be worth something, right?

That's the idea behind a service that soft-launched this summer called PayWithATweet. It allows you to stash a piece of content (say, a website or an e-book) and only allow access to it after a user has tweeted something about it. In other words, it's like a paywall in which you pay by tweeting about something.

I encountered for the first time today in accessing Steve Daniels' book about Kenyan craftsmen, Making Do. Tweeting about the book (with my own verbiage) got me a digital copy of the beautifully illustrated book for free.

The "social payment system" was developed Leif Abraham and Christian Behrendt of the firm Innovation Thunder, who released the system in June when they put out their own book, Oh My God What Happened and What Should We Do?

The stats they compiled about using their own system are pretty good. After eight weeks, their book had been downloaded 113,000 times and they'd sold 1,300 copies on Amazon. It became a Twitter trending topic twice, and the only promotion they did for the book was Tweet a single time, "This Book helps you move into the Digital era of awesomeness. Download it for free" with a link to their site.

So far, 2,500 people have signed up to use Pay With a Tweet, but their own book remains the most successful use case. Abraham and Behrendt said that outside of authors, DJs and musicians appeared to be having the most success with the system.

So, cool idea? Yes. I love transactions that occur outside the money economy; your non-currency resources are shown to have a real value. On the other hand, if everyone put their content behind Tweetwalls, Twitter would really start to look like a mess.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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