Can Online Financial “Smart Accounts” Have Children?

by John S. James, 2007-01-01

1. Reproducing Accounts Will Support New Business Models

Widespread ecommerce makes possible online financial accounts that could reproduce when their owner wants them to — creating “children” accounts that can inherit dozens or hundreds of services, options, automatic actions, or other customization. Owners may change the children accounts, and these “mutations” will be inherited in turn — allowing accounts to evolve toward financial arrangements most useful and attractive to people. New accounts will be born ready to use, inheriting successful innovations from different people throughout the ancestor tree. They will offer highly customized user experiences, so much so that users may not even recognize them as accounts.

Such radically new “smart accounts” that reproduce, inherit, and evolve will make possible many new business models, as we show on this site. We focus especially on ways to help artists, writers, and other creative people make a living from their work, without the hassles of copy protection and today’s dysfunctional corporate marketing of digital art and information. And fundraisers should check our list of 20 incentives for donors, some of which are entirely new.

Apparently no such accounts have ever existed. But today it would be straightforward to create them — and to introduce them worldwide, even with no prior base of users.

I have no proprietary claim for any of the design or ideas on this site, and publish them rights-free for anyone to use.

2. Example: Independent Artists

Instead of charging end users, sell sponsorships to anyone in the world.

Imagine the difficulty of getting 100 people to each pay a small amount online — like 50 cents to download a song, video, poem, or other work by non-famous artists. How much easier to get one sponsor to contribute $50, allowing the other 99 to download free with no hassle, just a click! Then 99% of the audience will need will no money, registration, or account of any kind. And their act of free downloading itself will instantly pay the artist — an additional incentive to fans.

Sponsors will buy to support the artist, support a cause, create gifts for their friends to use and share — or to deliver their own message to anyone who uses a download they paid for (a uniquely targeted audience defined by a particular song or other work). Sponsors may bid or otherwise compete with each other to get their messages out, increasing the income of the artist.

Each sponsor will receive the prepaid free downloads in a “smart URL” (Web link), easy to email and share through social networks. Anyone who clicks the URL will reach its download/payment page, which will offer prepaid free copies if available — and can always sell single copies, or be recharged by new sponsorships of any size. These URLs need never expire but can circulate indefinitely through social networks worldwide, receiving sponsorships from anyone so moved, and automatically paying the artist whenever a free download occurs.

Sponsors will be able to name the smart URLs they buy (for example,, or accept a random name (probably all numbers, to facilitate telephone entry if desired).

The download/payment page will accept credit cards, PayPal, etc. — and can rewrite its ecommerce instructions in any number of supported languages, so the creators, sponsors, and end users of digital art and information can all speak different langauges and still do business. Anyone could buy one, a few, or thousands of copies to give to friends and networks by email — and could automatically get the money back for any downloads not used by a date the sponsor sets.

Smart-account transaction processing costs will be very low (estimated at less than a tenth of a cent per financial transaction), with negligible startup costs for new artists’ accounts. Since end users will just click to download free, and sponsors will use standard ecommerce, there is no need for any critical mass of users — greatly facilitating uptake, as this system will work about as well for the first artist who tries it as for the millionth.

Copy protection will be largely unnecessary, since pirate copies must compete against legitimate free copies that do pay the artist — easily established as preferable. Fans will seek out networks where free copies exist, encouraging additional sponsorships by supporters of particular Web sites (since free access can attract traffic). Sponsors will have many incentives to make their gifts more meaningful.

Smart accounts will greatly increase the flexibility and ease of implementation of this software for artists and other online information providers. Also, they will enable end-user account owners to create new applications by changing existing options, with little or no need for new programming at the server. And when new services are needed, these can be added even while the accounts are live and in public use — usually with no need for an upgrade, and no effect at all on existing users. So smart-account systems can start small and never be finished, but continue growing indefinitely to meet changing needs.

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