Last Updated Sep 9, 2009 10:36 PM EDT
This elusive vision appears one giant step closer to reality tonight with the news that Google is developing just such a platform and that it expects to launch it -- inside Google and out -- within a year.
In a response to an RFP by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), the search giant describes its plan "to create a simple payment model that is painless for users....(and)...a successful e-commerce platform for publishers."
The company provides a flow chart (reprinted here) and goes on to describe a "premium content ecosytem with a number of features:
â€¢ Single sign-on capability for users to access content and manage subscriptions.
â€¢ Ability for publishers to combine subscriptions from different titles together for one price.
â€¢ Ability for publishers to create multiple payment options and easily include/exclude content behind a paywall.
â€¢ Multiple tiers of access to search including 1) snippets only with "subscription" label, 2) access to preview pages and 3) "first click free" access.
â€¢ Advertising systems that offer highly relevant ads for users, such as interest-based advertising.
The key part of the eight-page document as it pertains to micro-payments is this one:
"While currently in the early planning stages, micropayments will be a payment vehicle available to both Google and non-Google properties within the next year. The idea is to allow viable payments of a penny to several dollars by aggregating purchases across merchants and over time.
"Google will mitigate the risk of non-payment by assigning credit limits based on past purchasing behavior and having credit card instruments on file for those with higher credit limits and using our proprietary risk engines to track abuse or fraud. Merchant integration will be extremely simple."
For a more detailed analysis of this development, I'd recommend a visit to Zachary M. Seward's excellent post at the Nieman Journalism Lab site.