• United States
News Editor

Time is money: Here’s one way to get paid online

Nov 21, 20054 mins
Enterprise Applications

A recent column about paying for online content – and stubborn opposition to same – prompted a reply from Lance Walley, co-founder of a company called FaceBridge Research.

“Maybe I’m weird, but I’m amazed at how many people think anything, really, should be free,” Walley writes. “Nothing is produced for free, at least not with any regularity.”

Walley’s not weird and his point isn’t an academic one: FaceBridge is pushing technology that promises to let anyone easily charge a per-minute fee for one-to-one, voice and video access to themselves over a VoIP or instant-messaging network. The first iteration runs atop Apple’s iChat AV with plans afoot to support Skype and Windows AIM. One-to-many capabilities are also on the drawing board.

“We see our technology as a natural for almost any professional who’s paid by time but who has to invoice separately today,” Walley says, citing lawyers, computer technicians and “life coaches” as examples. “Automatic record-keeping, billing and payment for that 12-minute phone call has to be better and more efficient than current systems.”

If you want to check out an example of the technology, visit, where a growing collection of content providers are making their services available.

The concept sounds enticing, but it is the potential of extending the model from one-to-one to one-to-many communications that has Walley most excited.

“Pay Per View is something everyone understands, but it’s currently reserved for the very special and the very rich,” Walley says. “If you’re a small garage band with 500 fans in L.A., you can’t possibly do a PPV via Comcast. But what if you could set up your Webcam and broadcast over ‘xyz’ IM/VoIP network and charge your fans? And this could be done even if you’re doing a live performance somewhere. . . . Now, before you think this particular app is oddball, just ponder the following words: iTunes/iPod, MySpace, Murdoch. Music grabs people.”

The FaceBridge concept is by no means fully baked.

First of all, the initial focus on Macintosh, however defensible from a technology standpoint, does prevent a sizable portion of the company’s potential audience from participating in the test drive. The founders promise that the version for Skype and Windows AIM will not be far behind.

Potentially more problematic is the matter of processing credit-card payments on the back end, an extraordinarily expensive proposition, especially for a fledgling company. To recoup those costs, FaceBridge generally takes a 25% cut of the fees paid to those offering services on The goal is to knock that down to 5% or replace the cut with a nominal connection fee.

Finally, there’s the seemingly obvious question about a certain kind of service – nudge-nudge, wink-wink – that might find its way onto a one-on-one video network.

“Everybody immediately associates us with porn,” acknowledges Tom Mornini, co-founder of FaceBridge.

While FaceBridge has no desire to referee what happens in the privacy of its customers’ Web browsers, it’s clear that the company has a larger purpose in mind for its patents. And besides, the porn industry has done quite well billing customers without the help of these guys.

Fast start for TimesSelect

While on the subject of paid content, get a load of the early returns regarding The New York Times’ closely watched TimesSelect offering: about 135,000 individuals have ponied up $8 a month or $50 a year to gain online access to the paper’s lineup of columnists and other goodies. Because the company did not provide a breakdown of those subscription options, we cannot tally the revenue precisely, but suffice to say we’re talking millions. Not bad for less than two months into an experiment that critics have had great sport ridiculing.

Sending e-mail to me remains free. Same goes for my replies. The address is