Sun-Times to put bitcoins on trial

Sun-Times signThis is a test. This is only a test.

For 24 hours on Feb. 1, visitors to suntimes.com will be invited to participate in a social media experiment using a new kind of paywall technology to access content.

They’ll be asked either to donate bitcoins (a form of digital currency) as micro-payments or tweet about the Taproot Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that brings professionals together with other nonprofit organizations on a pro bono basis. Proceeds from the experiment will benefit the foundation.

Billed as the first mainstream trial of such a system, it’s being watched closely by technology experts. “Make no mistake about it, the eyes of cash-strapped publishers around the world will be affixed on their Chicago competitor,” Michael Carney of pando.com wrote Tuesday. “If the Sun Times’ BitWall experiment bears fruit, expect to see it duplicated elsewhere. Both the publishing and the bitcoin ecosystems would be better off for it.”

Sun-Times parent company Wrapports LLC is working with BitWall, a San Francisco-based content monetization company, on the test, which may turn out to be more difficult to explain to readers than its tech-savvy champions realize.

Typical of the jargon that accompanied announcement of the trial was this statement from Josh Metnick, chief technology officer of Wrapports: “Using this frictionless payment technology in concert with BitWall’s software allows us an innovative feasible micro-transaction and time-based access revenue models.”

Jim Kirk, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Sun-Times, was clearer in explaining that the one-day paywall won’t stop readers from accessing the website for free. “It’s not a hard wall,” he said. “We just want to see whether something like this is viable going forward.”

The last effort by the Sun-Times to maintain a metered paywall in 2011 failed.