Coil Deal Boosts Functional Blockchain — And XRP

XRP-powered Coil could put crypto transactions into the hands of tens of millions with WordPress deal. But will it take?

The excitement over how much blockchain could do has always been outmatched by what little blockchain does do. But that may finally be changing. 

Today, the San Francisco-based blockchain startup Coil announced a new integration with WordPress, the dominant publishing engine on the Web. It means that website creators could get blockchain-metered payments, whether the content is free or behind a paywall.

Better still, users, currently accustomed to giving up their private information to unknown cookies, will have that personal information protected. They could even enjoy WordPress-powered sites advertising free.

This is a big deal because, well, WordPress is big. According to an W3techs survey in April, over a third of the Web is published using WordPress software. Among those sites using content management systems, WordPress has 63.3% market share — number two Joomla has just 4.1%. WordPress version 5.4 has been downloaded 27 million times and counting. So yeah — it’s a huge opportunity. 

Coil’s technology notes when a user visits a Coil-enabled site and apportions a payment to that site, paid out in cash or crypto currency — specifically in XRP. 

That this could be the biggest use of XRP outside of the global payments company Ripple is no coincidence. Coil’s founder and CEO, Stefan Thomas, was Ripple’s chief technology officer until mid-2018  — Ripple being the biggest user of XRP to this point. Coil was backed by Ripple in 2018, which participated in a reported $4 million dollar seed round and then, in September 2019, tossed in a massive investment of one billion XRP tokens (and to be clear, I’m hopelessly conflicted reporting this story as I once worked at Ripple. To be equally clear, as of this writing I don’t own any XRP.)

To facilitate paying website owners, Coil is also announcing a new crypto wallet partnership with San Francisco-based Uphold, which boasts of trading in sixty currencies and having deals with banks in thirty-five countries

“Publishers and individual creators are seeking new revenue streams,” Thomas said in a release. “At the same time, consumers are suffering from site-by-site subscription fatigue and the invasive privacy issues associated with ads. With the introduction of the Web Monetization plugin and more payout options for publishers and creators around the globe, our goal is to provide more choice and less friction for everyone.”

That might be the goal, but one more payment option is surely more friction, at least at the start. And to be sure, this isn’t a deal with every site using WordPress. Indeed, it doesn’t appear to be a deal with any site using WordPress. This is more of a hunting licence, allowing Coil to try to convince content creators to hitch their wagon to Coil, if not XRP. 

“I’m all for writers getting paid,” says Lou Kerner, longtime analyst and founder of Crypto Mondays. “Is this a good use case for blockchain? Sure. The problem is the revenues generated from this are de minimis. Not many people, at the end of the day, care about privacy. Facebook and Google remain the winners.”

Thomas is obviously taking the opposing bet: that users will pay for privacy and, should the company ever get traction across multiple paywalls, pay for the convenience of signing up for a single subscription to multiple sites. 

And from a wider view, if Coil succeeds it would signal the success of blockchain itself. The conversation about blockchain is almost always about the trading of an asset, the movement of a price, a squiggly line going up or down: “the roller coaster ride” in cable TV parlance. That conversation is rarely about the use of decentralized networks. 

But Ripple has begun to crack the ice in the world of global payments. As has Chronicled in life science. As has Braintrust in freelance technology talent. Coil’s new WordPress deal could prove to be a big step advancing the cause of functional blockchain. 

“Blockchain is still like the days of getting around the internet without a browser,” says Kerner. “You could do it, but not many people did. The on-ramps and off-ramps for blockchain are still to hard. Maybe Coil will help change that.”