Swedish startup Flattr has been running its ‘online tipjar’ service for a few years now, and yet it’s failed to gain much traction. However, it’s now taking a new direction that may finally make it click with a mainstream audience.

Until now, Flattr has allowed users to pay money into an account and use it to tip money to content creators whose work they appreciate by clicking a button on their sites. The ‘chicken and egg’ problem was that despite support from the likes of Dailymotion and Wikileaks, publishers generally didn’t want to add the buttons to their sites until Flattr had enough users to make it worthwhile, and users didn’t want to put money into a service that wasn’t widely supported by the sites they visited.

Now Flattr is circumventing the need for its own buttons by monetizing Twitter’s Favorite, Instagram’s Likes and similar actions on some of the most popular social sites.

Here’s how it works: you sign up for Flattr and put a regular monthly donation into your account. You link up your social accounts to the service and then simply use them as normal – ‘liking’ or favoriting on Twitter, Instagram, SoundCloud, 500px, Vimeo, Flickr, App.net and Github (Facebook isn’t supported yet). Then at the end of each month, your monthly donation is divided up between everyone you’ve liked, with Flattr taking a 10% cut.

Screen Shot 2013 03 18 at 12.05.47 730x518 Flattr now lets you make money from your Twitter Favorites, Instagram Likes and more

Of course, to claim the cash, the people you’ve liked will need to be Flattr members. For the time being, the startup is relying on its users to spread the word that others may have unclaimed funds, but it is working on an automated notification system for launch in the future.

Risky business?

Flattr is calling its new direction “the simplest and most accessible microdonation system ever,” and it’s certainly a more compelling product than the previous one. Still, monetizing actions on third-party sites is both a smart move and potentially risky one.

‘Get cash for being ‘liked’ is a simple, accessible concept’ but one that some of the services being used may not take kindly to. Twitter in particular has been tightening its grip on the ecosystems around its core service of late, and the idea of money changing hands around such integral parts of their services without them being in control may not sit too comfortably with them.

Users, meanwhile, may have some adjusting to do – suddenly, everything they ‘Like’ has a monetary value. Will they change their online behavior as a result?

Flattr was launched in 2010 by Linus Olsson and Peter Sunde (yes, he of Pirate Bay fame), although Sunde is no longer directly involved in the company. The startup has so far raised €1.6 million ($2.1 million) in one round led by Passion Capital.

Note: This story initially said that Facebook was supported by Flattr. This is not true (yet) and the post has been amended for clarity.

Image credit: AFP / Getty Images