How to Use Cryptocurrency on Popula!

A demonstration of tipping a Popula author, from our friend David Moore, editor of Sludge

Using crypto on Popula is a cool and fun, low-stakes way to try using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. Popula’s tipping feature directly benefits the writers and artists whose work you enjoy; use our commenting feature to join in the conversations on Popula. This guide will help you get started.

To use these features you’ll need some ETH, or Ether, which is the cryptocurrency of the Ethereum blockchain network. You can buy ETH in various places; reliable exchanges include Coinbase, Kraken and Gemini.

OR! Perhaps you are a Popula reader with a paid Popula Reader or Galaxy Brain subscription (if not, please subscribe here!)

If so, we’re offering a free chance to join the wild world of space jewels. It’s fun! Just send us your MetaMask wallet address to receive $2 worth of Ethereum cryptocurrency (ETH)! MetaMask is a crypto wallet that fits in your browser, and takes only a minute to install via

Ethereum can be described as a more sophisticated version of Bitcoin, with which it shares some features. Popula uses ETH for a number of tasks, for example archive our work permanently on the Ethereum blockchain. We believe that blockchain technology offers journalism many potential benefits, aside from its power as an archiving tool.

We plan to use cryptocurrency to make direct and valuable connections between publications, journalists and readers, as we’ll be demonstrating over the coming months, starting with a tipping system for our authors and artists, and a system for commenting on Popula stories.

What is cryptocurrency?
What is Ethereum?
What is MetaMask?
How does Popula use cryptocurrency?
How do I leave comments?
How little, or how much, can I tip a Popula author?
How does the Popula author get my tip?
Are there transaction fees for this service?

What is cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency, or crypto tokens, often called just “crypto,” are media for conducting transactions on a blockchain. Bitcoin, the first true cryptocurrency, was launched in January 2009; it has had an interesting (and at times harrowing) history. Since then, blockchain technology has exploded in many directions; though it’s still too new to have many practical applications for the average person, blockchain is already in wide use in banking and industry. Popula is lucky to be one of the very first journalism projects to use this technology for the benefit of individual readers and journalists, as well as benefiting journalism and press freedom in a broader sense.

A simpler way to think of crypto, as readers can use it on Popula, is like airline miles, or cell phone minutes: a form of scrip, but one that is especially designed for you to use in information-related transactions.

What is Ethereum?

Ethereum is a public blockchain, like Bitcoin, but it’s designed to operate more complex systems than Bitcoin was originally designed to do. The token generated on the Ethereum network (just as bitcoins are generated by the Bitcoin network) is called Ether, or ETH. Popula uses ETH for creating permanent archives, and for facilitating small tips to our authors, even tips as small as a few cents; we also use ETH for our commenting features. We have many additional benefits for journalists and readers planned using this currency.

ETH has some features that are like ordinary money. Unlike ordinary money, ETH exists on a peer-to-peer network of many thousands of computers—the Ethereum network—rather than in a bank account or as physical cash. The Ethereum network generates ETH, and all ETH transactions are permanently recorded on the network’s blockchain.

When you buy ETH, which you can do with a debit card at an exchange such as Coinbase, Gemini or Kraken, it will be put in a wallet for you. You’ll hear a lot about wallets of various kinds in the crypto world: there are hot wallets, cold wallets, paper wallets and hardware wallets. For Popula, you’ll be using a super simple MetaMask wallet that goes right in your computer’s browser.

Each crypto wallet comes with a unique “public address,” which you could think of like a P.O. box; a specific storage spot to which you have private access. In other words, anybody can know the box number, and send you things there, but you alone have the key to get inside.

To send ETH in or take it out, you use the wallet’s public address, which will look something like this:


You can generate as many wallets as you want, and it’s easy to transfer ETH between them.

Your “private key” is like a private mailbox key. You don’t need it for putting stuff in, but to get anything out, you must have the key. This is the part where you need to be careful, because nobody (including you!) can get into your wallet without that key, which is a random-looking string of characters, something like this:


Note that each wallet has its own private key. Be extremely careful with your private keys and the “seed phrases” you’ll also be using to secure your crypto accounts. Don’t ever store these private keys or seed phrases on a computer or email them anywhere, not even to yourself.

Best practice: don’t ever even type or copy or duplicate private keys or seed phrases onto a keyboard, scanner or printer. DO write them down on a piece of paper and keep the paper in a safe, memorable place. Lots of people store an extra copy of their private keys in bank safe deposit boxes.

Even if you’re starting out with a trivial amount of crypto, it’s not a bad idea to get into safe habits.

What is MetaMask?

MetaMask is an easy to use, elegant, and just generally terrific browser-based wallet system that we use at Popula for pretty much everything crypto-related.

Download and install MetaMask in a matter of seconds at After installing it on your browser, start MetaMask by clicking the wee fox icon in the top right corner of your browser.

Once you have your MetaMask account, you can send some ETH to it from your exchange account at Gemini, Coinbase, Kraken or other exchange account.

Now you’re ready to use crypto!

So how does Popula use cryptocurrency?

Popula uses cryptocurrency for a number of things, like making permanent archives of our stories on the Ethereum blockchain. To our knowledge we are the first publication in the world to achieve this, through technology provided by our colleagues and benefactors at the Civil Media Company.

Also, you can directly compensate Popula writers and artists whose work you like using crypto. At the end of every Popula story, you’ll see a box for leaving tips. It takes a matter of seconds, once you’re set up. Amazing! 100% of your ETH tip will go right into the writer’s or artist’s private crypto wallet.*

The tipping box looks like this:

How do I leave comments?

Subscribing Popula members can also use ETH to leave comments on Popula stories, if they wish. Popula restricts commenting privileges to subscribing members only, and collects a small ETH fee: The equivalent of five cents (5¢) USD per comment. These measures discourage spammers, trolls and Cambridges Analytica from messing up our conversations.

How little, or how much, can I tip an author?

You can tip the crypto equivalent of just a few cents, if you’d like. There’s almost no limit to how large or how small your tip can be. You’ll see the USD equivalent of your ETH tip amount, and the transaction fee, in your MetaMask window before you confirm your transaction.

How does the author get my tip?

Popula’s writers and artists register their own private wallets through their Popula author profiles. If an author doesn’t pick up a tip within 60 days, or if the author has declined to participate in the Popula tipping system, your tip will be refunded to your wallet in full.

We’re encouraging all Popula writers and artists to set wallets up, because we’re designing this system so that anyone who publishes work at Popula will be eligible to receive cryptocurrency tips from readers for as long as the site is online.

Are there transaction fees for this service?

You’ll pay a very small network transaction cost for sending Ethereum out of your wallet, usually a matter of a few cents; these fees go to the Ethereum miners who maintain the network’s computers.

*Correction: This page was amended 5/10/19 to reflect new FINCEN guidance indicating that Popula cannot take a commission on crypto tips; they must go directly from readers to authors, so that’s how we’ll do it.

Questions? Comments? Please write to for help, and thank you so much for visiting us.