About a month ago, Stripe unveiled their Stripe Connect product. The reaction has been somewhat muted because, quite simply, people don't yet understand why it is important but I believe it is going to be looked back upon as one of the Web's big turning points, and Gravity Forms is well-placed to be part of that.
Essentially, Stripe Connect is an API that allows you, with the press of a button, to give any website permission to accept payments on your behalf - much like the way you can press a button to use your Facebook identity to join a website.
This means that a website set up to allow thousands of users to list, say, second-hand video games or babysitting services or anything at all, could allow each user to be paid directly into their own Stripe account.
That would be all but impossible with older-style systems such as PayPal - you would have to accept all the payments into the site owner's account, work out who was owed what and then get hit with a second round of fees as you arduously sent each person what they were owed. It would be a nightmare, and that is before you even think about the headache of dealing with disputes - it would be the site owner's account, so, ultimately, he would be responsible for everything.
WordPress' historical importance is that it makes the Internet's original promise, of opening up communication, accessible to more people, lowering the technical barriers. The ability of one WordPress site to cater to many authors, or even an entire community, extends that accessibility even further because only one member of that community needs to handle the technical stuff.
Stripe does something similar to WordPress, essentially offering the advantages of a merchant account without the cost, hassle and technical barriers. Stripe Connect, in turn, mirrors WP's multi-author/community advantage, extending the advantages of Stripe to all users of a site, each using their very own Stripe account, but with only one required to master the technical details.
With the right plugin, suddenly a WordPress site owner could, for example, run a listings site on which his users can not only list but, also, sell anything (products, services, bookings, downloads etc), without the owner having to take on the legal or financial liabilities and headaches of being an intermediary in the transaction. The money goes directly from buyer to seller via Stripe, with the possible option of Stripe kicking back a percent or so to the site owner, but the risk and relationship remains between Stripe and the sellers, each a Stripe account holder in their own right.
This has the potential to be hugely disruptive. At a stroke, it blows away that the technical advantage of big sites such as Airbnb (who charge guests an outrageous 15% and owners 3% of the entire booking cost) and opens it up to every WordPress site owner, operating at a base cost of 2.9% + 30c per transaction.
In the short-term, the potential is not going to be obvious to many people but, in the longterm, it means that most of the $2.5bn valuation of Airbnb, and many other venture-funded websites, evaporates into thin air. That value will, instead, re-emerge spread out across a new generation of smaller websites - in the same way that our content consumption used to mainly depend upon an elite top hundred websites but is now spread out across almost 60m WordPress sites - and that will massively re-invigorate online commerce across the world.
Gravity Forms already has basic Stripe integration thanks to the third-party Gravity Forms + Stripe plugin by Naomi Bush and Stripe Connect integration would certainly be a major added selling-point for her commercial Gravity Forms + (More) Stripe plugin. Rather than write directly to Naomi, however, I decided that this was an important enough feature to open up the discussion to the entire Gravity Forms community.
It would be good to see Gravity Forms remain ahead of this wave and I would be very interested to hear what everyone else thinks, please post your thoughts below.
For the curious, this article does a particularly good job of explaining why the democratization of electronic payments is so important:
"Building your own Airbnb just became radically easier, thanks to Stripe Connect and WePay"
Stripe blog announcement: https://stripe.com/blog/stripe-connect
Stripe Connect page: https://stripe.com/connect
Forbes article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomiogeron/2012/10/10/stripe-launches-stripe-connect-to-let-users-accept-online-payments/
Gigaom article: http://gigaom.com/2012/10/10/stripe-accelerates-payment-acceptance-with-stripe-connect/
TechCrunch article: http://techcrunch.com/2012/10/10/stripe-connect/