January 28, 2007

Fame, fortune or passion?

What motivates users to volunteer their time and effort to create content for companies which profit handsomely from it?

I'd put the reasons in three buckets: fame, fortune or passion (or any combination of the three). Fortune primarily motivates full-timers and small/big firms creating content for promotion/marketing. Fame and passion, I think, motivates most other users, e.g., those making home videos, suggesting stories on Digg.com, contributing articles on Wikipedia, etc. As the novelty of the practice ebbs, users' contribution may also slow down, especially from those driven by fame .

CNET is now experimenting with a system that will reward its bloggers based on the number of clicks their posts get. I welcome the move. I strongly believe that everyone in the ecosystem should be compensated. I'd be eagerly watching how many bloggers, especially seasoned traditional journalists like Mary Jo Foley, a veteran tech journalist who covered Microsoft, join such ecosystems. PodTech recently interviewed Mary Jo on her switch from a full-time job at Microsoft Watch to a freelancer participating in CNET's new initiative.

Sites like Digg.com, which rely solely on its users' participation, should be rewarding its "diggers," at least the most active ones who spend hours every day to surface up popular and interesting stories, for free, while Digg's valuation has soared to $200m by some measures.

I don't agree with the argument that a reward system would be counter-productive, and will adversely affect the quality of user participation by creating wrong incentives for them. I believe checks and balances can be put in place to maintain quality (e.g., thru the algorithm).

Jason Calacanis, while re-launching AOL's Netscape.com along the Digg model, created a stir last summer when he suggested paying $1k/mo to its most active users. Calacanis withdrew the offer - maybe the idea was still too alien at the time - but CNET's experiment above suggests that change is on its way.

And now, YouTube, the biggest success story for a firm that derived almost its entire $1.65B value from its users' efforts, has announced that it'll start sharing revenue with its users. Chad Hurley made the announcement at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday.


Jason McIntyre said...

Hi Sab,
Great discussion on the merits of rewarding user participation. A digg related post was made at TechCrunch quoting Digg founder Kevin Rose ... "the steps Digg has taken to fight spam and gaming of their system".

I agree with you that there has to be ways to reward your most active users especially when they helped build Digg to that $200million valuation.

Jason Richman said...

I think some interesting new models will emerge from the user-gen phenomenon. Take a look at what Gather.com is doing to differentiate itself in the community space (Gather.com).

Excerpt from their about page…
“Gather makes money by displaying advertising to people who use Gather's services. So it just seems fair that we share our advertising revenue with you based on the quality and popularity of the content you contribute. We'll share even more revenue with you if you use the site actively, exploring content that others write, searching on Gather and on the web, and inviting your friends, family, and colleagues to use the site. You're rewarded for your site participation with Gather Points™ you can use to purchase goods and services from Gather partners. And members who consistently publish great content and participate on the site can even earn cash.”

Randy Charles Morin said...

I like to call those that create content for YouTube and Wikipedia the bored generation. They have tremendous amounts of free-time. When I was 10-20 yrs old, we had to do the dishes by hand amongst many other chores done today more efficiently. With this extra free time, kids are looking to be entertained and be creative. YouTube and Wikipedia give them an outlet without having to spend money or even leave their bedrooms.

I would add one more reason to your bucket; boredom.