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.