Paying the users — an ongoing saga


Kevin Rose talked at a conference about a bunch of things, including the “me too-ism” of Web 2.0 companies (he doesn’t want to add tags just because everyone else has them) and the fact that he doesn’t like the idea of paying Diggers. He said: “It’s important to us there’s no outside motivations for submitting content to the site. We don’t want to discourage the people who aren’t getting paid from submitting quality content.” Wired quotes him saying much the same thing here: “It’s very important to us that there are no outside motivations for posting stories to Digg. When something makes it to the front page, the only motivation should be that the story was interesting to somebody, not that they were paid to do it.”

Original post:

Weblogs Inc. founder and current Netscape supremo Jason Calacanis (who I most recently tangled with on this post about Steve Irwin), has posted a memo that he sent out to staff of the Digg-ified site recently, updating them on the performance of Netscape since Jason tried to hire away the top submitters from Digg, Newsvine, Reddit and Slashdot (which I wrote about here).

Needless to say, things seem to be going swimmingly. Jason says that “votes and stories submitted broke records every 2-3 days over the last two weeks,” although there’s no mention of what those records are, “and Netscape’s web pages are growing again.” Not only that, but according to Mr. Calacanis the tide has turned against the critics of his move to pay submitters of links, and now the consensus is that he was completely right and the “top 1% of these community members deserve to get compensated for their time.”

Some folks claim it’s desperate to have to pay the 1%. That’s pure *spin* by people who don’t want to pay other people for their hard work. These folks are the life-blood of these systems and paying them isn’t desperate–it’s smart. Also, paying them does not stop other folks from want to get involved from getting involved.

I’ll leave questions of spin to the spin-meister. I’m not convinced that the issue of paying submitters for their work is quite settled yet. As I wrote when Jason jumped up to confront Yochai Benkler about his theories on social networks, I think there are a lot of questions yet unanswered (Marshall Kirkpatrick has a nice overview of the issues at TechCrunch).

Does paying some submitters change the nature of what the rest do, in the sense that it becomes all about making money — and if so, does that reduce the utility of or the value of the links submitted? I think the jury is still out on that one, regardless of the fan letter that Jason links to at the end.

12 thoughts on “Paying the users — an ongoing saga

  1. For the life of me, I don’t get why this isse – whether or not it’s appropriate to pay contributors – has anything other than historical interest, or as a footnote to the evolution of social media.

    All that is happening is that people are being paid for their work. The type of work may be new, but it’s work nonetheless. And it strikes me that advocates of the view that it shouldn’t be compensated are either (A) waxing nostalgically and lyrically about a time when the ‘sphere was pure as the driven snow, and motivated only by benevolence and the kindness of pixies (so long as it means only other people should work for free), or (B) hoping to keep using the labour of others for free, at least until after the liquidity event.

    It’s work. Others profit from it. Case closed, isn’t it?

  2. I’m not so sure, Rob — that’s why I think it’s so interesting an issue. Is submitting links to Digg or Reddit or Netscape really work that requires compensation? I’m not convinced that it is — or if it is, those doing it might want to let their real employers know, since many are doing it while allegedly doing their real “job.” Some top Diggers have said they aren’t interested in being paid, regardless of whether it’s work or not. Maybe Jason’s comparison to volunteer vs. professional firefighters is an apt one — some do it for the pay, and others do it for other reasons.

  3. Respectfully disagree, The issue isn’t whether it *requires* compensation – the issue is whether it’s OK to do it. Wikipedia will never do it. That’s OK, many people won’t write for Wikipedia because of it, but many still will, enough in fact to make the wiki worthwhile.

    But Jason has been slagged for just doing it. Arrington called it evidence of desperation, and the mob lined, generally calling it untrue to the soul of web 2.0 – pixies and such like.

    But that’s nonsense, pure and simple. Unless a community is sustainable without it (the wikis, eg), competition in the space will eventually favour those who can monetize their community to the point where those make the most valuable contributions are compensated for it. That’s the way the rest of the world works – no reason why this should be any different.

  4. I agree that Jason has been slagged for doing it — but not by me. And the issue as I see it isn’t whether compensation is okay to do, but whether it somehow changes the nature of what is produced.

    No disrespect intended, but I think dismissing any such discussion as having to do with pixies avoids the question rather than addressing it. Do people who create or contribute out of some inner desire produce something different than those who are driven by money? I’m not just talking about Digg or Netscape now but all kinds of user-generated content. I think they do.

    Wikipedia might be “better” in some sense if its top contributors were paid, but it wouldn’t be the same. That’s the point I’m really trying to get at, not whether Jason is right or wrong to be trying to pay people.

  5. Well, I still disagree. Does it change the nature of what is produced? Well, is your work different because you’re paid? Is mine? Is an Olympic ahtlete’s? Is anyone’s?

    Same old, same old. It’s work. Some people do it for money, some don’t. It’s an old story.


  6. Thanks for the comment, John. Okay, maybe “fan letter” was overstating it a bit 🙂


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