Diggers will find a way to get paid

(Cross-posted from my media blog)

If nothing else, Jason Calacanis did one thing while he was running the revamped Netscape.com: By hiring away some of the top users at Digg, he ignited a debate about whether to compensate the top submitters to a “social media” site. Digg co-founder Kevin Rose said that he would never pay top Diggers because it would ruin the open and social nature of the site, and I tend to agree with him (I wrote about it here and here).

But now, according to Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests, some of the top Diggers have found other ways of getting compensated — including getting paid by companies under the table for submitting their pages to the social-media site. Several top submitters have reportedly been approached by companies to submit pages in return for money, and have done so. Some have been paid per submission, others on a kind of retainer, and some have received bonuses if a submission makes it to the front page.

bribery.jpg

This kind of thing is even more underhanded than PayPerPost, the company that pays bloggers to write about clients, but doesn’t require them to disclose it. But Tony says that some of the Diggers justify their illicit salaries by saying “If Kevin Rose isn’t going to pay me for my time, maybe someone else will.” Tony says that this reminds him of Third World countries where government officials take bribes in part because they are paid so little to do their jobs.

All of this tends (although I hate to admit it) to support my friend Rob Hyndman’s contention that top Diggers should be compensated because what they do is effectively work, and that Jason Calacanis recognized that and rewarded it (Rob’s thoughts can be found in the comments here, and in his post here). My argument has always been that Diggers get rewarded in other ways that are non-financial — they get bragging rights, for example, and the admiration of their peers, which in some cases is worth more than money.

But Rob’s point is that this shouldn’t preclude them getting paid as well. And obviously, some top Diggers agree, to the point where they are willing to take what amount to bribes to submit things. To some extent, this is probably inevitable — if there is a system, someone will find a way to game it. My friend Muhammad Saleem, who is a top contributor to Digg and also a paid contributor to Netscape, has some perspective on this phenomenon that is also worth reading.

Update:

Steve O’Hear, who writes a blog on social media for ZDNet, wrote something asking whether Digg users should be compensated, and then submitted his piece to Digg. It got about 90 Diggs and 40 comments, and made it to the front page — but then it suddenly disappeared.

Jason Calacanis, ex-Netscape supremo, comments on the Digg payola story (finally). Ane now he’s paying people $100 for evidence of Diggers who are being paid by marketing companies.

20 thoughts on “Diggers will find a way to get paid

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  5. I think the point you miss is that the top diggers and Netscape Navigators are doing social bookmarking for *HOURS* a day.

    This is not a simple hobby for them… it’s work. Now, they are passionate about the work for sure, but passion doesn’t pay the bills.

    Kevin Rose is a very bright and talented young man, but when it comes to this issue he is a) wrong and b) he will change his position. It is so obvious that the top social bookmarkers are skilled individuals who deserve to be paid. Why shouldn’t they get paid for going out and finding great stories to share with the community? That is what editors at magazines and newspapers do!

    In fact, that is what the Netscape Navigators remind me of: GREAT EDITORS! They have the sense of what is hot or interesting, and they know how to package it.

    Kevin will change his mind in 2007 and digg will come up with a way to compensate these users. It might be with Google Adsense on their profile pages, it might be with a reward system (think, a free iPod for every 50 stories on the home page–hey, that’s a good idea!).

    If Kevin doesn’t pay them digg will a) lose their top users to Netscape and other services willing to pay people for their hard work and b) digg will have the forces of evil come in and bribe the top digg users–like they are doing now.

    I’ve had multiple people come to me and tell me that they are paying top digg users, but that this didn’t work with Netscape users because we are paying them already and those users know that Netscape would fire them if they did take a bribe.

    That being said, it is possible (if not probable) that someone will bribe (or has bribed) a Netscape Navigator. Fraud happens. However, the second we (I mean they… I don’t work there anymore!) find out about it they will fire the person for breaking the code of ethics.

  6. I didn’t want to use the word “bribe”, but I’m glad you did Jason 😉

    Netscape’s situation kind of reminds me of what goes on in certain cities with dirty cops; the reason why you pay them a good salary is so they’re not as tempted to go crooked.

    When you don’t pay them anything, and you don’t respect what they do for you — well, you’ve made your own bed.

    Time to lay in it, I think.

  7. But taking money for submitting and promoting links on Digg actually violates Digg TOS. And Kevin Rose is free to delete any account – even that of a top user (for no reason at all) – if there is a hint from someone that this user violates Digg TOS. So why does not he do it?

  8. #1) he’s got no names
    #2) a mass deletion of accounts would only lead to another group of 20 or 30 to rise to those positions and potentially do the very same thing.

    The issue isn’t one of security, but a sense of fairness and compensation — in how the digging community has been treated, and how a competitor is willing to pay real money for the time spent in this hobby.

  9. Thanks for the comment, Jason. Just for the record, I am leaning towards your and Rob’s argument that what Diggers and ‘scapers do is “work” and that it perhaps should be compensated in some way — even if it’s just the top 10 — and that this might encourage others to work in such a way.

    Of course, it will also encourage gaming and bribery, but then that apears to be happening anyway. Sometimes, economies form whether we want them to or not.

  10. My guess is that a number of experiments and models will play out, and Jason is and will be known as an early innovator in the emerging “social news industry.” Like many other online phenomena, it began as a free wheeling and spirited foray into the void, building on the fantastic online tools that have fueled this “web 2.0” phase that we’re now… digging, for lack of a better word!

    I believe that the new Netscape is an early model for what most online news publications (including MSM) will look like — a hybrid of “original” content, featured content (by admin/editors), and popular content as voted on by the audience.

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  12. Why not just give the person who submitted the link/story to Digg a portion of the advertising revenue generated by that submission?

    I know AdSense offers channels to track ad placements, how hard could it be for Digg to approach AdSense and tell them that they will be modifying the AdSense code only to add the submitters name in an extra field so they can track who brought in what?

    They could further modify it so that only frontpaged stories share revenue.

  13. That’s a good idea, Steve. But Kevin has said that he doesn’t want to introduce compensation of any kind because it would distort the social nature of Digg. I wonder whether this will help to change his mind.

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