I've been reading some of the links to my previous post on the topic of Jason Calacanis's offer to pay top users of sites like Digg & Reddit to switch to using Netscape's news site. In posts like Anil Dash's Digga Please and Ian McAllister's Do Contributors Want To Turn Their Hobbies Into Jobs? I see an agreement that users should get value for their contributions to the online community. However there also seems to be an undercurrent of disdain towards the idea of financially rewarding users who create popular content. This ignores the reality of how media and content generation works in the world today, both online and offline.

First of all, I think both Anil and Ian are muddying the discussion my making it seem that the argument is that all people generating content on the Web should be motivated by money. I think this is a straw man argument and has little to do with the point that Calacanis is trying to raise. The fact is that the popularity of media/content and creators of content tends to follow a power law or exhibit a long tail effect (depending on which buzzword tickles your fancy). The top tier of musicians, artists, bloggers, authors, etc capture a significant amount of the audience for that market. This is usually described as the 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle. These popular content creators are often professionals even though their fields are full of millions of amateurs and semi-professionals who write, play music, take photos, etc either for their own personal edification or just to share with friends and family.

Take blogging as an example, even though most blogs are focused on describing their personal experiences to a relatively small audience of readers the list of most popular blogs is dominated by professionals who make money from their efforts. Below is the current list of top 10 blogs based on incoming links taken from the Technorati Top 100 Blogs List.

  1. 老徐 徐静蕾 新浪BLOG
  2. Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things
  3. Engadget
  4. Daily Kos: State of the Nation
  5. PostSecret
  6. Thought Mechanics
  7. Gizmodo, The Gadget Guide
  8. The Huffington Post
  9. Techcrunch
  10. Lifehacker, the Productivity and Software Guide

Almost every blog on that list is run by professional bloggers who are either directly paid to blog or make a lot of money from the ads running on their blog. So even though, bloggers are primarily individuals who blog to share thier experiences with friends and family without expectation of financial reward, the most popular bloggers are those who are actually in it for the money. And on the Web, since popularity (i.e. page views) directly correlates to how much money one's online service makes via advertising, it makes sense to court and cultivate the kind of professionals that generate popular content. 

The problem I had with Ian & Anil's posts is that they seem to imply that there is something wrong with getting paid for doing what you love. But the fact is that if you got paid to pursue your hobby then you could do it all the time and would get really good at it. A lot better than those who only find time to do it in between their nine to five jobs. That's the the primary difference between a professional and an amateur; the amount of time and focus one can afford to devote to the task at hand.

The interesting question for me is whether sites like Digg are immune to the 1% rule or not. When I used to participate on Kuro5hin it was clear to me that a small set of users determined the focus of the site even though there were thousands of users who could vote on stories and rate comments. It was also easy to see how the direction and the topics covered by the site would change as certain cliques of users left the site. Digg looks to me to be just like Kuro5hin with a slightly better UI and a different community. I would be surprised if both sites don't face the same kind of issues when it comes to small sets of users dominating the content and focus of the site despite Kevin Rose's protestations that this isn't the case


Categories: Social Software
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