Photo courtesy of blaugh
All the internet is abuzz this morning with the latest post by Netscape Chief Jason Calacanis offering to pay the top 20 users of a number of social networking sites $12,000 a year to join and contribute to Netscape’s newest foray into social networking and news via a digg style process.
Hmmmmmmm… very interesting and tempting. I’m not sure how Jason Calacanis hopes to quantify who these top 20 users of these sites are, but since I had (see comments) the most dugg story ever on digg and 18 other front page stories and at least according to this list recently making the rounds at Flickr Central I’m one of the top 20 Flickr all stars, then I think maybe he just did offer me a job. I’ve yet to hear from Jason directly on this but this certainly does make one think.
So my reaction? I like this idea but I’m not quite sure it’s being executed in the best possible way. Certainly I think Jason has a point when he recognizes the value that top users have to social networking sites. It is our content, our labor, our effort that do in fact count for a lot of the most popular content. But something about agreeing to contribute to a social networking site just for the money feels kind of, well, icky. I’m not sure why. I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s not that I hate money. I have, after all joined FM Publishing and do make money (and more than $12,000 per year) from the ads that John Battelle’s team finds for my blog.
I can kind of see both sides of where Calacanis is coming from and where those who think this is a bad idea might be coming from. Michael Arrington called the idea a “huge red flag,” and says AOL has a mess on their hands.
Here is where I think Jason’s got it wrong. Just flat out paying people (even when they are worth it) for contributing to social networking sites fails to correctly understand why people contribute to social networking sites. Trust me, we don’t do it for the money. Even if paid $12,000 a year for the labor that I have put into social networking sites over the past year, I’d be making far, far, below minimum wage. Over most of the course of the last year I’ve probably put at least 40 hours a week into Flickr alone. Yep, the equivalent of a full time job. And what was I paid? Zero directly. Although I did have some opportunities arise out of my popularity on Flickr, including an opportunity to do freelance photography work for San Francisco Magazine (that’s my shot on the cover of the “Best of San Francisco” this month) as well as my current position of Chief Evangelist for Zooomr.
But these were indirect economic benefits and were never my intention when I started contributing heavily to Flickr.
A little over a year ago Caterina Fake, one of the co-founders of Flickr, wrote a post in reaction to an article by Anil Dash called “The Interesting Economy”. So, if you think Jason is the first person to suggest paying users, he’s not, go back and read the interaction between Anil and Caterina. In Caterina’s response to Anil’s suggestion that the most talented Flickr users were not getting a fair economic shake, she pretty much hit the nail on the head on why people contribute as they do to Flickr. It’s the attention.
“What is more pleasant than the benevolent notice other people take of us, what is more agreeable than their compassionate empathy? What inspires us more than addressing ears flushed with excitement, what captivates us more than exercising our own power of fascination? What is more thrilling than an entire hall of expectant eyes, what more overwhelming than applause surging up to us? What, lastly, equals the enchantment sparked off by the delighted attention we receive from those who profoundly delight ourselves? – Attention by other people is the most irresistible of drugs. To receive it outshines receiving any other kind of income. This is why glory surpasses power and why wealth is overshadowed by prominence.”
But while attention is probably the overriding primary motivation for users of social networking sites you still cannot discount Jason’s point. Top users are valuable. But I think that to offer just outright to pay these top users pure cash somehow insults their efforts. I think it says this is what you are worth when we all know that these people are worth far more. Their time, passion, energy and expertise are worth far, far, more.
So how *do* you have your cake and eat it too? How do you attract the top social networking users to your site without making them feel bought or cheap. First off, build the best damn social networking site you can build. Listen to your top users and find out what they want to see. What features do they want? Are they feasible? Then build them. Get to know your top users personally. Validate them. Let you know you are listening to them and make them feel important.
But beyond this I think there are little ways to reward them economically without outright directly paying them.
Recently at Zooomr we instituted a program where we will give free Zooomr Pro accounts to bloggers. It’s been wildly successful, the linked post above already has well over 600 comments on it. Why did we do this? Are we trying to buy bloggers? No. We did this because we recognize that bloggers are influencers and that if they try Zooomr we think that they will like it. And if they do like it and write about it then this is super super cheap PR. I think we come out ahead economically by doing this. So while we are not paying bloggers directly. When we can offer them something in trade this is a fair deal to do.
Webshots right now has a program where top users can make poster type prints and other merchandise available of their work for sale. This is brilliant. There are folks on Webshots actually making meaningful income from this program. But this is tied directly to the content that they are producing and that people are buying. I think these are more the types of things you should look for from social networking sites. What else should a photo sharing site do for their top users. Print sales, stock photography sales, merchandising (mugs, t-shirts, etc.), all of these tools should be made available on an opt in basis to your users. And I hope to implement more of these types of programs at Zooomr in the future. Programs where instead of paying to belong to a photo sharing site you can instead be paid — but programs where you can be paid directly in ways that are tied to your labor and contribution.
So while I’m not exactly crazy about Jason’s idea as outlined and I don’t think I’d take him up on his offer (if
he’s even really offered me this opportunity). I appreciate the fact that Jason is bringing this topic up and appreciate that it can lead to a broader discussion about how to treat the top talent in the brave new world of social networking.