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The concept of community ownership of the community keeps some people up nights, but it really is working for online communities.
Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang has a brief interview with Ellen M., a member of the Chicago Elite for Yelp, which is a location-based review site. (Yes, Yelp is already active in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.) Ellen is not paid for her reviews, does not accept special treatment from the businesses she reviews and the perks are modest (a couple of Elite party invites a year and some reverse publishing). So why does she do it?
She tells Owyang: “I love to write reviews, but I think the social networking and interaction with yelp friends is what really compels me to continue. There are certain yelp reviewers who are so entertaining that I could probably spend an entire afternoon reading their stuff – way better than television.”
Ah, shades of Clay Shirky’s “cognitive surplus.”
Ellen concedes that to become an Elite member, a newbie would have to spend a lot of time writing reviews, but says that for her, maintaining her status does not take much time at all. She’s what we’d call a community catalyst.
The key, of course, is that it’s all social. The doing (writing reviews) is not as important on the individual level as the connecting (being seen as an expert, building social status).