Image by Harmoney via Flickr
I’ve written before about Dan Schultz’s thoughts on recruiting participants in online communities. In a Friday post at MediaShift Idea Lab, he tackles it again. This time he’s writing about giving back to the folks who are graciously creating free content for you.
Schultz argues that giving credit isn’t enough, and he recognizes that media companies cannot afford to pay cash (at least not to everybody or for long). So, he asks, why not borrow from the World of Warcraft model? Participants earn clout the more they participate and the better their contributions are, and that clout lets them do things better and easier.
His theory relies on an automated system that tracks this stuff and can recognize or assign value to a person’s work. I don’t believe artificial intelligence is there yet, but as our Information Architect Matthew Manuel tells me, “Annette, you and I won’t see ‘I, Robot’ in our lifetimes, but you’d be surprised what a good piece of software can do.” So we’ll assume that it can be done someday.
The comment thread that follows tackles the appropriateness of the example and the dangers of creating an “in-group.”
Clay Shirky does an excellent job of outlining the known pitfalls of group behavior and why a core group with powers to defend the community is a must. See my post “Group think.” I think he’s right; the core group of activist users should have rights that lurkers do not.
And I’m not bothered with the WoW comparison, and I’ve never even played. There’s nothing wrong with pop culture metaphors, says this former features editor. If journalists/newspapers/TV news are going to survive, we cannot be snobbish. It’s just not a good way to connect with our audiences.
There’s concern, though, about applying the model to public spaces created in the public interest. Then again, other voices have posited the radical notion that there’s nothing particularly democratic about the Web, and don’t delude yourself otherwise. Digg being a primary example.
The ugly underbelly of user-generated content, the thing the media industry has been generally dancing around, is that companies making money off UGC contributed for free could be seen as, er, unscrupulous. Editor N’Gai Croal suggests “The Internet is the New Sweatshop” in a post for Newsweek. Croal concludes that “as long as so many of you are willing to work for free, the proprietors of these virtual sweatshops will happily accept.”
I believe that, to build thriving online communities, we must embrace a core group of activist users and recruit them to not only contribute but protect, by giving them some tools and rights to help control poor group behavior; that we come up with a system for users to earn rankings and rights; that we must not choke the conversation by speaking down to the community from a central or expert position. Yes, we can be part of the conversation, but it’s from a “we’re in this together, so tell us what you need” position.
Thanks to Matthew Manuel for the Croal link.
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