Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

WoW’ed by the model June 30, 2008

Filed under: community,journalism — contentninja @ 5:12 pm
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WoW Screenshot 3-24-2007 10-28-18 AM

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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4 Responses to “WoW’ed by the model”

  1. David Says:


    I cant say that I agree with this argument in the least.

    Forgive my bluntness here however, it’s fine and dandy to say “we’re in this together” and give “a system for users to earn rankings and rights” but in the long run, Croal is bang on correct. Corporations with take whatever they can and not pay, or offer the least amount of compensation that it’s insulting to the creators.

    Sure, you may get kids that live with their parents offering up snippets of content and be satisfied with being the big man or woman on the site for a while. They will eventually get to the point where they need to feed their families and pay the bills and will want to be rewarded with more than just a “hey that’s great” comment or a nice little pat on the head. Right when that happens is when they are cut loose or they leave and that great content is gone along with them.

    Of course, that is no matter to a company looking for UGC. There will always be someone right around the corner willing to give up their creativity for free to be king-sh*t for a day.

    Pay people what they are worth and you will have loyal contributors. Don’t and you will have a revolving door.

    Cynical? Maybe. This is just the opinion from a content creator who gave away too much for free in the past however now gets paid to do what he loves most. My bonus is that along with that money, I get those nice pats on the head too.

  2. contentninja Says:

    Hi, David. Nice to hear from you.

    Yes, you are being cynical, but I understand that those feelings are informed by your personal experience. Don’t let past frustrations make you bitter; celebrate that you attained your goal — a paying job in which you can put your video skills to use. I’ve known so many people who never figured out what they wanted, and without a clear goal, they couldn’t achieve success. So — hot damn — you did it!

    Now, that being said, how about some constructive feedback based on your past experiences. Croal asks: “Yet is it really a sweatshop if none of the workers is complaining?” We know from research that many people who contribute say they like being seen as a local expert. I’m guessing that in the beginning you contributed for free because on some level you enjoyed it.

    What changed the experience for you? When did it stop being OK for you to contribute for fun and a little credit? Were the places where you contributed clear about how folks would be credited or compensated? Did they make money off your work?

  3. David Says:

    Goals. Yes…there is reason for everything that I do. I rarely do anything unless there is a point to it. Creating and editing videos for myself, while enjoyable, gave me the opportunity to be where I am now. I was being cynical because I get a sense someone is trying to justify getting free content and not paying for it.

    Just because no one is complaining doesnt make it right to take their content for free and then turn a profit from it. Most dont know the value of what they’ve done or do they know the money that is being made on their backs. Would you do your job for free? You invested a lot of time and effort to have your abilities and you should be paid for the work that you do. Credit or “Internet Power” doesnt pay the bills or put food on the table. The thing is that people should be paid for their talent. While I have never created video for someone else for free, I have allowed other sites to embed my own videos on their own site with certain restrictions.

    For myself personally, I create content for my site. Yes, people can visit my site and view everything there for free however my video host provider (actually, any video host provider) is turning a profit through advertising hosting peoples videos. I opt out of that model as I don’t put ads on my videos.

    So, really nothing has changed for me. I’ve never given away my work and I’ve never contributed to someone else’s profit for credit or a link back. I firmly believe in paying someone for their talent and the product they produce. Anything less is simply an attempt to take advantage of people.

    For what’s it’s worth…just my opinions.

  4. Matthew M Says:

    I built websites for free in the past and ended up a sucker because of it. I won’t do it again.

    That being said, I believe assigning rank and profile through comments and content contribution ratings from the community might be a plausible model in the beginning. The model has to be monitored however or it turns into a high school popularity scenario and a lot of juicy good content will be left by the wayside. I believe if we let the people create the communities we also let them control the sister and sub communities therefore the cool kids can hang over here and the geeks can hang over there and all is well. As developers and admins we can mash the geek stuff with the cool kid stuff and hopefully figure out what everyone wants.

    One thing I find to be enlightening is that some of the cool kids I know have the most content heavy Facebook and MySpace pages I have ever seen. My geek friends tend not to spend much time in those spaces. So have we converted the jocks into geeks or will it always be about popularity? Either way I could care less because content is being created and shared and now we can figure out what to do with it.

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