My friend and fellow mesh organizer Rob Hyndman has been giving me the gears — in a nice way, of course — from his hammock down in the wilds of Eastern Canada, about my ambivalence over the issue of paying the top submitters to Digg (or Reddit or Netscape or any of the other 35 social networking sites out there). You can read his thoughts in the comments on this post of mine, which jumped off from a memo by Jason Calacanis of Netscape about how well they were doing.
Rob says that submitting sites to Digg — or at least doing so in the quantities that make you a top 10 Digger, although Rob didn’t make that distinction — is work, plain and simple, and therefore it should be compensated, whereas most Web 2.0 networks seem to be based on assuming that “pixies” will provide all their content for free (um, Rob, I think down East they’re referred to as “the wee folk”). I’m not really convinced, though. I think you can “pay” people in other ways (recognition, for example) and I’m not sure submitting sites to Digg qualifies as “work.”
In any case, I think the quality of submissions on such sites — as with other sites such as Flickr — has something to do with the fact that people do it because they *want* to, not because they are paid to. Would the quality of photos on Flickr be better if top photogs were paid? Maybe. But there wouldn’t be the variety, and that’s much of what I (and others I think) find interesting. It’s like artwork or craftsmanship of any kind — there’s something special about it because someone isn’t just doing it to make money.
Kevin Rose of Digg seems to agree. As he said at a recent conference:
Itâ€™s very important to us that there are no outside motivations for posting stories to Digg. When something makes it to the front page, the only motivation should be that the story was interesting to somebody, not that they were paid to do it.
There will no doubt be people out there who see Kevin’s approach as taking advantage of people, a form of Web 2.0 slavery in which someone else makes money from the effort of users. But don’t the people who submit photos to Flickr and sites to Digg and so on get something? Sure they do. Bragging rights, props from commenters, compliments, contacts — emotional payment of some kind. It’s not always about dollars.
Rob has posted some more of his thoughts on the subject on his own blog. And I came across a post by Savio, who brought up something interesting: he compares the paying of Diggers (or Netscapers) to the open-source community, which is discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. Most mature open-source groups have a small core of paid staff, which he calls a “maven trap.” Interesting idea. Scott Karp writes about another case of user-generated content here.