Paying People for Voted-on Content: What’s the Right Model?

Derek Powazek, in Will Post for Money, describes how he thinks the Netscape.com model for paying content submitters is wrong-headed: (Netscape.com is very similar to Digg.com, where people submit stories to be voted on. The big difference between Netscape and Digg is that Netscape is paying people to submit stories…Digg isn’t).

“The secret to success with consumer-generated media is that the community has to feel wanted, important, engaged, and a little in love. For it to work, participants have to feel ownership. And you generally don’t feel ownership of something that pays you. When you get paid, you’re the one getting owned.

I think it’s different for JPG and Threadless because we’re not paying you for participation, we’re paying you for letting us make real products from your work. The difference is subtle, but important, because the participation is still rewarded by all those great humanistic rewards that are more important than money.

The bottom line is, when you found a relationship on getting paid, it never goes farther than that. And the moment the money runs out, it’s over. You knew what this was.”

Derek Powazek, in Will Post for Money, describes how he thinks the Netscape.com model for paying content submitters is wrong-headed: (Netscape.com is very similar to Digg.com, where people submit stories to be voted on. The big difference between Netscape and Digg is that Netscape is paying people to submit stories…Digg isn’t).

“The secret to success with consumer-generated media is that the community has to feel wanted, important, engaged, and a little in love. For it to work, participants have to feel ownership. And you generally don’t feel ownership of something that pays you. When you get paid, you’re the one getting owned.

I think it’s different for JPG and Threadless because we’re not paying you for participation, we’re paying you for letting us make real products from your work. The difference is subtle, but important, because the participation is still rewarded by all those great humanistic rewards that are more important than money.

The bottom line is, when you found a relationship on getting paid, it never goes farther than that. And the moment the money runs out, it’s over. You knew what this was.”

Powazek is the creator of the very fine JPG magazine, a publication that rewards people who submit photos to the site by publishing the voted-on winners and sharing a little cash. This model is very much like the model used at Threadless, where instead of photos people submit t-shirt designs.

Derek suggests that the difference between the two models is subtle and crucial. Here’s how it breaks down:

JPG/Threadless Model

  • People submit their own content(photos, t-shirts) to the site to be voted on
  • Other members vote on the content over a short period of time
  • The site creators choose the lucky winners (taking into account votes, but not entirely)
  • The people whose content is used is given fabulous prizes

Netscape Model

  • People submit public, freely-available content (URLs) to the site to be voted on
  • Other members vote in real-time
  • The most-voted-on content rises to the top of the site
  • A few, select people (known as Navigators) who have shown a proficiency for submitting valuable content get paid just for submitting

The differences seem pretty clear. In the JPG/Threadless model people are submitting their own, personally-crafted content. It’s theirs, and therefore they have an emotional attachment to it. That seems to be what Derek is driving at…they care about the content. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, this is unique content, other people can’t submit it. In other words, nobody could do the same job, even if they were being paid more money.

Also, in the JPG/Threadless model everyone has an equal shot of getting paid, whereas in the Netscape model only those people who have been designated Navigators get paid. Other, talented folks who submit great content are shut out in the cold. This creates a two-class system which will eventually break because the have-nots will eventually want to be the haves.

One important issue that Derek didn’t mention is that despite the fact they’re submitting publicly-available content, Netscape Navigators do have unique skills: the skill of finding and filtering valuable content for others. This skill shouldn’t be downplayed as something anybody can do, because not everybody has that editorial knack that the best diggers and navigators have.

What can Netscape do?

However, the current Netscape, as Derek explains, could be improved upon. How could they do that?

I think the answer is simple. Netscape needs to have a one-party system where contributors get paid based on merit, and everybody has an equal shot at success, just like the JPG/Threadless model. If someone submits a story that turns out to be popular, they should get rewarded for that, even if the reward is little. If someone shows a proficiency for it, then they’ll get paid more. This would get Netscape’s model in line with the JPG/Threadless model.

This model is similar to what other news sites like Newsvine. There, however, you’re paid on the success of advertisements, not by a voting metric. But it is similar in that you’re paid for your own unique content, not on editorializing others’ content.

Another possibility, and one that Netscape might even be implementing, is to periodically change the Navigators based on their recent performance. The faster this change takes place, the closer it resembles the paid-as-you-go model described above.

Not so fast…

Changing something here changes something there…there are several other issues that come into play if Netscape were to make this change. This would increase the incentive for all users to game the system. As has been reported in Digg, folks would try and find ways to artificially increase the votes on the content they’ve submitted. This is a serious issue, and one that isn’t as big a deal on JPG/Threadless because the site owners make the final decision. That said, those sites aren’t pure voting sites…so some issue of editorial bias might come into play.

Opening up Netscape like this would also make it necessary to create a system of micropayments for the contributors. When a story gets popular, the submitter has done their job and can get paid. But how much is a single good submission worth? Probably not much, but it is a non-zero amount so that would have to be paid out. Even though this seems relatively extreme, isn’t this what the Long Tail is all about?

If Netscape could figure out how to keep SPAM low and implement this sort of micropayments system, they could harness the editorial skills of millions without creating a two-class system. If they could create a back-end that accurately tracked the success of contributors, then it could work. After all, somehow Google keeps their Adsense model working in the face of a ridiculous onslaught of spam. It might be possible to do the same at Netscape, and redefine the news as we know it.

Published: October 18th, 2006

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