Dan Gillmor breaks down the exploitative side of participatory culture

Dan Gillmor on the Center for Citizen Media blog writes about the good and bad about online group-based participation.

The good happens when community is created and supported:

People do things for many reasons, but it’s always about getting something of value back. The value may be a psychic reward of doing something good for someone else. It may be ego. It may be money, or the ability to save money. In community-driven websites it may be contributing a tiny bit of effort to something that gives the overall community, and thereby individuals, great value. Usually it’s a combination.

The bad happens when the work of some is exploited by others, such as :

the tendency of site owners to rely on free labor. The method goes roughly this way: “You do all the work and we’ll take all the money, thank you very much.” …

You are invited to translate the site into another language, because you are such a generous person. If you are a badass programmer, however, you are invited to apply for a job and make some actual money.

… If you are generous enough to do this kind of work for free, please consider doing instead it for a nonprofit site of some sort. Please don’t be giving away your time to mega-wealthy media barons.

Even when our intent is to make things better for ourselves and our online community, mega-wealthy media barons are often making money from our labor (see MySpace). Giving away our labor is what we (those who use the internetz tubes) do everyday when we rank items on Amazon or Netflix, and participate in MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites, improving their services. But at least in these cases, participants get something positive out of it, even if they don’t get paid for their efforts.

Comments (1)

Michael Arrington’s been complaining about Facebook using this strategy lately, but as the comments below that post point out, it’s been around for a long time.

I’ve been watching them work it out on LibraryThing for the last few months – for small sites that make it clear they don’t have the staff or money to do such things but do want to make themselves useful, it seems to work pretty well. They have recently hired a translator for Hindi, which they hadn’t been able to figure out with the group translation work. As they make clear in their Hebrew language post, enthusiasts can help them expand in new areas very quickly, but also take on projects that aren’t financially feasible. There’s a whole group devoted to translation issues too, helping to make it very collaborative.

I think it bothers me on sites like facebook a lot more than sites like LibraryThing, simply because facebook is becoming so much more commercial and impersonal, while LibraryThing continues to be very open to user feedback (even checking on site design issues). Where is that “taking advantage of the user” and where is that showing respect for the user?

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