NYT’s media writer David Carr in the Sunday Feb 13th times, “At Media Companies, A Nation of Serfs,” says that contributing content for free to the Internet via social networks or blogs (like HuffPo) make the landowners rich, while the content-creators, or “serfs,” don’t reap any rewards. He probably means direct “financial” rewards, as in, bloggers at HuffPo don’t also get to cash in from the sale to AOL, but there are many other rewards that contributions to social networks generate, including indirect financial rewards.
I hear this refrain often, sometimes in Silicon Valley, but usually outside: “Why should I tweet?” or “Why should I write answers on Quora?” Here are some reasons why, in the form of non-financial rewards:
- Pleasure: There may be emotional rewards to contributing content on sites or networks, such as seeing your name on the Internet.
- Representation: Some networks are designed in such a way that a user could feel comfortable pointing someone to their profile in a professional context (see: LinkedIn).
- Education: A user can learn from others’ feeds.
- Connections: This is the main driver of social networks creating lasting incentives for “serfs.” Users have to feel that they are making meaningful connections in real life, and that those connections could lead to the unknown in the future.
- Opportunities: Interaction on social networks may expose the contributor to opportunities before others, or before competitors.
- Platform: After using a platform for a while and garnering a following, a user can use that following to blast out a message, ask for information, and other activities that he/she may not have been able to do earlier. That luxury comes with time and comes with using the platform in such a way that others feel compelled to follow the user.
So, in response to David Carr — who does note that having 300,000 followers on Twitter is good and can lead to other opportunities down the road — I would say that content contributors are indeed “serfs” if they go into an action with the assumption that there will be either an immediate and/or direct benefit. However, contributing to social networks could in the long-run lead to a host of non-monetary rewards for the user, some of which could later be converted into indirect financial rewards.