In my post in response to Kevin Rose’s proclamation about Digg, del.icio.us and Flickr being “true, free, democratic social platforms devoid of monetary motivations”, in which I talked about “the hypocrisy of the Web 2.0 generation”, Flickr’s Stewart Butterfield added the following comment:
“Ian, surely this statement is as dumb as the one you’re criticizing? That can’t be your considered opinion as to the dynamic between, say, Flickr and the people who use it.
There’s a distinction to be made here between some of the Web 2.0 sites and others. Flickr, for example, has value to the user even if you have no other people using it. It stores your photos, makes them easy to find and categorise, and shows them off to the world. In other words, if all I do is store my photos on there, it has value to me. The same is true of del.icio.us: even if I am the only person using it, there’s value to me there as a place to store bookmarks across machines. Of course, both services gain value if more people use them. But, as Bill Gates has pointed out, so does Microsoft Office: the more people use it, the more people can read Office-formatted documents, the more value the product gains as a ”lingua franca“ for electronic document interchange.
The social aspects of Flickr, while great, aren’t necessary for it to have value. It’s an online photo service, and on that level no more or less ”Web 2.0“ than Yahoo! Photos was/is.
Services like Digg and Netscape, on the other hand, have precisely zero value other than as aggregators of user-generated content. ALL they are is an aggregation of content created by users. The vast majority of their value to each individual user comes from the fact that lots of people contribute to it. And yet, up till what we might call ”The Calacanis Moment“ there was no recognition in any meaningful sense that the vast majority of the value of the site was created by the users themselves. Sure, there was lip-service paid to it, but who made the money? Not the people who gave the site value.
While Flickr and del.icio.us are analogous to traditional software services, Digg and Netscape are more like magazines that don’t pay their contributors. They’re the small press of the internet era, with contributors who are expected to ”do it for the love“. But, like all successful small press publications, there comes a point at which you have to stop expecting people to do it for the love and start paying them for the value they add to ”your“ publication.
Kevin’s hypocrisy is this: he’s implying that people should and will continue to do it for love, because they feel like the site belongs to them. Yet, of course, the site doesn’t belong to them – it belongs to him, and he will sooner or later make money from it. You can call that hypocrisy, or you can call it the oldest Capitalist trick in the book. Either way, it smells bad.
So was it fair to lump together everyone who thinks of themselves as ”Web 2.0“ and call them hypocrites? On one level, no: there’s a clear distinction between sites that gain all their value from user-generated content (like Digg) and those that offer a service that would be valuable even if only you were using it (Flickr, del.icio.us).
But on the other hand, there’s a steep resistance amongst many in the Web 2.0 world to recognising that the ”collective intelligence“ that their sites harness creates much of the value of their sites – AND that it should be compensated for its time and efforts in dollars, not ”love“. There’s constant talk of ”openness“ and ”democracy“, and yet there’s an emerging class of ”site owners“ who are happy to talk of democracy and take all the money for themselves. To dive back to Marxism 1.0, they’re the owners of the means of production: the taggers and the diggers are the proletariat. It’s time the capitalists recognised that the workers need to get paid.