Digg poster “Mike” popped up in the comments to “Kevin Rose: Get a grip” with this, which I thought was worth replying to in a post as it encapsulates a lot of the issues that I have with the whole “free” Web 2.0. First of all, Mike’s post.
“You dont get it do you? I dont go to digg because I make money off of it. I go there because it has good news and ideas. I don’t contribute because I get paid to I share because I have an idea or story that might be interesting to someone else. You fail to understand that the social web creates a gift economy, where I share whats cool to me because I like the things that others share. If the founders make money off of ads good for them, they have bills to pay.
I guess what I’m saying is digg is about the comunity, without the community digg isn’t digg, and the community isn’t about money, its about sharing ideas because you make the community better. Therefore digg the concept isn’t about money.
Ads and such arent part of the digg community, they might be on the site, but someone has to pay the hosting bills and im glad it isnt me.”
This perspective treats sites like Digg as if they were part of the commons. Digg, the theory goes, is nothing without its users – and the users communally benefit. Therefore, as the community itself isn’t about the money, therefore Digg isn’t about the money either.
There’s many problems with this, but the key one is simply that, while it’s communally made, Digg isn’t communally owned. It is, in fact, a classic capitalist model: the owners of the means of production (the site) take the profits, while the workers (those who contribute) take their “wages” – although in this case, the “wages” aren’t cash, but the enjoyment of contributing to the site.
The clever trick that the proponents of Web 2.0 sites like Digg is to convince people that somehow because they’re NOT getting paid, it’s “open, free, and democratic”, when in fact it’s no more “open, free and democratic” than Ford, Coca-Cola or AOL. The owners of the means of production take the profits, while the people who create the value get nothing. Saying that “without the community digg isn’t digg” is exactly equivalent to saying “without the people who assemble cars, Ford isn’t Ford”.
On one level, I have a sneaking admiration for this: it must rank as one of the greatest con-jobs in business history, and it certainly demonstrates the old PT Barnum dictum of “never give a sucker an even break” still works, even in the information age.
However, the funny thing is that I have a sneaking suspicion that, with a few exceptions, some of the owners of the means of production really believe the hype themselves. Which is why I suspect they usually end up selling to someone larger – because growing the business themselves and raising an IPO would force them to confront the fact that they’re in the same old business of exploiting cheap labour as most of the rest of the capitalist world.