This is a guest post from Josh Schnell, founder of Macgasm.net and web developer.
Somewhere down the line, an exploitation has to occur in order for a financial profit to be realized. This is no less true for the world of social networks. Networks like Digg, FriendFeed, and Facebook are seeing huge growths in value, but the little guys, the ones actually providing the meat and potatoes for those operations, rarely see a nickel.
Let’s be honest for a second here. The major “Web 2.0” and social networking technologies that have been created in the last several years have been a major boon for consumers and web users. They’ve aggregated the entire Internet into what’s cool and what’s not so cool. When searching for new and interesting websites, it is much preferable to visit a website on a friend’s recommendation than it is to use classic search engines. I’m not disputing the relevancy or success of these technologies to the average internet user. The problem as I see it is from a content creator paradigm, where the content creators are the ones footing the bills for bandwidth usage, paying the writers, and putting tears and sweat into their content so that it becomes sellable.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to maintain an environment where a high level of quality can be continued when some social networks are taking in content, verbatim, from multiple outside sources and passing it around their networks, without ever returning those interested in the information to the source. FriendFeed acts as a prime case in point when one considers the interest of the users on FriendFeed and then compares that to local statistics from the source article showing the rate of click throughs that the article received. It isn’t uncommon to see people sharing articles on FriendFeed, including all the images from the post, and then copying the entirety of the text into the comments section. Just like it’s not uncommon for someone to click the “Digg” button on Digg without ever visiting the site. It’s certainly not unthinkable that someone will import your RSS feed into another website without ever gaining any permission to do so. Some of those tactics may seem more vile than others, but a dangerous reality exists that no one is talking about — with social networks comes theft, and very little pay off for content creators.
Where is the incentive to click through? Why would anyone click through to a source when they are no longer required to click the link to finish getting the information from an interesting article? It starts looking a little bit less like “sharing” and “discussing” articles and a lot more like theft when put in this manner, doesn’t it? When contrasted with the StumbleUpon model, the FriendFeeds and Diggs of the world seem to have the process backwards. Why is it that these web applications allow users to rate an article before they’re even forwarded to it? Wouldn’t the most logical approach be creating a metric that counts a resources popularity by the number of people who actually click on the link, as opposed to click a “like” button?
While the problem doesn’t solely lie on the shoulders of the developers who have been implementing the tools in these web applications, the responsibility for accurately monitoring true interest in submissions does.
With no incentive to click through to the source, we’re ridding content creators of their hard-earned payoffs. Advertisers aren’t going to pay a content producer if they aren’t getting traffic to their site, and certainly other revenue streams and models will be affected in the same manner. If content creators can’t make a living creating content, then the FriendFeeds of the world will cease to exist, and there will be nothing left to share, since their primary resource will have dried up. Resources aren’t limitless, and content will disappear if social services continue to exploit the hard work of the people who matter the most — the writers.