If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know I have a long-standing obsession with citizen journalism and how it benefits companies but takes advantage of content creators. Almost a year ago I pondered what would be the tipping point for people deciding they’re tired of providing free content to media outlets who then make money off their free labor.
“But how long will people be willing to put the time and effort into creating high-quality blog or video posts if they’re not being compensated? At what point do citizen journalists basically become freelancers working for free? If I had to guess, I’d say right about the time when statistics start to show that websites are generating a bunch of revenue as a result of the content users are providing for free.”
Well, fast forward not even a year and–bam!–AOL buys the Huffington Post for $315 million. And suddenly the idea of payment in traffic and recognition didn’t seem so great to the bloggers who had–with their own free labor–made the Huffington Post a thing worth paying $315 million for.
Here’s the thing: the bloggers who are complaining that they should be getting paid now that Arianna Huffington got hers should have thought of that when they agreed to write for free in exchange for notoriety and traffic. The choice was theirs to make and they made it–they decided free was ok with them. Live and learn.
But are any of us learning? Even if we’re not blogging for free, are we using Twitter? Facebook? Quora? This New York Times article spells it out: we truly have become a nation of free laborers. 150 million of us log into Facebook daily, providing data that Facebook in turn sells in one way or another, boosting Facebook’s worth to an estimated $100 BILLION. We tweet away, thinking nothing of it; meanwhile, Twitter is making up to $120,000 PER DAY per promoted trend. Are any of us ever going to see a dime as a result of the free content we’re providing to the social networking sites that have become so indespensible to many of us? Content that’s making plenty of other people plenty of money? Of course not.
I’m not saying stop using Facebook or Twitter, or to stop blogging. God knows I won’t be stopping. But I am saying at least be mindful of the fact that you are being gamed. You may think you’re tweeting more to increase your Klout score, or that that playing Farmville or Mafia Wars is just fun, or that “liking” a brand or checking in using Facebook Places is a great way to share your interests and whereabouts with friends. What you’re actually doing is taking time out of YOUR life and putting money into someone else’s pocket. As long as it’s worth it to you, it’s fine. If it’s not fine with you….well, the ball’s in your court.