Why the Web 2.0 and media elite are so upset about paying amateurs (or “I’m sorry, does Mike Arrington work for free?”)

While some folks have been shocked–SHOCKED!–that I offered to pay top bookmarkers, others have taken a day or two to think about the idea and realize that it is the totally logical evolution of “crowdsourcing” and Web 2.0.

For the masses bookmarking is not some refined skill, it’s just something they do. They see something they like, they bookmark it for later or to share with friends. Just like some folks just blog or just put their photos on Flickr.

However, some of the folks who blog are great writers and some of the folks who put pictures on Flickr are amazing photographers. Those folks get paid for their work, the masses do not–and that’s just fine. Everyone is entitled to make their own choice in these matters. Some folks write for the love of it and don’t want to get paid, some of us consider it our trade.

Why should bookmarking be any different? To me, the best bookmarkers are what we call editors or cool hunters in the business–trend spotters. They see patterns before they emerge, they find the cool stuff before other people do. They have ever right to get paid for it.

Of course, the Web 2.0 elite want to make the decision for social bookmarkers–and for me and my company Netscape. How dare we offer people money for their work?!?!!? How dare these people get paid for their time!??!?!

You think Mike Arrington works for free? I tell you what Mike, if you’re so offended by the concept of people getting paid for their work, why don’t you work for free. Take down all the ads on TechCrunch and you can pay your rent in the good vibes from the Web 2.0 community. Oh… I’m sorry, you’re making tens of thousands a dollars a month with your business… oh… I’m sorry. Go right ahead and tell the very talented cool hunters who find hundreds of cool things that they shouldn’t get paid. Really.*

Clearly, some folks are very threatened by this idea of paying the masses. They are threatened for different reasons and I’ll break them down for you.

1. Some entrepreneurs are very threatened by this concept because for the last couple of years they’ve gotten a free ride on the backs of the masses. Now, it’s true that Flickr provided a free service and value to their users, as does DIGG and REDDIT, but the top 1-2% of the users on these services are providing much more value to the companies then they are getting back. There should be a market for the 1%, and if I have to create it so be it–I’ll take the heat. I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to build a business.

2. The media elite are *very* threatened by this idea–just as they were threatened by the concept of paid bloggers. Why, because by making a wider talent pool drops the pay rates they’re accustom to getting. There are thousands of great writers who got their start by free blogging who are now getting paid. Those new folks have lower pay expectations and the $1-a -word crowd was really pissed off about it. I remember someone in the stock photography business who got upset by me offering my pictures for free for commercial use. His problem was that my photos were as good as stock in many cases, and I was gonna take money away from the stock business. You know what, I don’t care! It’s *my* work and I can do what *I* want with it. This is the new world we’ve built here, and talent rises, wins, and gets to decide for THEMSELVES if they want to get paid or not. It’s not Mike Arrington’s choice, it’s the content creators choice. For photos and blogging I choose to not get paid–for some of my others skills I want to get paid.

The talent pool is bigger and more open today and that benefits the little guy and it scares the heck out of the big guy. I love it!

The irony of ironies is that the so-called meritocricy of Web 2.0 is the most upset about this concept. They will fall back on the “you’re corrupting community by paying them” line of BS, but don’t fall for it.

John Battelle makes a lot of money doing the Web 2.0 conference–is he any less of a member of the community because he gets paid for putting it on? When John is on stage interviewing members of our community should we think he is a fraud because he’s making six figures for doing the event?! I think not… he’s, in fact, more credible to me because he made a business out of it.

The four members of Boingboing.net make tens of thousands of dollars month (together) now, but they used to do it for free. Are they any less respected now that they are getting paid? Of course not. Should you not trust Xeni or Mark when they point out something cool because they are getting paid? Heck no! They deserve to get paid and I’m psyched they are because boingboing got much better when they all started putting more time into it. Remember, time for 98% of the world, is driven by money… if you have more money you have more time to dedicated to stuff.. That’s not my rule, that’s the world we live in.

When DIGG put three ads slots on their pages did they become bad members of the community? No way! They are making their service into a sustainable business and they are adding features as a result of it.

The bottom line is that making money does not make you any more or less a member of the community. There are people who get paid to work in communities like teachers, fireman, and police officers, and there are people who just live in the community. The fact that community pays you is not the issue–the quality of your work is the only issue.

If we pay someone for their social bookmarking rights and they suck we will fire them–not to mention the fact that the audience will never give them the time of day.

Credibility and authenticity can exist in a commercial environment (say, like the.. ummm.. real world!).

I’d be really interested to hear John Battelle, Dave Winer, Caterina Fake, Fred Wilson, and other members of the community comment on this. Why shouldn’t bookmarkers get paid?

* Well over 50 folks from social bookmarking sites have emailed me already. Many of them are in the top 10-20 on the major services. So, while the elite Web 2.0 mafia may not like the concept of paying top contributors, the contributors certainly like the idea!

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