Building Community Epinions Social Media YouTube

Should top users be paid?

TechCrunch posed an interesting question over the weekend regarding top users of social media sites: should they be paid?

In my experience, the answer is, it depends.

Epinions vs. Amazon

Amazon pays their users nothing to write product reviews. Epinions pays their users a small amount. Yet, Amazon has many, many more reviewers.

Why? Amazon has a much larger reach. For many writers, nothing is more satisfying than having a large audience. David Walker posits “recognition, respect and goodwill” explain why these writers do what they do.

Book reviewers come to Amazon because it’s where the bulk of intelligent, Internet-using bookbuyers come to shop. Some people would call it a book-buying “community”.

Epinions has a great community of book reviewers as well, but it pales in comparison. Why? People don’t comparison shop for books. They buy them at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or their local book store.

YouTube vs. Revver

A very similar kind of battle is being waged in the video sharing space.

Not content to concede viral video to YouTube, competitor Revver has stars of its own and a revenue sharing program based on still image ads at the end of each video. Ad based revenue sharing is unlikely to be sufficient incentive for the vast majority of any system’s users, but that may not be the case for a site’s biggest stars.

Let’s take a look at traffic to both sites:

Revver is squarely aimed at people who want to make money for their work. Why else would you post your video on Revver? At this point, it is not just to generate an audience, at least not the kind that YouTube can.

Why does Revver offer money to share revenue with it’s users? To get above the noise generated by YouTube and to attract top talent not content with just giving away their creations. When you are #2 in an industry, you have to do something that differentiates yourself from a competitor.

Revver isn’t going to create community for it’s users, that’s what YouTube is for. When you create a following on YouTube, you can choose to graduate to Revver to get paid for your work. The question is will your crowd follow you there?

Why are they there?

If you run a social media site, you have to ask why your users are there. Would all of your users leave if someone else offered to pay them? Could you pay users and stay in business? If you can’t, how can your competitor? Using books as an example, I’m not sure anyone could stay in business paying book reviewers very much given the small margins in the book industry.

When you work out how long it must take a user on Digg or Netscape to be a top user, $1000 doesn’t really work out to a lot of money. These people aren’t doing it for money. They are doing it for recognition. They are doing it because their stoking their passion. They are doing it because they like the site, the activity, the community of folks around them. They are doing it for fun. Maybe money will make it more fun, maybe not.

If you have a community site that is happily plugging along and another site pops up and offers their best users money for their work, what do you do? Is Digg suffering as a result of Netscape’s offer to pay? If it is, it’s not because Netscape is better, it is because Digg has failed to create enough of a reason to stick around.


There is no doubt that in this new social media world that paying users for their work is inevitable. The value that users create for these sites is incredible. But these sites create value for their users as well, it’s just not quantifiable in the form of payment.

[Update: Micki over at Revver comments on graduating to Revver from YouTube]

Building Community Epinions Features Social Media

Reputation Systems and Gaming Epinions

I want to look a little more at the Yahoo! Answers story and add what I’ve learned about gaming a system. When you look back at the history of Epinions, the site made a big bang when it debuted because it offered to pay writers for their product reviews. The idea was the company would make money off of ads (this is when banners were big) and they would share that money with the community of writers.

At the time, your “Income Share,” as it is known, was based on the number of people that looked at your review. At the time, I believe that the going rate was something in the $.30 per-page-view range. You can just imagine how this got gamed.

How it works
Now, given that the site’s raison d’être was product reviews, there is a relatively finite amount of products to review and ideally, from a shopper’s perspective, you would want the “best” review at the top. So to accomplish this, Epinions built a reputation system called the Web of Trust. In theory, Epinions’ “Web of Trust,” or WoT what an early social network where your “friends” were people whose reviews you trusted and respected.

The second component of review ranking was how helpful someone found your review. At the bottom of every review, users are asked to rate the review on a 4 point scale from “Not Helpful” to “Very Helpful.” Review order is determined by a combination of the two criteria, WoT and review ranking. The basic idea is that if you are trusted more than another member and your review received a higher rating, that review would appear higher up in the list.

The story goes that writers on the site formed rating and trust circles to boost their own reviews over others. The stakes for this were high. If you were the top review on a popular product, most shoppers would see your review first. If you collected all the page views, you received considerably more money than anyone else who wrote the review. And while points are nice, money is a lot better.

So, what did Epinions do to thwart gaming?

Building Community Epinions Features Social Media

Epinions Lesson #1: Let them talk to each other

One of the things that stunned me when I joined Epinions was that they had no formal message boards. Before I joined, (in my mind) the very definition of a Web community was message boards. I had spent countless hours either lurking or actively participating in many message board, Usenet, and BBS communities even before the Web existed. It was weird that Epinions didn’t have message boards. This was community, right? How did they talk to each other?

I discovered, however, that members did talk to one another. Quite a bit actually. First, there were off-site message boards (we’ll save those for another post), but second, while I hadn’t noticed it, every review on Epinions has a comments section. The comments section is where all the community interaction happened on Epinions prior to the launch of Epinions’ message boards.

So what could you expect in the comments section? This is what Epinions wanted to happen in comments:

And here is what happened as well:

In many cases, comments were just a way for friends on the site to let each other know that they read the review and what they thought of it. This is where the flame wars happen. This is where people let you know that they like you. And just like the blogosphere, that’s where community happens on Epinions.

Lesson learned – give people a place to talk, or they will do it wherever they can.

[By the way, we launched message boards on Epinions while I was there. A hell of a lot of community happens there as well :-) ]

Epinions General Social Media

Change of focus


Today I’m going to do something a little unusual and it may signify some changes to the blog and the sorts of things I write. I’m going to talk about me and my past work experience and what I’m planning for the future. No, the plan wasn’t to pontificate the finer points of gadgets, online media and general nerdery forever but figuring out what to talk about took some time and focus.

It’s been a really great month or so for me. I’ve taken some time away from being a full time dad (which is not so great for the family) and I’ve spent a lot of time immersing myself back in the world of social media and community generated content. Before my hiatus, I worked on a little site called Epinions which is one of the first and one of the largest, most active community generated content sites on the net.

With a trifecta of social media conferences, Gnomedex, WebVisions and WordCamp, my head is spinning a bit, but it made me realize that I really need to share some of the great stories from my time at Epinions and the lessons that I learned there. I had lunch with some old colleagues there and gave them a head’s up that I was going to do this.

What’s really great about Epinions is that in many ways, it is a microcosm of the world of social media. Many of the issues that companies are facing working with consumer generated media have already happened at Epinions. Some of the stuff that I’m going to talk about really hasn’t been discussed in any sort of public way, but I think that what I learned there is valuable to anyone who is trying to develop and grow online communities.

My intention isn’t to rock the boat, so I’m keeping my old pals at Epinions abreast of what I’m doing. I didn’t ask permission, but I’m not going to talk about things like revenue or internal stats in any specific way. I hope that anyone who wants to learn about working with and cultivating web communities joins in the discussion. I’d also be glad to answer any questions about Epinions that you might have.

One final word, I want to give a shout out to Garrett and Christal some ex co-workers of mine who taught me everything I know about Epinions and are two of the reasons that the Epinions community still prospers today.