I’ve been so busy with my other blogs lately that I haven’t been writing here as much as I ought to – now that the 2008 events are underway I expect that to change.
I went out last night to MITX. The panel was moderated by Larry Weber and featured Tom Arrix of Facebook, Pauline Ores of IBM, Juan Santos or StudioCom, Suzanne Skop of MySpace and Jeff Taylor of Eons. The event drew a good crowd, probably 250 people. It was less the hip social media scene people and more folks that I think were looking for ways to understand what’s happening. (I will say that most of the people in the room raised their hands when asked if they were using Facebook or Myspace.)
In terms of content, I didn’t come away with anything especially new or revealing. It was what has become a fairly familiar conversation – the way people want to receive content is changing so the way marketers communicate with them needs to change as well. Yep, got it.
What made this panel perhaps more interesting was the quality of the panelists – or at least of the companies for whom they worked. This gave me an opportunity to raise an issue that’s been bothering me lately. Let me explain the issue and then get into the panel’s response.
I’m reading, “The Ball is Round – A Global History of Soccer.” It’s a pretty good book and has been a good introduction to the game. One of the things that surprised me is that in the early days, “amateurism” was the spirit of the day. What this meant was that players weren’t paid. So the club owners would invest in building stadiums (often just a few wood stands or even raised earth mounds for spectators) and charge a gate. At the time though, the players saw NONE of the money and that, of course, suited the owners just fine.
Fast forward a hundred or so odd years and replace stadiums with social networking sites, replace the fans with visitors and the players with content creators (who might also be visitors). There’s typically no admission fee but there’s a ton of money flowing into the pockets of the companies that build and maintain the sites. The value of these sites is the content and interaction provided by the members. But the people creating the value are seeing NONE of the revenue.
It seems like a pretty exploitative model to me and one – over time – that’s bound to change in time as people recognize that this is the same old economic model that unions were created to deal with wrapped in newer and friendlier fabric. So I can pay Linden Labs for the privilege of creating value for Linden Labs . . . hmmmm. What’s wrong with this picture?
So I asked the panel what they though. Whether they’re respective companies would ever think of a model that recognized and compensated people for the value they bring to the community. Guess what? The short answer is no. I was told that this was a naïve question, that people are already rewarded with intangible things like recognition and kudos.
Those early soccer players were also rewarded by the cheers of the fans but sooner or later they recognized that cheers don’t buy a whole hell of a lot.
One of the big ideas of this whole social media thing is the democratization of content creation and distribution and that’s awesome. But the result can’t be a concentration of money and control in the hands of the few built on the work of the many. That just isn’t going to be sustainable forever.
Is it time to form a content creators union? Is it time to organize the unrecognized social media workforce? Is it at least time to take a step back and ask these kinds of questions?
Let me know what you think.