When I was a kid, for reasons I cannot explain, Nebraska had some great Pizza. I know it's hard to believe, but take my word for it. We had the original Godfather's, which was very good, and Valentino's which was excellent.
Today Jason Calacanis, himself the son of an
Italian Greek (oops) restaurateur, is about to make the same mistake as Godfather's and Valentino's. Jason is excited to offer social bookmarkers big bucks to bookmark in quantity. Well, not really big bucks, but certainly quantity.
If you are in the top rankings of bookmarkers on the new Netscape site, Jason will toss you $1000 US.
Here's the quick story of both Godfathers and Valentinos. They started out as smallish pizza places in Nebraska. They both used quality ingredients and, especially Valentinos, used fresh herbs which made for an amazing pizza. Then they got popular. Then they started to open branches. Then they started to really grow fast. As they grew (Godfathers was sold to a large international food giant), they realized that quality ingredients didn't scale. So they started to tinker with their recipies in order to stay profitable. Quality suffered. In fact, the case could be made that quality didn't scale either. They changed the mix.
They grew, they lowered quality, they both nearly died. Godfathers is a shadow of its former self, Valentinos withdrew to be a regional pizza chain again - but their quality never returned.
Jason wants to change the mix of social bookmarking.
By introducing a profit motive into social bookmarking the entire system changes. Before 5:10 pm last night, social bookmarking was a reputation phenomenon. Your reason to bookmark was to get noticed. It was fun, you were part of a community, you got some fame - but all of that was borne from your quality of bookmarking.
Darth Calacanis (sic) wheezes:
We will pay you $1,000 a month for your "social bookmarking" rights. Put in at least 150 stories a month and we'll give you $12,000 a year. (note: most of these folks put in 250-400 stories a month, so that 150 baseline is just that--a baseline).
Now, this offer is going to get a big response I know, so we're going to have to limit to a dozen or so folks. However, I'm absolutely convinced that the top 20 people on DIGG, Delicious, Flickr, MySpace, and Reddit are worth $1,000 a month and if we're the first folks to pay them that is fine with me--we will take the risk and the arrows from the folks who think we're corrupting the community process (is there anyone out there who thinks this any more?!).
If I were a kid in Morelia with access to a net cafe, I'd go immediately to the owner and say ... "Look, this Gringo here is going to send me $1000 a month. Let me use a computer and I'll give you $250 of it." Then I'd bookmark my ass off. I'd get my friends to help out. I'd create fake accounts to say that my rankings were useful. I'd game Jason like no tomorrow.
As a small pizza maker, you are making pizza well, for the love of making pizza - the only way you profit from it is making good pizza. As a large pizza maker you are making pizza for the sake of money and you do that by selling lots of pizza for the lowest cost possible. The current recipe for good social bookmarking is quality bookmarking. That is driven by the reputation engine and tempered by the lack of immediate remuneration. If you are smart, you can take that reputation and build on it for some reward. Indirect rewards are varied and individual and ensure a cross section of secondary or even ulterior motives for participation.
Jason's motivation is a perfectly sound business decision. It is a disastrous community decision. The saving grace will be that, after Netscape has been gamed into utter irrelevance, people will learn something from the experience. The Netscape site will not be a trusted news source. People will return to sites with truer folksonomies.
I'm not even mentioning the fact that $1000 to 12 people is nothing to a company like Netscape and all total would be the equivalent of one coder. For this, they get massive input.
Photo: Kenn Kiser