‘The demise of justifications for writing for free’

By Emily Fairbairn

Read Douglas Rushkoff’s insightful piece on the sale of the Huffington Post, perhaps the most prominent example the internet offers of the power of user generated content.

As a long-time contributor to HuffPo, Rushkoff writes that he was happy to write for free because it felt like he was part of a community and a more important purpose:

“There’s value being extracted from our labour, for sure, by advertisers or whoever, but the sense was always that we were writing for Arianna – contributing to an empire that spent its winnings bussing people to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do their thing in Washington. Yes, there are compensating benefits – like getting links or hits or book sales – but it was a very soft quid pro quo based in a sense of shared purpose, and participation in a community beyond the mega-media-corporate sphere of influence.”

But now that HuffPo has been sold to AOL, Rushkoff is not so sure he will want to contribute anymore. So is this the key to user generated content?

When you ask someone to comment or contribute online, the likelihood is that you are asking them to do so for free. So they will need a good reason to expend their time and energy contributing to something which will undoubtedly in turn make money, somewhere, for somebody else.

If a user feels like they are part of something, like they are among other like-minded people, and that the site they are on MEANS something, then they will contribute. Content is rooted in community; you can’t create one without the other.

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