The Digg crowd and elsewhere out there seem to be abuzz about the short Q & A between Benkler and Calacanis. I see this blog post and wonder if I am in the same room.
Calacanis defends his offer to pay members of the Digg collaborative filtering system with the following metaphor: There are both people who get paid to fight fires and volunteer firefighters. Paying some fire fighters doesn’t make the volunteers any less valuable or important.
Leaving aside the question of whether he is right (I suspect that there is an interesting history of the professionalization of fire fighting that does indeed introduce some conflicts, but I am too lazy to go and see–if by chance Mark the fire fighter/historian is is reading this, please inform us), this is one of a number of metaphors you could employ.
* Lots of people are voluntary sexual partners: paying some sexual partners in the community (i.e., prostitution), creates no harm for the community or for voluntary sexual partners in the community.
* There are a lot of people who send email for personal, self-motivated reasons. Paying someone to sell something via email creates no harm for non-paid email users or the system as a whole.
* Millions of people volunteer to donate their organs when they die. Paying some people (perhaps the healthiest or those with the largest organs? [heh]) to do this doesn’t have any sort of negative effect on the volunteers or the system as a whole.
I’m sure there are dozens of other examples. For what it’s worth, I tend to think that the effects in the first case would be less pernicious than those in the last case.
I need to see if I can find a good recap of the question and answer, since I find Calacanis’s offer to pay Diggers a stupid “throw money and see if it makes money” sort of approach, but heck, I don’t think he’ll hurt much by trying. (He’s managed to spin this into a lot of free publicity already, so it’s probably worked out well for him.) And I think there is a danger on both sides of making a specific case far too general. Let’s face it, paying Diggers is a bit of an anomaly. I know that neither the original Diggers nor the second wave of Diggers wouldn’t be happy about it! But it is worth trying to figure out the details on the firefighters, prostitutes, spammers, organ donors and Digg-shills cases. I suspect that the real answer is that we don’t know enough about what makes these work, and it’s well worth knowing.