Will advertising ruin consumer-generated content?

I was asked recently if advertising will motivate more users to generate content and ultimately lower the quality of content online. 

Some thoughts:  Social computing already has a lot of momentum.  Getting paid may eventually become a competitive differentiator for companies that rely on user-generated content.  However, being paid is unlikely to become the primary force driving the growth of user-generated content online.

Adding a financial incentive to participate (i.e. getting paid) won’t hurt quality, but I think this will be a long-tail case where many will be paid a little bit and only a prolific few will reap large benefits.  Participation takes a lot of time and effort because it can’t be faked – look at Yahoo Answers – as of today, no one has reached their highest participation tier.

Most of these companies are running on a revenue model driven at some level by advertising.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing – overall, advertising expenditures are at historically high levels, rebounding from a dip in 2001-2002 post dot-com crash, 9/11, etc.  But you know what happened with the bubble before and I think we’ll see a lot of crazy ideas before any shakedown occurs.

Without getting too deep into the psychology of why people do/don’t participate, social computing sites like Squidoo, Kaboodle, LinkedIn, Yahoo Answers and mySpace fulfill user needs.  Users typically obtain value from the exchange of information.  The sites also reduce the "free rider" problem by requiring users to create a complete profile or participate in order to obtain greater access/benefits.  The quality of information is also tempered by systems like peer ratings, so spam won’t necessarily be rewarded.

Boing Boing had a post recently called Why people tag.  The reasons applied to real-life taggers, but they suggested thinking about internet taggers; I think similar reasons apply to bloggers.

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