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The Interestingness Economy Debate

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Must Read for the Day: Anil Dash on Flickr, and The Interesting Economy. He extends my argument about the economic unreality of social apps.

But interestingness in Flickr doesn’t pay. At least not yet. Non-pro users are seeing ads around my photos, but Yahoo’s not sharing the wealth with me, even though I’ve created a draw.

Caterina Fake responds. I don’t buy her argument that, “But monetization strategy or no, the culture of generosity is the very backbone of the internet.” Makes sense for the company creators, not us beasts of burden who help build the social -app companies. At least in the case of Flickr, I get something, which is basically a place to store or share my photos. It is a personal-gain factor involved in it. I don’t see that in other social services. Caterina goes on to say that its the ISPs who are the biggest free loaders of the interestingness economy.

And the biggest interestingness freeloaders of all have to be the ISPs — all this interesting content provided by me, Anil and everyone else is the reason millions of Americans monthly DSL bills.

That’s one of those chicken-and-egg arguments, but if you factor in the costs, its hard to buy into her argument. Still, it is an interesting debate. To be continued, as they say.

12 Responses to “The Interestingness Economy Debate”

  1. I’d be interested to hear where the following analogy goes wrong as:

    1. Brick and mortar cafe’s have always given photographers and other artist room on their walls to hang the artist’s work, almost always for free. Those artist were able to profit from the situation because their work gained visibility and potential sales, among other things. Cafe’s profited by being a place where their patrons got to see good art.

    2. In the digital age Flickr is the mega-cafe, selling prints and pro accounts (permanent wall space?) instead of coffee and bagels. Everyone with a camera is (rightfully) and artist, and Flickr has near-infinite wall space. Artist still want their art to be seen on the most popular walls.

    I’m not taking sides, I’m just wondering why we’re not going after the cafe’s like we’re going after flickr and google and all the rest. One possible reason, as Anil Dash points out, is that the “interestingness” feature in flickr takes our pictures and uses them and the commentary surrounding them in ways we are not used to. Or maybe there really is something wrong with the way cafes are doing business, or maybe flickr and cafes are just different. Explaining why that later possibility might be the case would probably shed some light on the situation for a lot of people and might make some of us question our involvement in the web and other spheres of society where our involvment is monetized.

  2. Without doubt, this whole web 2.0 meme is becoming a Karl Marx vs. Adam Smith type philosophical/economical/political debate of grand proportion.

    The funny thing is… maybe it is indeed time to up-end all the fundamental assumptions as we know them. Even so, it’ll take decades for such transformations to take place.

    Meanwhile, the “capitalistic” crew will make much money by optimizing such noise via arbitrage… while the new “Plato’s” will probably end up actually changing the world (but end up poor).

  3. The ISP argument is absurd. It’s the same mentality of the music industry wanting to take a cut of each iPod because it’s used for music. the ISPs built the frackin’ internet…and they’re still paying for it. Doesn’t sound like freeloading to me.

    As for flickr, I do think lots of folks get a tangible non-emotional benefit from it, but from a business standpoint, allowing people to profit from their participation always seems like a good idea.

  4. There are a number of ways Flickr users benefit even if not directly in an economic sense for their contribution.

    1. Flickr allows users to build an audience for their work which can potentially be monetized later (and don’t underestimate what Flickr might come up with).

    2. They provide bandwidth that small websites can’t always afford for bandwidth intensive high res photos. I was bounced off my website once when Boing Boing covered a Disneyland photo essay that I did. Cory was able to redirect people to the same photoset at Flickr where they paid for the bandwidth not me.

    3. Exposure both now and in the future (especially with a possible greater integration into Yahoo! image search) can provide for outside economic gain. (example, I sold a photo for $500 to Choice Point hotels for a television commercial that they found on Google Image Search — although it wasn’t found on Flickr, Flickr has the potential to overtake Google Image Search as the best image search engine on the internet)

    4. Most significantly, Flickr offers a vehicle for interacting and sharing art with others in a selfless way — complete with total ownership of images posted by their members and the ability to creative commons license their photos. I’ve received a great deal of joy from the knowledge that my own photos are enjoyed by others. In fact, to the extent that images of mine in a creative commons world become popular, this may in fact enhance their economic or artistic value for commercial use in the long run.

    There is something to be said for the psychic income of providing enjoyment purely for the benefit of others. I’ve had several people ask to use my photos for everything from The San Francisco Ethics commission website to a non-profit film festival, to a first time unknown author for his novel cover, etc. I’ve been told by many people that they use my photos for wallpaper and it’s great to know that I can share a little bit of my craft.

    5. Through the social interaction part of Flickr I’ve met some really cool people — especially through Flickr meetups and the group delteme uncensored (which is a little bit of an outlawish rouge type of group on Flickr but with a truly wonderful cast of characters).

    It’s also interesting to note that I still have not even paid Flickr for my Flickr Pro account. My current Pro account was gifted to me by RoudyBob (another selfless act).

    I give a lot of myself and share a lot of my work in the Flickr community — if they benefit I’m glad because I get every bit as much out of the relationship as they do.