Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Oct 28, 2005 12:45pm

mixing metaphors

There's a spirited debate winding down at 37 Signals about Flickr and user-generated content. A lot of the comments seem to be dangerously mixing metaphors and points of view to obscure the non-issue at hand.

Jason: "Now, hundreds of thousands of people are taking photos, uploading them to a site like Flickr, making Flickr better, and Yahoo is reaping the financial rewards, not the photographers. That's a pretty big shift. Yahoo is making money off the backs of the collective camera."

Jason, contradicting himself: "I'm not saying there's anything wrong. I'm just saying the whole user-generated content model is an interesting one one where the public does the work and the company gets the financial reward."

The Marxist revolutionary tone sure makes it sound like something is wrong, no? Content-uploaders of the world, you have nothing to lose but your chains.

Steve, contradicting Jason: "What Flickr (and others) have done is shown that photographs are cheap. They're not paying you because if you left, there'd still be thousands of other people who are willing to send in free photographs."

Benvolio, later: "Jason is hinting at a new business model. something like: users sign up to flickr, flickr makes cash from ads hosted on said users images, flickr gives a cut (between 1-10%) of the cash from these ads to that user. not only is this sharing the love but it provides an incentive to flickr users to create, load and promote great content."


I'm seeing a few problematic metaphors in this thread:

  1. Money is love.
  2. Photos are content.
  3. Flickr is a community.

Jason's position in this debate basically boils down to: "Flickr should pay their users for their participation, so users will have a greater incentive to upload quality photos. Uploading quality photos imroves Flickr, which translates into higher advertising revenue for Flickr and Yahoo." Terms like "better" and "share the love" are applied to ad revenue and micropayments, which strikes me as innappropriate.

I believe that Flickr has been successful because of the simplicity of their idea: provide quality plumbing for sharing photographs, in return for non-intrusive advertising or old-economy money. No new-new-economy language about content, community or peer-production, just sharing photos with your friends. The specificity here is important, and Flickr has always seemed to avoid describing their service as a marketplace, a platform, or a community. Of course it is all those things (and many more), but I suspect that is so because their eye rarely strays from the ball. The fundamental reason people join is to share photograhs, while everything else is a nice bonus. Steve (above) is right - there are thousands of people sending in photographs, but they aren't sending them "to Flickr", they're sharing them with their friends. Photographers who want some scratch for their work sell to Corbis or arrange for licensing on other channels.

The last thing Flickr users need is an incentive to upload - a year's worth of frequent massages proves it. People don't need to be convinced to act socially, all they need is a supportive and malleable environment to act in. Flickr can ignore that at their peril.

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