July 31, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on Wikia's Revolt Of The Digital Sharecroppers


What happens when digital sharecroppers are not happy on the electronic plantations?

Jimmy Wales is not going to like this one! I examine the tensions between so-called "community" and commerce, actually breaking (nominally) a story about how some of Wikia's digital sharecroppers are very unhappy with how that company has been treating them. Wikipedia is part of a non-profit foundation, but Wikia is a corporate start-up with $14 million dollars invested in it. And venture capitalists want a return on their investment.

As others have noted, it's no secret that their overall strategy is to "commercialize the hell out" of free labor, via aggressive advertising. And groups like the fans of Transformers are pushing back.

And it's not at all clear how it'll all turn out.

[For all columns, see the page Seth Finkelstein | guardian.co.uk.]

[Update: My article seems to have inspired Wikinews to do a story: "Potential Wikia mass exodus" (they said it, not me!)]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press , wikipedia | on July 31, 2008 03:13 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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It's funny that this coincided with the public beta of http://knol.google.com/

Knol is like Wikipedia except they've done everything that I suggested Wikipedia should do: They allow authors to be identified (to give the articles credibility), they let the authors lock articles against third-party vandalism, and the authors can get paid via AdSense ads on their articles.

This seems like it will avoid the problems that lead to Wikipedians being disgruntled. Wikipedians may labor for months in the hopes of achieving -- what, I don't know, valuable connections with the board, a job at Wikia, or just a sense of satisfaction -- but may get disillusioned when that never comes. With Knol, writers can find out very early on how much they're going to earn for each incremental piece of work, and if they decide it's worth it, they can keep going, otherwise, they can stop. There's no reason to hope for a gigantic payoff in the future, so less reason to be disillusioned.

Posted by: Bennett Haselton at August 2, 2008 05:56 PM

I think Knol has the effect of giving experts a home in a way they don't have in Wikipedia, and with more publicity than Citizendium.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at August 5, 2008 08:51 PM