Are You a Digital Sharecropper?

Will Work for Praise: The Web's Free-Labor Economy describes how many of today's websites are built by the users themselves:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:
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I cannot believe it hasn’t been said before…

Swing low…
Sweet char-i-ott
Comin for to carry me home…

“The last thing I want to do is exploit Stack Overflow users for corporate gain, even accidentally. That’s horrible.”

‘Exploit’ is not a useful word – you need to think about exactly what it is you don’t want to do to Stack Overflow users.

As far as I can see, the more corporate gain you make out of stack overflow the better for me – you then have more incentives to keep making it better.

How can you compare stack overflow to wikipedia? You have a job and stack overflow is a side project am I right?

Naturally you don’t think about placing a large emphasis on advertising. There are people out there who need to eat.

Be honest. You have many, many sharecroppers working for you.

I don’t have a problem with that necessarily, as it is a computer and not a hot cotton field, but I think you cloak your intentions and motivations, which I do find dishonest.

A larger % of your posts were quite useful some years ago. That % has dropped off. Today you are very good at “stirring the pot” and getting feedback.

The question is about being your own master, or part of a bigger group.

the same question can be rephrased about being your own boss or being emplyed by a big company

@Daniel YES

I like to work (coding, creating apps) just for fun. It’s all about personal freedom.

If you have enough money to live so why work something you don’t like?

As long as you know there’s no money involved, I think it’s fine, and self-limiting, unlike many “Free and Open Source” projects I’ve seen which look like methods to sucker (Oops! I meant “harness”) the mom’s-basement kids into writing business-oriented software systems for free.

In some cases the contributors just want to contribute (whatever it is, code, help, research, etc) and the people running the sites, even if they are making “a profit” give the contributors that chance. I think the social networking sites can be very revealing of the other sites as well. We do social networking for entertainment, and it’s free, so we really shouldn’t have a problem. We are having fun even if we are generating inordinate amounts of money for someone else at the same time. If you contribute to wikipedia, you are doing it because you are getting some benefit from it as well. Anyone who is doing coding for community projects is happy that they exist - it’s much more satisfying that doing personal projects that no one will ever see and you won’t ever think about again.

I agree that it would be better to be your own boss, but it’s not always practical.

If folks want to give away their valuable time, that is certainly their prerogative. Non-profit special interest groups exist and thrive. The problem seems to be the impedance mismatch between those who want to make money and those who don’t. For anyone who has worked in the arts, you need look no further than to compare a community playhouse to a broadway production. In the community theatre scenario, people are in it for the interest of it, and united in their non-profit-ness. On broadway, there are some enthusiasts involved, to be sure, but for everyone there it’s a job, and if they don’t make money, they have to pack up and do something else. If you keep these two scenarios divided, you avoid some (although I’m sure not all) of the morass of when one group serves another without sharing motivation, which seems to be what’s going on in the situations that Jeff calls out.

“This raises some disturbing parallels. Are users being turned into digital sharecroppers?”

Excuse my ignorence as I’d never heard of sharecropping until now, but is there an assumption that sharecropping is a bad thing? The Wikipedia page on the subject makes it seem like quite a useful arrangement as long as it’s not abused.

In any event, it’s difficult to see how this analogy works, as most contributers to community sites are not given a share of their contribution.

The dude in the right of the picture… Jeff just gifted him a “WOOT!” badge and the intangible sense of belonging.

Actually Stackoverflow started giving back from Day one, in the form of unimagined referral visitors!
I just answered a couple of easy questions, putting a modest link back to my website, and visitors started flowing to it.

So don’t be afraid, at least SF is a good deal for users, too :wink:

I strongly urge everyone reading this to err on the side of building your own brand whenever possible. […] the only sensible long term strategy is to invest in something that’s guaranteed to be around for the rest of your life: you.

Taking this to its logical conclusion, we would post the answers to stackoverflow questions on our blog and change the answer to a link the article.

Is this a precursor to a stackoverflow shorterning service? :wink:

I’m a “digital sharecropper.” I write code for MS operating systems, and the company I work for does the same. If MS decides one day that they’re taking their marbles and going home, then I, like my employer, is out of business. Everytime they change their OS so that the code we wrote won’t work anymore, we have to step and fetchit.

I built my own brand. There is no revenue, and I don’t think there ever will be.

But it is much more satisfying to do whatever I do on my site, on my terms.

talking about advertising… I noticed this site’s advertising has disappeared…

What I get from Stack Overflow is simple. I read more answers than I write. I gain more than the work I do.

This is why I do not have a Facebook or Twitter account. I do not see and gain for me from them.

“I strongly urge everyone reading this to err on the side of building your own brand whenever possible.”

Wiktionary: to err = To make a mistake, (intransitive) To sin,
(archaic) to stray.

Did you write the opposite of what you meant, or do I misread your sentence there?

Those sites are for people that aren’t developers. For them, they’re not losing control because they have no other way of sharing their content. We should be asking how we can participate in these communities without sacrificing control. One part of that answer is OpenID.