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reddit's New Features; and an Amazing Request for Free Labor

There are plenty of reasons to wonder about citizen media’s business model. One, which I’ve talked about many times here and elsewhere, is the tendency of site owners to rely on free labor. The method goes roughly this way: “You do all the work and we’ll take all the money, thank you very much.”

People do things for many reasons, but it’s always about getting something of value back. The value may be a psychic reward of doing something good for someone else. It may be ego. It may be money, or the ability to save money. In community-driven websites it may be contributing a tiny bit of effort to something that gives the overall community, and thereby individuals, great value. Usually it’s a combination.

But when the big money starts to flow to a few who are leveraging the work of the many, a disconnect emerges. And that’s why I’m so bothered by part of an announcement of some interesting new features that will give users or reddit, a news-recommendation site owned by the parent company of Wired magazine, new ways to help each other understand the news. reddit is refining the process in a smart way, by dividing the recommendation system in ways — assuming it works — to make it better and, perhaps, more reliable.

There’s no sense of whether the “private” and “restricted” section of the site, in which the Chosen will presumably elevate the content because they are doing things better, will have any stake in the outcome beyond being given more responsibility. I hope so, and we’ll know more when the features roll out more widely.

What really bugs me most in the reddit blog posting about the changes is the following:

Right now we really only have English and German, but if you would be generous enough to translate reddit into another language, please email feedback@reddit to offer your support.

As usual, if you’re interested in working on reddit, please email jobs@reddit and describe what a badass programmer you are.

Read it again. You are invited to translate the site into another language, because you are such a generous person. If you are a badass programmer, however, you are invited to apply for a job and make some actual money.

I like reddit a lot, and think it’s doing some terrific work with community-driven news. But this request goes beyond the pale.

Conde Nast, a privately held empire that owns some of the most profitable magazines on the planet, paid a bundle for this site. It can afford to pay for translations.

If you are generous enough to do this kind of work for free, please consider doing instead it for a nonprofit site of some sort. Please don’t be giving away your time to mega-wealthy media barons.

10 Comments on “reddit's New Features; and an Amazing Request for Free Labor”

  1. #1 Delia
    on Jan 23rd, 2008 at 10:05 am

    Best post so far! 🙂 D.

  2. #2 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jan 23rd, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Hear, hear.

  3. #3 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jan 24th, 2008 at 6:42 am

    Whee! “local content harvesting”:

    “Happily for Zuckerberg, this is where the virtuous web 2.0 circlejerk completes itself. It’s hit the news this week that he’ll ask users to translate and localise Facebook for it. For free. So it can pull more users and maintain the growth story while it searches for a business model. The cheek is admirable, really.”

  4. #4 Gerd Kamp
    on Jan 24th, 2008 at 7:18 am

    Reddits approach for me looks a lot like the translation scheme of Facebook that Matt Cohler talked about at DLD08 in Munich on Monday.

    It seems that they are also mainly conting on user generated translations (with some help from professional translators). Or did i get it wrong?

  5. #5 John
    on Jan 24th, 2008 at 8:09 am

    The psychic reward can be very powerful. Though it may seem unfair supporting redditt rather than a non-profit, helping reddit may have a wider impact and affect more lives. Surely that is more valuable.

  6. #6 :: ifocos :: » Wanted: Free labor
    on Jan 31st, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    […] does good will end and greed take over? That depends on whether you’re a giver or taker. Dan Gillmor at the Center for Citizen Media is bothered by the free labor scheme he sees in a corporate blog post about new features just […]

  7. #7 Chris
    on Feb 15th, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    This is a really important point, I am really happy to hear you bring it up. It baffles me the degree to which digital language skills (i.e. programming skills) are prioritized above human language skills… when in fact the latter IMHO are becoming more and more important as these web services go global.

  8. #8 tish grier
    on Feb 20th, 2008 at 11:21 am


    this has been going on for awhile in a number of different places–like when CCN asks for “citizen journalism” to fuel a daily iReport show (most recently), or when the ClearChannel owned Santa Rosa, CA tv station lost its news crew in favor of “citizen journalism.”

    Yet there’s def. more to it: skills like language (translating) or people-skills (message board moderation) are considered “soft” skills and of less value than programming, considered a “hard” skill. Soft skills come under the “anybody can do it” rubric. Programming isn’t seen that way, even though there are a number of “anybodys” that can do that, too. Depending on where you’re looking for “anybody.”

    We have come to de-value people and language oriented skills because they look easy. We have come to highly value programming skills because it looks like magic. In the hands of talented people, neither is magic–but convincing the Powers that Be of this, and that both deserve adequate compensation, is perhaps a sysiphian labor.

  9. #9 Dan Gillmor breaks down the exploitative side of participatory culture « The Learned Fangirl
    on Apr 15th, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    […] Posted on January 31, 2008 by r Dan Gillmor on the Center for Citizen Media blog writes about the good and bad about online group-based […]

  10. #10 Wanted: Free labor
    on Jun 28th, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    […] does good will end and greed take over? That depends on whether you’re a giver or taker. Dan Gillmor at the Center for Citizen Media is bothered by the free labor scheme he sees in a corporate blog post about new features just […]