Mark Potts knows, but won't say. Or more accurately, the cofounder of the community website network, which burnt $3 million in less than two years before folding this summer, won't give up the good stuff. He's citing "private business matters involved that we've chosen not to discuss." Yet he's happy to post about general lessons learned on his Recovering Journalist blog. A lot of this is boilerplate that could apply to any new business - startups are hard, keep costs down - and some is pretty much Web 2.0 cant at this point - it's a conversation, engage your community - but still worth reading. One promising note for any community-oriented, ad-supported startups out there - Potts says selling ads wasn't really a problem.
But just for argument's sake, if we really are embracing communities here, and we really are in an age of transparency, I look forward to reading postmortems from SAS Investors, Omidyar Networks and other investors who sunk money into the venture. Anyone?
Attended a small industry think-tank last night focused on social media. One hypothesis under consideration: How long will Internet users happily generate content for free that makes millions for site owners? The operative example was Delicious, which consists of a tagging interface and a few servers--and a user base of thousands upon thousands of dedicated, unpaid taggers. For those who missed the news, the couple-year-old company was sold to Yahoo! this week for (presumably) tens of millions of dollars.
Did Delicious exploit--and then shaft--its taggers? Is Google, as the publishing industry and many others suggest, exploiting the entirety of the content-creating world? Will users eventually revolt, demanding cash or other benefits for their tireless work on behalf of Delicious, Google, and other shareholders?
The answers, at least at last night's confab, were mixed. My opinion: Until someone suggested the concept of exploitation, I assume that Delicious's taggers were the happiest bunch of users in the world. Here was a cool new technology that allowed them to tell others what they found interesting, that allowed them to "vote," as it were, that allowed them to express themselves and influence others by virtue of their Internet exploration and editorial decisions, that allowed them to lead the vanguard of the next wave of Internet innovation, that allowed them, in some cases, to become famous within the growing community of Delicious fanatics, many of whom looked up to them and wished that they, themselves, were so talented and multi-faceted. Before someone shouted "unfair!", I imagine, most Delicious taggers were having the time of their lives. (Why else would they have been doing it?)
And I would say that similar, non-financial motivations drive the vast majority of unpaid bloggers (22 million and counting), blog commenters (100 million?), letters-to-the-editor writers, MySpace citizens, chat board participants, expounders, opiners, self-deemed experts, whiners, bar-stool philosophers, and assorted windbags (billions) that express themselves every day the world around. Most of these folks aren't doing it for the money. And if someone else is making money off them, while enabling them to do what they love to do--and do of their own free will--well, then, more power to them.
Which is not to say that the most prolific, professional, and influential of such user-content-generators will not and should not ultimately be paid for what they do. They should--and will. WeblogsInc., for example, pays some of its bloggers per post (not much, but something). Google pays content publishers via a cut of AdSense. eBay now reportedly provides healthcare to some of its power sellers. If Delicious had grown to maturity, it probably would have found some way to pay its most prolific and beloved taggers.
Ultimately, though, there is a name for such folks, who will always constitute a tiny minority of social media generators, online and offline: professionals. The pressure and responsibility that goes with providing a service in exchange for money is, and forever will be, different than that which accompanies casual participation--however much value that participation may eventually create for someone else.
So, no, in my opinion, Delicious's taggers weren't screwed. Rather, they participated in the development of a cool new company and activity, one whose influence and exposure should now increase exponentially. And they deserve to be proud of that.