digital and social media | May 01, 2013

Free Tweets—Big Money: Justin Fox On Profiting From Peer-Produced Content

While there are lots of jobs emerging in the social media space—where people are paid to tweet, blog, etc., on behalf of a company—Justin Fox notes that most of these outlets are still based on "peer production processes" rather than "price-incentivized systems." Meaning, much of the content that the power players in the social media world are profiting from is produced for free by other users. But, as Fox probes in a new article in Harvard Business Review, how long will that last? How long, his provocative headline reads, are you going to be willing to tweet for free? As the lines between professional media and peer-produced media begin to blur, the question of whether the web will eventually go down the path of traditional media has begun to take center stage. Will the YouTubes, Facebooks, Twitters, and Blogs of the Internet soon become dominated by commercial interests? Or, will they continue to be dominated by non-paid contributors in a system that operates outside of traditional marketplace standards of money-making incentives?

This question was laid out in the early days of the Web boom years ago by Nicholas Carr and Yochai Benkler in the form of a bet between the two about the future of profitability on the web, which Fox wrote about it in TIME back in 2007. The verdict is still out on the direction the Internet will take in the future. What is true today, however, is that there is a mix of peer production and profit-driven production within the same organizations. Something Fox says "[carries] with it lots of potential for conflict." While many of the content producers are not being paid in the social media world, the owners of these media sites certainly are. And Fox predicts that eventually a conflict will arise when the "for-profit empires built upon peer-production" require more from their users to generate a greater profit for themselves. "But you have to wonder if, as companies like Google and Facebook and Twitter inevitably become more entwined in the Wall Street Game, they'll be pressured to capture more of the value they create," he writes, "and the willingness of their users to engage in unpaid commons-based peer production will diminish."

The future of Internet publishing is still up in the air. Fox, however, offers some insight into the way that these markets operate. He is the Editorial Director of the Harvard Business Review Group and the bestselling author of The Myth of the Rational Market. He's a trusted voice on the way that broad economic and financial matters intersect with societal issues. Whether it's in his writing or on the stage, Fox presents a sound and applicable analysis of the way the financial market affects our lives.

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