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Ask HN: I need you but have no money. What can I offer you instead?
65 points by pmorel on Sept 12, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments
We spend a lot of our free time helping other for free: answering questions on stackoverflow, providing tips and advice on blogs, even clicking on an ad usually profits more to the advertiser that the person clicking. How can we reward fairly this work? Should we expect to be getting anything in return? I'd like to see more products or services for which good contributors and/or active users are not treated as free labour.

The most extreme example that comes to my mind was Google Image Labeler. I said "Was" as I've just noticed that "Google Image Labeler is being phased out, and will no longer be available as of September 16, 2011.". Google Image Labeler (http://images.google.com/imagelabeler/) was a total farce or simply brilliant depending on how you look at it. Behind the disguise of a game, contributors were asked to label random images in order to improve the relevance of Google Image Search. Some have spent several hundreds or thousands of hours for free; the top contributors reaching around 3 million points. The only benefitor in term of money is Google.

Your time is not free but what can I offer in exchange of you contributing to my website? Some examples in no particular order:

- Nothing, just a good reliable product/service. In a way, most people are happy to use services such as Google or Facebook for free. The service providers get money through ads and the user get a good service.

- Freebees: every week, the top 100 contributors automatically enters to a draw to win an iPad.

- Some of the profit: cut of the profit generated by the content you provided. Many blogs or user content generated websites do reward the author based on the success of their content.

- No Ad: Similar to paid applications that simply removes the ads, contributors could have the option to opt out of ads.

- Extra features: Contributors get the advanced features that would normally be given to paying customers.

- Reward: each contribution gives the user points and points can be exchanged against money/product/whatever.

- Badge/Karma: that's how ycombinator/stackoverflow works.

- Amazing deal: Through partnerships you get x% discount on products/services.

Do you think contributors of a community website should be rewarded? If yes, to which degree? What would you like to get offered?

You have to be very careful when you start offering real rewards. People will game the system for free, but nothing like the level of gaming that goes on for a reward. You'll end up with absolute crap.

And don't assume that people 'working for free' are getting nothing of it. They obviously enjoy it, or they wouldn't do it. Offering a tangible reward will change their motivation.

The result of both of those is often losing your best, most loyal users.

Be very careful.

I've done some projects on Mechanical Turk (spent enough to get an account rep!) and I can definitely say that offers of money will bring in people who will (1) rip you off or (2) do the minimum work required to get paid.

The type (1)'s are easy to deal with because there are ways to check people's work. They just don't get paid. The type (2)'s are harder -- there's a population of Turks that I call Superturks that spend a lot of time Turking. If you make a histogram of how many HITs everybody did, they'll be the people who did the most.

The trouble with Superturks is that the quality of the work they do is worse than average, usually just good enough that you wouldn't feel comfortable rejecting their work. I know I could get better quality if I banned them, but I find it hard to do.

Reject mediocrity in all aspects of life. Spend money on good tools, and shun anyone who makes less-than-good tools.

indeed. this: http://www.amazon.com/Reality-Broken-Games-Better-Change/dp/... cites research that shows that people work waaay less hard on something when monetary reward is offered, than when it's just for free.

Be careful with introducing monetary rewards. Rewards can sometimes have weird psychological effects on people, and may actually lessen their willingness to contribute because the task comes to be seen more as "work" than pastime [1] .

Small side-note : A special property of the Stackoverflow system is that the user's profile can actually gain a value on its own, by reflecting so well on the user that it can be included in a CV. This value is very difficult to recreate for most on-line communities. I believe that Stackoverflow profiles have become a new hunting ground for head hunters to find suitable candidates.

[1] http://naggum.no/motivation.html

Stack Overflow points also help to unlock additional features of the site, for example you can't comment on a post until you have 100 points, which unlocks that feature for you.

But most of these additional features seem to be mostly about being allowed more advanced ways to contribute to the community, e.g. editing other users' comments, locking articles etc.

None of the features (that I know of, my SO karma is nothing to brag about) make Stackoverflow more USEFUL to the high-karma user, than to the low-karma one.

Slashdot experimenting for a while with letting high-karma users disable ads.

They didn't disable them by default -- they just started showing a checkbox in the sidebar providing the option as a thank-you for "your contributions to the site" or something like that.

I don't see the checkbox anymore (I never bothered to check it; I don't visit much nowadays), so perhaps they decided the experiment wasn't a success.

While that is the case, SO is designed to be as accessible as possible for even the most casual user. There are even stories about cookie based accounts that are ancient as far as I remember.

So the site tries very hard to require nothing to participate and as someone else already said, the 'more advanced' privileges are not useful for most people. Why would you want to edit questions in general, unless you're the OCD type or a wikipedia separatist? :)


I've had a job offer from a person that found my profile on StackOverflow.

Nothing (except for badges/karma which are intangible and cannot be translated to $$).

Once you start offering anything tangible to me, I start thinking about how does it translate to my hourly rate and this is where you will fail.

So much has been written about why Amazon has the best reviews ever without ever paying a cent. Why Wikipedia is the greatest encyclopedia ever with last (and only) paid contributor back in 2005. etc etc...

If you start offering people something in exchange for their contribution, you will fail. Just look at Google Knol.

"So much has been written about why Amazon has the best reviews ever" please do provide some links! I'm very interested.

you can start here (read the comments too for more references):


Does Badge/Karma work with all types of audience?

Not really. Don't think of badges & karma too literally. They are just tools to provide gratification.

It wouldn't be effective for Wikipedia since only the feeling that you are contributing to the most popular encyclopedia in the world gives you enough gratification to do it. Linux contributors don't need badges for the very similar reasons too.

But of course, the smaller you are, more tools and tricks you need to utilize to help users feel gratification for their contribution. This is the key.

I was under the impression that most Linux contributors were actually paid by some other employer who happened to use the Linux kernel in their own products and contributed their patches and drivers back upstream. That said, there are still a large portion who do the same sort of work completely for free.

Not for a community I'd like to be part of.

Every single one of these 'rewards' leads to people trying to game the system, which leads to noise. You know the drill:

- SO is full of people that jump at new answers, try to 'win' by submitting early and editing their answer later. "More text formatting = better". Needs. More. Bullet. Points.

- HN submissions are 'valuable' so that we had automated submissions or bookmarklets in the past.

That's karma alone, and your other suggestions are even worse in my book, because they could be exchanged for money much easier (iPad, deals, your direct exchange option) and therefor could be gamed as 'part time jobs'.

Is that bad? Depends, I guess, on your target audience. In my opinion the people that go for there rewards are usually not (in general) part of your preferred audience. And since you'll have a hard time judging quality in a community site the people that push out most (even if it is crappy/below average or borderline spam) win.

Having full-time employees (as opposed to paying random people) creating the content and paid by for the quality of the content rather by the content would be better then. As long as there is an issue way to evaluate their "quality".

I know of one mountainbike forum which from time to time put interviews with famous users (for example because of very good riding video, etc) on the main page. I think this is a good opportunity for good riders to find sponsors and so on.

Translated to something like stack overflow this would be a good way for top contributors to get new clients/project/whatever and do some general advertisement for their own company.

edit: Examples in German:



> Do you think contributors of a community website should be rewarded?

No. A real community (that actually cares for each other) works "for free"—the compensation is in improving the community.

I just wrote a hasty post about why I help others just yesterday (http://jnorthrop.tumblr.com/post/10094419737/karma).

You don't list it among your options but helping others has basic intrinsic rewards that adds to your own self-satisfaction. I help when and where I can and I enjoy it. What is more enjoyable, using some specialized expertise for an hour to help an appreciative entrepreneur or playing Call of Duty?

I sound like a new age hippie (which I am not) but I wake up everyday feeling good about the previous day.

It depends on a lot of things!

We'll assume that whatever it is you are having people do is something that is intrinsically rewarding, benefits them, and is not taking up their entire life. We're not talking about having interns come in and work 8 hr days on projects you specify for no pay and you retain original copyright ownership as work for hire without pay. It's more like Stack Overflow answers.

As has been pointed out, in such a system by offering cold hard cash, you can and will attract gamers and the wrong element by paying, and you can and will also destroy the intrinsic motivation of the many sincere people who enjoyed contributing for free before.

At some level of contribution there needs to be pay off though, especially if you are directly monetizing contributions. I am thinking of youtube here. There are now professional youtube performers, people who make a living writing original comedy and commentary and skits for youtube and earning money from the shared ad revenue. This is only done with top earners who are making enough from ads to actually be able to fund doing it as a full time job. The result has been higher quality material and more stickiness from popular contributors.

It all depends on what kind of community/website it is.

Communities like HN/StackOverflow - Why do people contribute here? Though there is reward system is in place here(karma) but I doubt if that acts as primary motivation. In such community, my contribution is your reward and your contribution is my reward. YC isn't getting any direct monitory benefits from HN but having a good successful community of hackers helps them indirectly in many ways. So, it's a win-win situation for everyone.

Products like Google, Gmail,Facebook etc. - Isn't it rewarding enough in itself to be able to use such excellent products free of cost(even if it comes with minimal text ads)?

The bottom line is that if you are using a website because it is providing some kind of value to you and your contribution is actually helping it in providing even more value back to users, you shouldn't think about monitory awards.

If it is not providing anything valuable, you won't be using it, even if it is free.

If you are getting paid for using something or contributing, it means the site in itself isn't that valuable to you. So, they lure you through monitory benefits. For example, paid surveys.

Offer users a competition. The competitive nature in most people can be enough motivation for them to work for free short-term.

A small prize/perk for the winners is good, but only if multiple users can't join together to increase their chances of winning.

Karma points is fine with me, but to me the real reward for helping others is in knowing that you've helped.

'The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit'. Nelson Henderson

I think that would lead to segregation and a feeling of resentment among individuals who feel like they've contributed significantly but haven't received anything.

Also, there is that paradoxical concept where it is pleasing to volunteer a service, but the minute you are paid anything, if it's not enough to make a happy life on, giving that service becomes disagreeable to the point where it seems that it's not worth doing. I can't remember the name for this or who came up with it.

If I contribute, it's normally because I think I have something of value to offer that's otherwise missing. Passing up the opportunity to do that feels bad, which is my incentive to do it (although it's often outweighed by other factors). If I were instead motivated by the rewards you suggest I think the quality of my contributions would plummet dramatically even from its current mediocre level.

karma would be the best thing, IMHNO. it has no monetary value, but can have social value. the "free labour" to your site is just that - free(monetarily, anyway). it has no monetary value in and of itself. as others have pointed out, once you do start to assign monetary value to it, then greed begins to naturally take hold and people just game the system even more. someone who is a frequent contributor on many sites, though - they tend to acquire rep - on the internet, no less, and will naturally attract all the things that a good rep attracts, which some would say is worth far more than money.

think of it like this - when you play a game of Monopoly, you're playing for play money. you get rich in the game, but the money you earn there is worthless outside of the game. at best you might earn some rep among your friends for winning (more than likely tho, they're a little pissed at you for screwing them in the game in order to win), and even that is pretty worthless outside of your social circle.

take the same game and play it with real money, and now it is gambling. see the difference?

It's an old, tired adage, but it's true: "Content is King".

On HN, obtaining topical, interesting news and conversation is the most rewarding and valuable thing that this site has to offer.

Your question shouldn't be "what can we give you" but rather "what can we do for you".

Here on HN, the answer will be a variety of ways to improve both the quality of the submissions and the conversation that surround them.

What about a relationship and contact with other cool people? I would be much more interested in contributing high quality content/interactions/whatever to a site if better contributions gave me more interaction with other top contributors in ways that were mutually beneficial.

A badge or Karma is fine for me, just the fact that they show that you are contributing and helping is fine with me.

But it doesn't only have to be when you provide time, peer-to-peer services could provide similar measures for bandwidth or computing-power.

I have created http://weekendhacker.net where people trade skills. I currently have +6500 designers and developers and more than 150 projects have been posted and found help so far.

Yes, Money , Swag , and Beta releases out the yang.

Maybe reward them with attention? Have a blog post that features a community member everyday or every week or an interview...

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