Wikipedia and Social Capital

Aug 10, 2010

I heard about this Newsweek story on the decline of crowdsourcing from Alacra VP Barry Graubart's twitter feed (@graubart Buggy whip makers fight back: Newsweek says user-generated content is failing Evolution tough on those who don't evolve). Good take in that it behooves "old media" to foretell the failure of "new media" models.

What is most interesting to me about Newsweek's article, however, is how utterly it fails to grasp the idea of social capital.

explanations [about the decline of Wikpedia contributions] overlook a far deeper and enduring truth about human nature: most people simply don't want to work for free.

First off: payment has always taken many forms. Recently, within gaming worlds and many social networking environments, pay takes the form of social capital--the esteem and reputation built by the sharing of your ideas. Yet this isn't an entirely new idea, particularly when we consider academia in which the vast majority of important published work is done for no pay. In fact, this is why Wikipedia provides a remarkable of these old and new models of reputation currency.

While the writer of the Newsweek piece heads in the right direction, looking at how many successful social media sites leverage ratings and rewards, I think that the last line betrays a lack of insight into social capitalism:

Prizes are a start. Can cash be far behind? Oh, right, then it would just be a job.

The fact is, more and more people are getting paid to manufacture "social media." However the way Wikipedia needs to rethink its model isn't to make contributing more like a day job, it is to figure out what sort of social rewards its contributors need and to reward them with meaningful social currency.