Among the many lessons, he keeps coming back to motivation and incentive.
“A well managed project correctly estimates what motivates people to join in, what the various rewards are for participants, and where the practical limits of their involvement lie.
…amateur production will never replace the system of paid correspondents. It only springs to life when people are motivated enough to self-assign and follow through.”
The idea wasn’t fundamentally broken, in my mind. Crowdsourced news is very powerful. As Derek Powazek said,
“At its best, crowdsourcing is about expanding the walls of the newsroom to the internet, giving an opportunity to people with real experience to share their expertise. This is a point that’s often lost on people who are just looking to make a quick buck on Web 2.0.”
More than anything else, I suspect that AssignmentZero failed because there weren’t any readers. Motivation wouldn’t have been a problem with a NYTimes-sized audience.
To date, I’ve never seen a better explanation of the motivations in collaborative online experiences than Yochai Benkler’s paper called Coase’s Penguin. One of my favorite excerpts from that is where he warns against paying for contributions from the community:
“An act of love drastically changes meaning when one person offers the other money at its end, and a dinner party guest who will take out a checkbook at the end of dinner instead of bringing flowers or a bottle of wine at the beginning will likely never be invited again.”
There are as many motivations as there are contributors in a shared media project. What holds them together is more art than science. Some of that art includes good timing and luck. But it also requires a unique kind of commitment and salesmanship from the leaders of the project.
I’ve begun to wonder if the tipping point happens when the confluence of the community size, the ROI to the contributors and the depth of the trust relationship with the company or the brand creates more value than the sum of the parts. Maybe the science of collaboration services can be found by quantifying the meaning of the relationships between those elements: size, cost, benefit and trust.
Or it could also be that the secret sauce inside the Craig Newmarks, Stewart Butterfields and Jimmy Waleses of the world is much more complicated and nuanced than anyone realizes.