The concept of having unpaid users actual do work that a company would otherwise pay for has caught the imagination of businesses. Content mill and Internet registrar Demand Media just got SEC clearance for its initial public offering. One concern about Demand has been its reliance on Google to refer traffic to Demand's web sites. But there's another issue: getting and keeping enough of the free (or nearly so) help. Whether the subject is Demand or AOL, or even companies that expect to engage people through social networks by asking them to create commercials or other content, getting and keeping the volunteers could be difficult. Wikipedia's experience shows how challenging the task can be.
According to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia.org gets about 400 million visitors a month, which agrees with a November 2010 estimate by comScore:
Of that number, a tiny portion are active in editing and writing. According to the site WikiStats, which keeps statistics on Wikipedia, more than 8,000 new articles go up globally on Wikipedia every day.
With the number of edits and new articles a month, there's a huge amount of work but a relatively tiny percentage of the users willing to do it. Any company that wants to leverage unpaid help has to consider how to achieve the following:
- Attract users willing to contribute.
- Have the users perceive the experience as valuable to them.
- Prevent contributing users from burning out.
- Recruit enough contributing users to more than overcome the ones that leave.
- Recognize which contributing users are most likely to become more active and entice them to do so.
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