One of the mistakes we often make in our quest for economic reductionism is to assume that all value can be monentized. But this model often breaks down in the context of online communities. As Manila Austin, a psychologist who heads up research at Communispace, put it, “People want the validation that they are being heard.”
In a BusinessWeek article entitled “Will Work for Praise: The Web’s Free-Labor Economy“, Stephen Baker tells some stories about the unpaid volunteers who invest their energy in helping others online, and the companies who try to monetize their efforts. Of course, the volunteers are only unpaid in financial terms; they are very much incented by one thing money can’t always buy: attention.
These days, there’s a lot of concern about what business models will sustain social media–particularly blogs and Twitter. It’s clear from stories like Baker’s that many participants in online communities are sufficiently motivated to invest their own time–and possibly even their own money–in order to reap the non-financial reward of attention.
As it is, most bloggers and tweeters are unpaid for their efforts. Perhaps this model will ultimately sustain the blogosphere, and attention will trump money as the currency of communication.