Success may cost only a quarter.
At a staff retreat, we were given a hypothetical problem: “What if sending email cost money?” What a stupid concept-- it will never cost money to send an email! Sure, keep thinking that’s stupid. With some providers, SMS messages cost money to send from your phone. In the UK, local phone calls cost money. Here in Canada, Internet providers are trying to charge their home users based on bandwidth. Anything can have a usage based cost attached to it. At some level, there usually is a charge and the service provider will eat that cost because of the financial benefits they get from having that customer base. Facebook spends millions of dollars in bandwidth fees, but they offer their services free to the users. Some would argue that they charge their advertisers because they provide the users. In essence, the users are a material and not the customer they really care about.
When you attach a cost to something, funny things happen. Chris Anderson, in his book “Free” writes about how people react very differently when they are faced with a tiny charge. It’s referred to as “The penny gap.” If you were to offer Facebook for free, the users (900 million of them (yeah, I’m counting the hundred of millions of bogus and dormant accounts)) would spend $0 per year ($0 X 12 months). If you charged them a penny a month, Facebook would yield $108 million per year in newfound revenue. The first side effect though, all of the bogus accounts would close up because of non-payment. The second side effect, all of the people who didn’t want to spend a penny would refuse to participate. The remainder would be people who bought into the financial model.
That buy-in is very possible to attain. There has been fan-fiction around since well before the Web. When Amazon opened up its Kindle store, it was able to cater to a great many people who were willing to pay to have a digital version of a story piped to their ebook reader. All of this free content online, and users were still willing to pluck down hard earned pennies to get the “good” stuff.
So the copper side of the penny gap has three things: it shakes out the fakes; it shakes out the people who may not be that interested to start with; but it doesn’t shake out everyone.
Content marketing-- where people dump content into blogs like Wordpress.com and blogspot.com-- can get very dodgy. It’s free to join and because the sites appear to be highly trusted, putting a blog there with a link to your site / offer / spam / etc. used to be seen as a good way to suck authority and pipe it to what you’re offering online. Google was built by scholars who used the power and credence of citations to shape how they ranked content in their search engine. The more sites that link to a site, the more relevant it is. Likewise, the more popular those linking sites are, more credence is given to their link in. It means “good” content that appears at the top of a search engine result is considered especially valid because of the links in and not because of the quality of the piece. For one client of mine, their chief competition was a site that was getting a lot of high authority linking. Why? Why did they deserve the special attention of these sites? It was because they sucked: they were getting sued and those lawsuits were noteworthy. There has to be a way to control your fame and let it outshine the infamy of others.
I ruminated on this for a long time. Advertising is one easy way to get the position you wanted but that’s a lead balloon. Blow on it hard enough and it will lift high. Turn that off, and it will fall. Content marketing has a sound foundation even if spamming and splogging has given the concept a bad case of dry rot. There had to be a way to build organically searchable content and control that content’s popularity through your own actions.
My solution: Quarter Fame.
I built the beta version of this site using Drupal. Drupal is feature rich. The modules I could choose from were great. I built a custom module so that users could buy taxonomy terms. I added a way to allow them to use only the terms they owned. As the terms get more popular, the buy-in gets steeper. Early adopters for specific terms (aka topics) can soon sell their terms to other members of the site and let them buy into a good position, using money to get them what timing cannot.
Users are given an opening balance when they register. Each blog post costs a single point to post. The linking to the posts is done via the taxonomy. If you don’t tag your content, it will remain on the site, but it will be obscure and hard to find. It’s an encouragement to tag your content and get in early to gain the leadership position on a given topic of one’s choosing.
In lieu of actual money, I have set-up the site with User Points, so that they can spend and amass in-site points. If a user runs out of points, there will be a system for them to buy points. Likewise, if a reader is registered to the site and they like what they read, they can donate points to the author. As time goes on, I am going to figure out new ways for users to spend and earn this in-site currency.
I intend this site to be a site for bloggers and content marketers. Blogs will have licensing info with each post so that authors can state their Creative Commons terms (including All Rights Reserved). Each blog post will come with a digital tip jar that readers can fund popular content creators.
The Value Proposition
Does this concept interest you? I have a number of ideas for where this concept can go and how it could be a viable business. I would love to talk about how this concept could be expanded upon. If you are interested in getting involved, contact me.
Hang on-- No, Web Link?
This is still in Alpha. I’ve given it a nice polish and most of the features are present. I am accepting sign-ups of people who want to check this out. Until we hit beta, I am not circulating the web address.