Twitterfunding Experiment: Call for Participants

Might people agree to pay and receive money based on their level of use/creation of social media?  This is a small independent experiment to look at whether and how this might happen.

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I. Overview
II. How It Works
III. Requirements
IV. Signup
V.  Frequently Asked Questions
VI. Acknowledgements
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I. Overview:
I’m looking for a group of, say, 10 trial participants to sign up to try it for a period (probably 1 month, I am aiming for May 1-31, 2012).  If interested, add yourself to the signup list.
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II. How it works:

  1. At the start, you are given an Initial Credit (expected to be $10) in a virtual account.  
  2. During the trial period, we track how much you “favorite” and/or retweet other participants’ tweets.
  3. At the end of the month, we count up everyone’s favorites/retweets, and adjust everyone’s account balance in proportion to how many YOU received.  If you got none, you might end with a balance of $0.  If, on the other hand, you got all of the favorites/tweets, you’d get the whole pool of money, or about $100.
  4. You then get this money via Paypal.  That’s it! Your reward for playing, thanks.
  5. Note: I realize there are various ways to use/credit tweets, such as RTs, HTs, paraphrases, etc.  To simplify tracking, the trial will be based only on favoriting, so you would do that always for a tweet you want to credit, regardless of what other use / RT you make of it). [Update 4/11 8am: We're looking at which types of crediting/reuse can feasibly be tracked automatically].

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III.  Requirements:

  1. You must have been an active Twitter user for at least the last three months, and understand how to follow other users, how to “favorite” and RT (retweet), and how to view a user list’s members and tweets.
  2. You must be able to receive funds via a Paypal account.
  3. You agree that your favorites and other publicly visible activity on Twitter will be monitored by the trial organizer for the purpose of this experiment.
  4. Participants are selected by trial organizer at his sole discretion.  I am looking for a group of people who might have a relatively well-distributed degree of interest in each others’ activity, and whom I think are likely to yield useful feedback and data.

happy participants will make this project fly!
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IV.  Signup List:

Actual signup list (requires Google account to edit document).

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V. Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. Q:  WTF?
    A: I know, right?!
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  2. Q: Who are you, anyway?:
    A:  Tim McCormick, I work as Product Manager for Emerging Content at Stanford HighWire Press in Palo Alto, CA.  This is just an independent project for personal interest.

    this picture is not me, it’s of course Noam Chomsky. But we think he’d approve of this project.
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  3. Q: But what problem does this solve? Why would a system like this be necessary?  Doesn’t Twitter work fine already?
    A: Yes, Twitter works now, this may not be necessary.  But, on the other hand, perhaps interesting things may happen if you introduce a funding / royalties sort of mechanism, and it may be easier to try it out than to predict what would happen. This is just a small cheap experiment to do that, following Eric Ries’ model of “Build, Measure, Learn, Repeat.”
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  4. Q: Hasn’t this been tried before?
    A: Yes, there are many precedents, starting with any system of voluntary support for media — e.g. the U.S. public radio model.  (Think of Twitter now as analogous to there being no way to give financial support to the local public radio station you enjoy.  How would the NPR crowd even know who they are?).
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    On the Web, there is for example Wikipedia’s campaigns, and many other projects that have used so-called “tip jar” protocol, or what are sometimes called “street performer”, “threshhold pledge,” or “fund and release” protocols.
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    The idea of apportioning funds for media automatically based on third-party monitoring is also quite old — going back at least a century in U.S. copyright law & practice, and providing the basis for royalties systems such as ASCAP.
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    There have also been zillions of different efforts and models to monetize Web content in the last 20 years, using just about any imaginable variation on advertising, referral credit, traffic monitoring, apportionment of aggregated subscription revenues, etc.
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    Perhaps the most direct precedent is Kachingle (thank you @emilybell for pointing this out) which employs a model of monitoring enrolled users’ visits to Web sites in the network, and distributing voluntarily pledged funds to the site owners based on usage.  Also quite similar to this is Flattr (thanks for @jschneider for tip on this). Both of these, as far I understand them, are essentially for crowd-funding Web sites as a whole, not really for social-media activity as in this experiment. .
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    While Web “tip-jar media” may generally be seen as having had little adoption, there are some interesting new properties about Twitter that might allow different phenomena to emerge.  In particular, Twitter is a relatively transparent 2-way linking system, with much usage behavior publicly visible by default and efficiently monitorable by third parties.
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  5. Q:  Why would anyone voluntarily give money for what’s currently free on Twitter?
    A:  First, for the reasons that anyone voluntarily donates to anything:  because they value it and want to support it and want to express and demonstrate their values.  Second, because they may want to encourage an experiment in radically distributed yet monetized media, and provide incentives for new value-creators in this medium.  Third, who knows? maybe they won’t. That’s why we’re experimenting and not, say, burning huge piles of cash to try this out as an actual company.  Yet.
    [update 4/12 10pm:  several participants voluntarily offered to put in money.  Ok, they’re my friends / associates, so perhaps crazy unrepresentative. But it happened. See F.A.Q. #9 below].
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  6. Q:  but I use another social-media site to “favorite” and share stuff, like Facebook, Vimeo, Pinterest, Weibo, MyFunnyPoodles, or, oh, what was that one Google thing? Can I do it there?
    A:  Not yet.  This social-funding concept is quite possibly extensible to many other social-media systems, but so far we’re just testing the concept on the easiest / most familiar system for us, Twitter.  [update 4/12/12 2:30pm: @mrgunn has suggested a way to add Facebook & G+, considering it for this or possible next round].
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  7. Q:  Are there other related, clever terms you want to coin regarding this?
    A:  Yes. Here goes one:  Tweetfunding is a system somewhat like royalties for media, except it’s peer-to-peer so we call it a socialties system.  (If this term mostly falls flat or incurs scorn — you know who you are — well that’s why blog posts are editable, down it goes and let’s move on, children are starving).
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  8. Q:  I want to support / buy / invest in / hire / you / this.
    A:  Great — run, don’t walk.  Instagram sold for $1B: 12 people and no revenue?  I’m just saying.  My contact info is at top.
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  9. Q: wouldn’t it be better if I paid you the starting money, rather than getting the credit?  May I do that?
    A:  Yes, I accept money.  You can Paypal me using this email address:  paypal at tjm dot org.  This is about learning, but I can work with money.  As Schleiermacher said, I’m not one of those cultured despisers (see: NPR crowd, haters), and it’s like that New Yorker cartoon where a guy goes to a bar and orders “vodka on the rocks, in the rocks, and under the rocks” — I can use it.
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    No, seriously, originally I planned to just give credits and put in the funding myself — ok the VCs’ money, suckas — thinking it necessary to incent participation (and because the basic idea is voluntary funding, and I imagine most users in any larger system on this model would be recipients and not funders).  However, since several people offered to put in their own money, I’ve decided to allow that, to add some new dynamics to the experiment for observation, and so I can go to that great Cuban place for dinner tomorrow to think all this over.

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VI.  Acknowledgements

Thanks to:

  • Emily Bell, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University, for feedback and discussion of Kachingle. @emilybell
  • William Gunn of Mendeley, for feedback and ideas. @mrgunn.
  • Kate Niederhoffer of Knowable Research for discussions. @katenieder.
  • Jason Priem of UNC-Chapel Hill and Total-Impact.org, for feedback and ideas. @jasonpriem.
  • Jodi Schneider of Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI), Galway, for ideas on all things discussion and argumentation, and for tip about social-funding service Flattr.
  • Barry Wellman, University of Toronto, for helping to circulate the idea for discussion. @barrywellman.
  • Karen Wickre, editorial director at Twitter, for feedback. @kvox.

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