Sharecropping the long tail: Nicholas Carr
Carr argues here that the aggregation of trivial items from individuals is creating massive value for businesses such as MySpace and Facebook (combined the two sites account for 17% of all page views in November 2006) and suggests the explosion of web content has been brought about through a drop in the cost of producing and consuming the content. He suggests that, consistent with the long-tail theory, it is value rather than content that is being concentrated.
A couple of quotes from Carr:
“…putting the means of production into the hands of the masses but withholding from those same masses any ownership over the product of their work, provides an incredibly efficient mechanism to harvest the economic value of the free labor provided by the very many and concentrate it into the hands of the very few.”
“It’s a sharecropping system, but the sharecroppers are generally happy because their interest lies in self-expression or socializing, not in making money, and, besides, the economic value of each of their individual contributions is trivial.It’s only by aggregating those contributions on a massive scale – on a web scale – that the business becomes lucrative. To put it a different way, the sharecroppers operate happily in an attention economy while their overseers operate happily in a cash economy.”
What Carr appears not to mention is the fact that YouTube, a user generated content site, does not make claim to the ownership of content. Instead, YouTube displays the content on the basis of a license. I argue that part of the value equation for sites such as YouTube is the way the site brings producers and consumers of video into proximity to one another in a common space. Shopping malls have been doing this for years and much of the value in a shopping mall is that shops bring shoppers and shoppers bring shops. There’s no need for the shopping mall to own anything other than the means by which the two are brought together.