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July 20, 2006

When all else fails, throw money at them!

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Jason Calacanis wants to recruit a team of nerdy titled “Netscape Navigators” by luring them away from other social sites with the promise of a monthly paycheck. Oh, Jason, how I loathe thee. I want to admit that it’s an interesting, perhaps smart approach to build content production. But at the same time, the fact that he wants to recruit his Netscape Navigators by stealing them from sites like Digg, del.icio.us and Flickr is also kind of offensive and part of me (okay, a lot of me) hopes it fails miserably.

Here’s Jason’s rather arrogant proposal:

“We will pay you $1,000 a month for your "social bookmarking" rights. Put in at least 150 stories a month and we’ll give you $12,000 a year. (note: most of these folks put in 250-400 stories a month, so that 150 baseline is just that-a baseline).

I’m absolutely convinced that the top 20 people on DIGG, Delicious, Flickr, MySpace, and Reddit are worth $1,000 a month and if we’re the first folks to pay them that is fine with me-we will take the risk and the arrows from the folks who think we’re corrupting the community process (is there anyone out there who thinks this any more?!).”

[Raises hand.]

It was bad enough that Jason stole the entire concept of the new Netscape site from other social sites, but now he wants to buy their users and traffic too?

Jason’s proposal may be an excellent business decision. If successful, it could help the newly re-branded Netscape gain a loyal following and attract users. I can appreciate Jason’s initial line of thinking. However, as good as it is for business, it’s potentially disastrous for social communities and for the vulnerable Netscape.

Users flock to these communities for many reasons – they like the community feel, having the power to judge what’s newsworthy or the notoriety that comes with getting noticed and creating a following. None of these reasons have ever had anything to do with money. Members knew others like them took time out of their day to digg a story or bookmark a site, and because there was no paycheck or ulterior motive involved, the selections were trusted.

Jason’s proposition changes that, and in the end I believe it will be Netscape that suffers. No one will trust the stories that make it to the top of the Netscape page. Why? Because they were bought and paid for courtesy of Mr. Jason Calacanis. If Jason is looking for quality, as he says he is, this is not the way to achieve it. These new Netscape Navigators are no longer community members; they’re Jason’s team of hired minions.

I don’t think Jason even knows why the sites he’s trying to imitate are successful. It has nothing to do with their business proposals. Digg has the following it does because members have developed an allegiance to the Digg brand. Trying to bring users over to Netscape is going to be an uphill (if not impossible) battle. People don’t like Netscape, just like they don’t like AOL. They didn’t like the old Netscape, let alone the new copycat version. Additionally, trying to buy traffic is the mark of an inferior product. Users aren’t stupid, and I don’t think they’ll give up their communities for a dorky title.

I think John Murrell does the best job of capturing the essence (and arrogance) of The Jason Calacanis.

“I don’t know Jason Calacanis, but he’s starting to remind me of the rich kid in school who wasn’t particularly well liked but whose free-spending ways always kept a crowd around him.”

Agreed. Kind of like Mark Cuban.

[Update: Aww, Jason’s all butthurt. Check out his comment to John Murrell over at Good Morning Silicon Valley.]

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