Stephen Baker of BusinessWeek looks closely at ThisNext, a social network of shoppers, in his piece on “free labor”.
Laura Sweet, an advertising creative director in her early 40s, is at the center of the story. Sweet creates content for free on ThisNext, which profits directly from her labor.
Gordon Gould, who runs ThisNext describes what’s in it for the volunteers. “They can build their brands,” Gould says. “In their niches, they can become mini-Oprahs.”
Baker describes the relationship:
The unwritten quid pro quo between Gould and Sweet amounts to a boilerplate contract for much of the free-labor economy. Gould provides a stage for Sweet to strut her stuff, a platform to reach millions of shopping fanatics around the world. This is the key to his business. It draws advertisers to targeted sites populated with shopping enthusiasts.
As far as Gould is concerned, Sweet is a freak, statistically speaking–and just the kind of freak he was banking on. Gould, who studies network theory, believes much of the free-labor economy would crash and burn if it relied on average people to handle the work. He’s looking instead for what the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls Black Swans–statistical anomalies. In his view, a mere handful of people rise to the top through a combination of smarts, good timing, and hard work.
Sweet might cash in on her stardom somewhere else–on her blog, by writing books, appearing on TV, or even a new job.
I hope she does. Because “you need that cash to feed that jones.”