“Profiting off user-generated content is Web 2.0 colonialism.”* That sums up how I feel about the much-praised (and widely backed) Structured Blogging initiative, which makes it easy for bloggers to use microformats to mark-up specific genres of blog posts – reviews, classified listings, and so on. Microformats make blog posts machine-readable, which in turn allow them to be used by applications. Jeff Clavier sees Structured Blogging “eventually pushing blogging into richer types of applications – and enabling new types of aggregation.” Indeed – if adopted, it will. Which is what irks me. Structured user-generated content, especially aggregated reviews, is very valuable. Case in point – the del.icio.us purchase. Since del.icio.us’ functionality is easily replicable, the deal was all about the value of user-generated content. You’d think with content being worth so much, the Structured Blogging initiative would contain a way for the content providers to indicate, in a machine-readable fashion, just how they would like to be reimbursed for the commercial use of the content they’re providing. Not so – at least not anywhere I can see. One can indicate which Creative Commons license one would like to use – which might prevent unauthorized commercial exploitation, if everyone abides by the rules – but I don’t believe there’s a way to say “hey, I love commercial exploitation – just as long as I get my cut.”
In my more pessimistic moments, I suspect that the omission of a payment mechanism is deliberate, and that the biggest proponents of Structured Blogging are just looking for new ways to aggregate a lot of content, use it to build up a valuable userbase, and sell, generating nothing for us-plain-folks but ‘a bigger megaphone.’ Now, I’m not insisting I get paid for everything I do online. I’m generally happy to contribute to sites I use – del.icio.us made a mint off my bookmarks but I get a lot out of del.icio.us. I’m usually not opposed to getting informally paid in traffic – that’s why I’ve got Technorati tags on my site. And in some cases, like job postings and classified listings, if I can fill a position or sell my junk that’s more than reward enough. But I really don’t want to be placed in a position where I get nothing for my small part in someone else’s eight-digit payday. I don’t want to come across like too much of a tool, but if I’m going to structure my content, I need better ways to control its commercial use.
Ultimately, I just want an acknowledgement that no ‘Web 2.0′ company is anything without the contributions of its userbase. We should be treated as partners, not as a resource to be exploited – by giving something of value, we should be able to get something of value back in return. So far, Structured Blogging enables the giving but doesn’t provide for the getting, and until it does I’ll be wary of it.
* I wish I’d said this myself but it’s actually something Paul Mooney wrote in a comment on another blog.