How Cashing Out Affects Online Communities

Jeremy Wagstaff looks at MSNBC’s purchase of Newsvine, an online news sharing and citizen journalism community. His focus is that as “old media” companies buy social networking communities, that their is inherent risk that the community will leave:

“How do you reward those who make a website like Newsvine what it is? Or at least, how do you avoid making them feel hopelessly exploited?”

“From the comments a lot of Newsvine users feel a sense of loyalty and protectiveness towards the site and its founders. And although it’s obvious that the best exit strategy for a site like this is to be bought out by a bigger player, probably one in old media, the illusion that something like Newsvine is an antidote to old media is an important one to maintain; how many, otherwise, would expend effort and time contributing for free if they felt the primary goal of the site was to get bought out?”

“Of course, the community itself, by not being party to the discussions with MSNBC nor beholden to the deal, can just up sticks and leave if it doesn’t like the outcome. And that’s where the other illusion kicks in: MSNBC can’t buy the community, although it may feel it has. It can buy the site where that community has built its camp. Make the wrong moves, not make enough moves, or fail to spread the wealth, and it may wake up one morning to find the camp has faded away in the night.”