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Slashdot optimally balances customers, contributors, and lurkers

The tech news aggregator's pay-by-contributing model could be instructive for other Web businesses.

I logged into Slashdot this morning and saw this note:

This strikes me as an excellent balance between the different kinds of contributions to a service. I didn't mind the ads before on Slashdot, but I can imagine some would happily buy their way out of the ads. If I did mind the ads, however, I'd far prefer to contribute my way out of seeing them, rather than paying my way to this same end.

There's a potential lesson in this for others, including Twitter in its ongoing business model evolution. Cash is not the only value a user can offer. In fact, sometimes cash might be the least valuable thing a user can offer, if she is someone whose content would draw paying customers to a service.

And then there are the lurkers, those who read Slashdot content but contribute nothing beyond readership and may even block ads such that they provide no monetary compensation to Slashdot. Even lurkers should be embraced, as Linus Torvalds recently wrote me (speaking of open-source "freeloaders"), because of their potential:

The fact is, a freeloader is a freeloader. They are neither evil nor good per se and neither add value nor take it away--but they very much are a potential tester and contributor. So they all have the potential for becoming something more.

Slashdot's pay-by-contributions model strikes a useful balance between customer and contributor, leaving open the option for lurkers to become something more. It's not the only way to reward contributors, and not the only way to treat customers, but I think it's a big step in the right direction.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.