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Two new money-making platforms for social content creators

Two new social nets, and Mightybell, allow social network contributors to take some of their content and turn it into income property.

"If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold." That simple comment by Andrew Lewis on a MetaFilter post in 2010 did a great job, I think, of capturing some of the subconscious discomfort users accumulate as they put more and more of their lives on social networks like Facebook. But two new social products on display at the Web 2.0 Summit earlier this week, and Mightybell, turn the equation around a bit, allowing social network contributors to take some of their content and turn it into income property.

As Harry McCracken points out, isn't really a social network in the Facebook or Twitter model (and for that matter, Twitter execs don't view Twitter as a social network either). Rather, it's a publishing platform, like Tumblr, with strong social hooks. In Chime, you create subject hubs that users subscribe to, and the company will share revenue from the ads it sells into those hubs with you.

Or, if you sell your own ads on those hubs, you can keep all the cheddar for yourself.

Chime is supposed to be a hub for interests, but in its early stage, it feels a lot like just another social network. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Personally, I don't love Chime. It feels to me like a social network, and I'm overcommitted already on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. But as Bill Gross (Chime's founder) told me when I started to surface some of my concerns on the service, "As communities get built out and you get invited to one you love, hopefully that'll be the ..." At which point his platform cut him off. Still, his point is taken.

The unique point of Chime is that you are no longer always the product. Your friends are, though. In this service, you can turn the tables and become the social network publisher, at least from the advertising perspective. Chime uses social mechanisms, like the capability to invite friends to get you to get your friends into it. You can profit along the way. And that, I like. (In related news, yesterday the blog advertising network Federated Media announced that it was doing a deal with Automattic so users of the blogging platform will get access to Federated's ad programs.)

While Chime is organized around interests, Mightybell is set up around guided activities. The revenue model here is direct: If people want to follow one of your activities (example: "Get down for a power poker weekend in Vegas"), you can set it up so there's a pay wall in front of your how-to. Or you can just keep it free and open. It's social, but it's lso reminiscent of Instructables.

Mightybell lets users create step-based how-tos, and profit from them. (Image edited for space; click for original.) Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

And again, there are social components to the content modules--users can talk to each other and invite friends--but really it's an expertise platform, not one for sharing the trivia and ephemera of everyday life, as Facebook is.

As an indication that these products are not competitors to Facebook, it's worth nothing that both use Facebook mechanisms for inviting users and for advertising activities, and it doesn't feel like you're competing with Facebook per se when you do that.

I'm in favor of anything that brings value back to writers who write about things in which they have unique expertise. As Joanne Bradford, the chief revenue and marketing officer for Demand Media, said during her talk at the summit, to date, the more information that writers have created on the Net, the more its value has been reduced. Apparently people are finally trying to halt that value dilution.

Since I make my living creating online content, I'm completely in favor of anything and everything that is being done to increase the perceived and actual value of online content. But I am not too sure that creating little platform tools, like Chime and Mightybell, will do very much. A small percentage of writers may make money, just as a tiny proportion of YouTube video creators do, but the free and unmonetized content (the pages without specialized ads; the Mightybell activities that are free to all) will carry these sites' water by being the traffic drivers and SEO hooks, since the conversion (getting readers to upgrade from from free to paid content) will, I predict, remain very low. As on other sites and services, it will likely be the free content and the unpaying users that end up as chum to land the small proportion of paying fish. These sites may also have the challenge of keeping their superstar content creators on the sites instead of moving off to their own more branded and controlled services, standard sites, and blogs. A white-label strategy might help here, though.

Business challenges notwithstanding, I do like the philosophies behind these sites and I would like to see them flourish. Somebody's got to educate readers that content is valuable, and more importantly, remind writers (everyone blasting away on social networks), that their words might have value, if only they can find the right market.