What Content Looks Like In Mahalo Land

At one point during Mahalo's presentation at an NY Tech MeetUp last week, I couldn't help but wonder how Wikipedia would fare if it weren't a non-profit organization that relied on volunteers to contribute content.

In a sense, this is what Mahalo is--a human-powered search engine of wiki pages that relies on volunteered contributions--and CEO Jason Calacanis was in New York to say it needed to be changed. The lack of power users, Calacanis said, meant Mahalo relies more on paid contributors to add content than volunteers, a costly strategy that has stifled growth.

In announcing Mahalo 2.0, Calacanis hoped new iterations would create more incentive for users to generate content. The big changes to functionality are two-fold. First, users can "claim" and manage pages. Second, content managers get paid ad revenue based on a page's traffic.

Managers of content, Calacanis said, will split ad revenue 50-50 with Mahalo and be expected to update the pages "once or twice a week" as well as adhere to some basic editorial guidelines.

While most pages don't generate much revenue at all--only a third make more than $10 a month--Calacanis believes that with expected traffic growth, Mahalo can become a steady source of income for power users.

"We think it will create a lot of jobs," he said. Earlier, he tweedicted one user would make $2500 Mahalo dollars, or 1875 USD, in one year.

Compensation was once the source of a major schism within the Wikipedia volunteer community, says Andrew Lih, author of the The Wikipedia Revolution. A commitment to the "free aspect" of Wikipedia endured, however, and the community now refuses to even discuss an alternative.

Lih isn't surprised to see Mahalo going in this direction, which he says "makes it a bit more Wikipedia-like, in a paradoxical way."

"The truth is, in Wikipedia, there are groups of folks who do the same in terms of having 'turf' that they protect and monitor."

But could Mahalo be isolating loyal users by incentivizing contributions with money? 

"Claiming pages for money is definitely not Wikipedia-like," Lih said. "So that dynamic could shift volunteer efforts. This is what Yochai Benkler called the "jalt factor"--the jealousy mixed with altruism effect. Why should I donate my time and effort if someone else gets rich?"  

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