Now that YouTube is going to pay its top producers, can we drop the neo-hippie, Blithedale Romance, wash-my-back-hair-I'll-wash-yours pretense? The Web stopped being a commune for naked dudes on the late shift a long time ago. Now we're all just trying to get paid.
So raise your hands: Who here remembers July 2006 when Jason Calacanis offered to pay the top users of Digg and Newsvine to submit stories to Netscape? And do you also remember how shocked -- shocked! -- everyone was at the idea? The very thought that money, that little green satan, was intruding upon a blissful land of naked conversations was enough to make you wretch in your Aeron chair.
Thing is, Jason was right, he was just right at the wrong time. He offered to pay users before the "community" was built. Chad and Steve corrected the mistake. They understand that those blissed-out "conversations" everyone is having are worth megabucks, you just gotta wait for a critical mass.
In short: Conversations are monetizable. Abetting conversations: More so.
A year has passed since the Netscape fiasco, and now people are bitching about how paying users might disrupt the community. Bull daisies. Every community is built on people getting paid. It's when people don't get paid that communities fall apart. If you think that's not true, try removing the AdSense from your site. Stop using SEO tricks. Just talk for talk's sake. It's boring.
But back to YouTube's plan: Paying only the top users is genius. First and foremost, it creates an incentive for other users to produce quality content. Second, it legitimizes the video clip form. Whereas Revver and Metacafe will pay anybody, YouTube is creating exclusivity. Or, rather, a meritocracy within a democracy.
And here's another funny thing: Remember how Chad argued in Forbes that YouTube is a vast audition room for talent that agencies could cull for their shows? Now agencies will actually have to compete with YouTube to get that talent away.
YouTube is the new cable network. How brilliant is that.