There’s a saying floating around the web that goes something like “if you don’t see what product is for sale, YOU are the product.” That’s why a lot of savvy tech nerds stay away from places like Facebook and Instagram who make their money off of advertising and, more subtly and insidiously, data mining.
With GoodReads it was always easy to see what the “product” was. In the case of that reader-driven website the product is the overwhelming database of books, journal articles, anime, manga and the millions of words of critique written, free of charge, by the users.
I joined GoodReads shortly after it began in 2007. Later that year I signed up to be a GoodReads Librarian–a volunteer position that allowed me to create and correct entries for materials in the database. It wasn’t a lofty position; I am one of thousands of volunteers who have given thousands of hours to the maintanence of the site.
In no small part due to the efforts of the Librarians, the site vaulted over competitors such as LibraryThing to become the number one independent book review site on the web. A year and a half ago the site stopped using Amazon’s database and switched over to Ingram. Behind the scenes we GR Librarians had to step up the effort to smooth out the kinks in the transition. Hundreds of hours have been spent fixing what the separation from Amazon broke.
A few weeks ago GoodReads was acquired by Amazon in a multimillion dollar deal. The database, which was enhanced and maintained by Librarians and enriched by volunteer reviewers from around the globe, is now a lucrative profit center for developer Otis Chandler and the Amazon corporation.
So how do I feel about that? How do I feel knowing that at least 10% of the value of GoodReads–if not more–came from the unpaid work of volunteers who signed on thinking they were part of a free project?
I may have missed a “Thanks for helping make this happen” email or post to the Librarians’ user group. I don’t check on there every day anymore. Regardless, it seems to be a sort of dirty pool that there has been incredibly money changing hands at the top levels without even so much as a “Thanks for your help.”
Let this be a lesson to you. Never volunteer for anything on the Internet.