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The care and feeding of social media’s three classes: Creators, Curators, Consumers April 15, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in Consumer internet, social media, social networks, user generated content, web 2.0.

I’m particularly interested in social media sites with traction focused on topics appealing to endemic advertiers. Social media sites because of their extraordinary ability to grow without incurring marketing costs, and endemic advertisers because of their willingess to pay double digit RPMs to reach that audience. For such social media sites (where the key driver is not communication as it is at the broad reach social networks), there is usually a distinction between the readers and the writers of content.

Much has already been written in the past about the ratio of writers to readers in social media; the 1:99 ratio, or as some have put it the 1:19:80 ratio. I like to think about these three groups as the Creators, Curators and Consumers of content. Just like in the Art world, there are those who create art, those who tell us which art is good, and those (like me!) who merely admire the art. Some best practices are starting to emerge for how to encourage all three types of user.

Creation Adulation

Creators are critical to social media sites because they generate the content; without them you have nothing. Creators use the keyboard – they write, cut, copy and paste. In most cases, creators do what they do for passion, not for money. They need to be celebrated and highlighted on your site to give them the adulation that they seek, and to keep them creating content. This means focusing on positive feedback for the creators (e.g. do you really need a thumbs down? Or is a thumbs up enough, with the lack of thumbs up being information enough), prominently displaying the metrics that drive behavior you desire, and providing them with leaderboards and other ways to distinguish themselves.

Cash in on Consumption

Consumers are critical to social media sites because they are the drivers of pageviews, and hence advertising revenue. Consumers use the screen – they merely navigate around your site, and do little or nothing to add to it. But because they outnumber the other groups so significantly, they dominate your monetization opportunity.

Because of their weak connection with your site, consumers need help to discover the content that they will enjoy. They may not be regular visitors to your site – they may never have been to your site before. Your challenge is to maximize their chances of discovery.

At a minimum, this should include search engine optimization and social media optimization (digg, delicious, stumble etc). Ensure that high quality content with mass appeal is well presented, has well written title, is grouped together appropriately, and is easily found, and that you are not “foot faulting” by your page construction or URL structure.

Equally important is helping consumers discover new content once they are on your site. Some of this comes down to the basics of click density (more links means higher clickthrough rate) and programming the home page. But as more traffic comes in “from the side” due to SEO, (rather than from your home page) you need to make sure that you have an efficient mechanism of prompting the “next click” on every page. This can include collaborative filtering (people who read this also read that), related content (whether through taxonomies or folksonomies), most popular content, or through other tried and true mechanisms.

Lubrication for Curation

Curators tie these two groups together. Not all content that the Creators create is of equal quality, and the Curators perform an important filtering function to bubble the best content to the top, hence keeping the Consumers happy, engaged, and coming back. Curators use the mouse. They click to vote/digg/rate. These actions are what give the Creators the attention and affirmation that they are looking for.

It’s important to make it very easy for Curators to give their feedback. This means making the feedback process as close to frictionless as possible. The feedback mechanism should be immediately adjacent to the content that is being rated. Such clicks should be part of rich internet application, and not take you to another page – there should be no “wait time” penalty for providing curator feedback as they wait for a page to load. Ideally, it will not require registration, or registration will be kept as light as possible. Since Curators use the mouse, avoid them from having to touch a keyboard as much as possible.

While this construct is a useful framework, it isn’t absolute. There are occasions when you can mine the behavior of Consumers to drive some measure of the quality of the Creators work. Without requiring active participation, the metadata that Consumers generate in choosing to read or not reach an article, click or not click a link, play a game many times or quit half way, and other such behaviors implicit in their clickstream can also be used to judge the quality of the content that they are exposed to.

I’d be interested to hear from readers about which sites do a particularly good job in encouraging each of these three groups.


1. Charles - April 16, 2007

I believe in particular, the practice of encouraging curators is still in its early stages. That said, I would cite these examples as unique and effective in encouraging curation: Digg’s voting system for its excellent voting feedback; Xanga’s eProps system for its early use of positive-only reinforcement; and Askville’s XP system for its gameplay (levelling, cycles, flow) related rewards system.

2. nil - April 16, 2007

Good stuff, Jeremy!!!
I would love to hear your comments:

1. In General, there is too much focusing on simple advertisment in all the social community sites- simple in the sense of being removed. (Unlike being part of the product – like YouTube can do before showing the clip, but might lose consumers). In reality, the market today is indifferent to the option that every textual/visual ads can be so easily removed. We don’t see it today, not because the technology is not there, but because, it is still sufferable. The question is how long it is going to last, and would “losing” internet company as MS will decide to remove those ads (think about spam – ads option) as a default option in the browser.

2. The description the 3 characters in the social networks today is very precise. However, there should be other considerations for the near future market, for example:
a. Creating better motivation for curators can be a huge thing (the new Turk from amazon might be one of the first things that we can see – while leads will be the new thing in social networks).
b. Moving more consumers to being creator – by some kind of contest, money motivation, etc. (I agree, that many people doing stuff for free, but many will prefer to get something out of it – entertainment (or time rich) doesn’t mean that creator shouldn’t be motivated)

3. Minor misspell – bahavior (behavior)- last paragraph

Hope you can reply to this

3. Zachary Taylor » links for 2007-04-17 - April 17, 2007

[…] The care and feeding of social media’s three classes: Creators, Curators, Consumers « Lightsp… (tags: socialmedia ecommerce web) […]

4. jeremyliew - April 17, 2007


1. Firefox has provided the ability to somewhat crudely “remove” banner ads for a while (go to Tools > Options > Content > and under “Load Images Automatically” check the box “for the originating website only”.

Luckily it isn’t checked by default! I’m not sure if any browser will ever default to removing advertising as it would negatively impact the business models of most of the websites in the world. The tradeoff for free content is advertising, and if you take the advertising out, you won’t have many websites to see on the web….

2 Completely agree but historically its been hard to move people into the more interactive categories.

3. thank you – now fixed

5. Amisare Waswere - April 17, 2007

Creators must first communicate the cool contents by connecting to the cyber community – converging, capturing and converting the curators and consumers out there and countering against chances.

For viral growths, the creators should incorporate contagious channels to allow consumers easy connect and compellingly reconnect.

Viral growths like viral diseases spread by crowds in contact with the contagion. (See Ravi Mhatre “7 Ways to Go Viral” March 2).


6. Gavin Quinn - April 17, 2007

What a great article. I run the startup http://www.grapheety.com (map-based travel/exploration), and I am seeing opportunities/challenges with each of these groups.
I really like how you broke them down. I was just discussing with one of my advisers, a computer science professor at the University of Minnesota (Professor Loren Terveen), about how to attract and grow the very distinct groups. We both dicussed how each of these gruops may have some overlap, but the way you achieve them is unique.
For the creating group, we have cash prizes for the most “Starred” stories, we also have comments, stars, and we show the number of views. These are all items that reward the author.
For the curating group, we may be lacking here. We offer easy voting, but the votes you have to click to a comments tab. It’s fast, but it’s not getting a lot of return. The view/comment or rate ratio is extremely low. The comments seem to be popular however.
For the consumer group, we do most of the obvious things. We optimize directly to the stories for search engines, allow “sharing” of stories via the Plaxo service, and an e-mail option. We of course advertise on Google/Yahoo. We are also working to optimize map-based searches via KML.

I think there is a lot of work in each of those categories though, and we track each individually.
Thanks for the article!
Gavin Quinn, CEO Grapheety, Inc.

7. Shawn - April 18, 2007

Reading these lines raise an old issue to my mind, each page in UGC websites is usually linked to other pages on the same domain and not to other websites. From that standpoint it is very hard to keep users (Consumers mainly, but also Creators and Curators) stay in one website for long time. They many times have their search goal that because of that they arrived to the website and that should be a part in their journey on the web and not a ‘one stop shop’. Do you agree with this point of view?

8. lawrence - April 18, 2007

Jeremy, did you catch the Hitwise presentation in the keynote session yesterday? There was great data about contibutors vs. consumers. Hitwise looked at YouTube, Flickr, and Wikipedia. YouTube and Flickr both had contribution rates of far under 1% (less than 1% of visits resulted in content contributions), while Wikipedia, I believe, came in at about 4.5%.

This tells me that we are only at the very beginning of user generated content. Can you imagine how much content will be created once contribution rates for these types of sites start pushing 25%? How about when global population contribution rates start inching up (as opposed to site specific rates)? Among all sorts of other implications, tagging is going to become MUCH more important if there’s to be an hope of finding / classifying all of this stuff.

9. Weak?! Participation in Web 2.0 sites « Philosophical Musings - April 23, 2007

[…] Here’s an interesting related article on the parts different people play in social networks. […]

10. wolis - April 30, 2007

Thanks, interesting categorising.

My original intent (when creating my Creative Object World – cow) was that visitors would be creating the content as well as being consumers.

But possibly the fact that you have to type in commands like ‘create an ceramic vase. create some fresh roses. put them in the vase’ seems like a bit of effort for the ‘mousers’ of the world.

I had not even considered the curator role.. or ranking to encourage the creaters.. ah.. new things to think about.


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[…] Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners writes for caring and feeding the three classes or groups of social media users creators, curators and consumers […]

12. Willie Crawford - February 1, 2008

They may not be regular visitors to your site – they may never have been to your site before. Your challenge is to maximize their chances of discovery.

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