Is exploitive?

Over on WP Questions, rspindel created a post that raised the issues of payment and exploitation on the site:

Hello guys, nice site, this seems similar to croudsourcing/crowdspring type sits that designers are getting exploited by soliciting them to do spec work without the guarantee of getting paid for their time. There is a bit of a distinction because with design being more of a “soft” asset while code answers (Which so far the questions seem to be) are more of a hard asset, nevertheless, many developers can invest time (whether it be 5 minutes to 20 minutes or more) for a question, and only one gets paid, so you have 10 devs take a whack at a question each taking 20 minutes, the question is estimated at 30 minutes and at average developer rate of

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$60/hr the poser puts the bounty at $30, you just have 200 minutes total community developer time spent, $198 worth of effort consumed for $30. Assuming mostly all those devs are pros, that all their answers were reasonably correct, 9 devs don’t get squat for their professional and well intentioned efforts. Then, a plugin dev who did nothing but release a plugin that required support but didn’t provide it himself, gets rewarded as well. All this on the backs of the question answerers. I find it a little bit too close for comfort to On Spec exploitation that AIGA and others are seriously trying to stamp out within our community. I hope you can see the issues I laid out here and find some way to make this site which could be very valuable to the WP community, less exploitative overall.

You can read the whole conversation, which has a lot of interesting responses from many of the people who are active on the site. I responded there, but I’m going to expand on my thoughts here.

First of all, my thanks to rspindel for raising the issue. I think these are important questions, which we’ve talked about before and will talk about again in the

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future. It is good to revisit this subject from time to time, to update our views about it.

We want to see the answerers get paid fairly for the time they put in to answering questions. Are the prizes large enough? I am not sure of the final answer to this problem (perhaps there is none) but I do think that one way forward is for the answerers to remember that they can encourage askers to raise the prize offered, if the answerers feel the prize is too low.

rspindel has some misconceptions about our site, especially this:

many developers can invest time (whether it be 5 minutes to 20 minutes or more) for a question, and only one gets paid,

The money for a question can be split among all of the answerers, and we encourage the askers to do so where appropriate. Last time I checked the stats, about 20% of all the questions ended with the

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money being split among multiple answerers. I think the splits are often the most fair way of rewarding all the people who contribute to a solution. Many times multiple people contribute to an answer, and they should all be rewarded.

If the people who are ready to answer a question feel the price is too low, we encourage them to say so. They can either email the asker (using the contact form on the askers profile page), or state their concern in the thread beneath the question. The askers have an easy way of increasing the prize money, and they should be encouraged to do so if their question is more ambitious than the prize they offer.

Last time I checked the stats, about 8% or 9% of the questions had their prize money boosted above the original offer. Sometimes an asker wants to tip an answerer for a job well done, or sometimes the various people responding have suggested to the asker that the prize money needs to be increased, and the asker heeds those requests.

In terms of what is exploitive, I think each person is going to come to their own conclusions about that. Personally, I think the support forums at are exploitive, because the people asking questions never get paid for the time they put in. The internet is full of free forums where the expertise of the answerers is ripped off, without pay, so that the owner of the site can make some money through advertising. By contrast, on this site, 89% of the money goes to the people who actually answer the questions (almost 5% goes to PayPal, and the remaining 6% or 7% goes to Darren and I).

StackOverflow exploits the people who answer questions – they are never paid. exploits the people who answer questions – they are never paid. Experts Exchange exploits the people who answer questions – only a few of them get trivial benefits, and the rest are never paid.

This site is different – money gets paid to the people who answer questions.

I have some other thoughts about this site which I wrote last year, in the post “History, incubation and inspirations“. If you have the time, you may wish to give that a look, to see some of the reasoning that lead to this site.

rspindel’s criticism of plugin developers struck me as especially unfair:

Then, a plugin dev who did nothing but release a plugin that required support but didn’t provide it himself, gets rewarded as well.

A lot of developers put a lot of time into plugins that get released for free, and which thousands, or tens of thousands, of people use. Most of the time, the developers never get any money for all of the hard work that they put into their plugins. Lots of people enjoy the benefits of that plugin, and yet few of them ever think to make a donation back to the developer. This is unfair. That is why we give 25% of our profits to the plugin developers when a question is about their plugin. We believe that a site like WP Questions can function, in part, as a fund raiser for open source software development. And we believe it is time to funnel more money back to the developers who work so hard to provide the community with the plugins which we all rely on.

What is a fair price? This is an issue that has come before, especially in December, when we lowered our minimum price from $20 to $4. There are literally millions of people on the internet who believe that all information should be free, and that all such forums as these should be free. Trying to get anyone to pay to ask a question is a somewhat difficult task, and perhaps goes against the grain of what the internet is all about. And yet, on WP Questions, we’ve had 191 paid questions so far, for a total of $4,099. On Symfony Experts, which is a much newer site, we have had 41 paid questions, for a total $556. So clearly this model works for some people. We hope we can make it work for everyone, both the askers and the answerers, and we will keep looking for ways to help both groups of people interact in mutually beneficial ways.

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