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I had planned to write an opinion about Rewards at Ciao around three weeks ago. I am glad that I didn't, because new developments at Ciao allow me to assume a new, alternative and more revealing perspective on the rewards system.
My original opinion would have been full of mentions of the non-monetary rewards of Ciao - the community feeling, the positive feedback, the impact on consumer behaviour - and in large parts this new opinion will still deal with those issues. I also wanted to share with you my experiences with the rewards at the German Ciao site, and what changes to expect here at Ciao UK.
Two events have let me postpone this opinion, and have provided further enlightenment on how to write it:
1) Half through the month of March, Ciao awarded me with an extremely generous Premium Fund allocation for my first month at Ciao UK. In fact it was more than I had received from Ciao Germany in total since the creation of the Premium Fund there in autumn. Before that event , I had regarded Ciao purely a community site, with a tiny pecuniary side to it that could be easily neglected. I now had to completely review my stand at Ciao and money, and have come to terms with it in the mean time.
2) On March 26, a newsletter came in from Ciao Germany, explaining the Premium Fund allocation in more detail than has ever been revealed to the UK community, so this had to be taken into account.
Anyway, time to actually discuss the various rewards on offer. I will do the rough, i.e. financial part first, and will get to the soft, non-monetary side later.
At a rate of 10p for each written opinion and 2p for reads, the a good author can make around 1 £ per opinion. Considering an average writing time of one hour for a 'very helpful' (in my case it's far longer), this can hardly be regarded worth the effort. But where else do you get paid to do what you enjoy most?
I find the 2p reads rate fair, for a number of reasons:
1) It's just enough to gain you what Mike (mikeydred) once called "some extra beer money". It's an encouragement, not more and not less.
2) It won't make the churners rich (unless you are called Begum and come from a family with twenty brothers and sisters who all read all of your ops).
3) It won't make Ciao go bust.
It is also fine to pay the same for every reading regardless of the rating, unless it is rated 'unhelpful'. It has been proposed at several occasions to pay more for VH ops than for those rated FH. From my own experience, I can tell you that the result would be disastrous:
Yopi.de, another German opinions site, only pays for very helpful and helpful ops, the VH ones receiving twice the amount of the HF ones. The result is that Yopi is THE place for churners who all post 90 word ops at a rate of 10 per hour and all rate each other VH.
I do however believe the 10p writing reward to be an encouragement for churners, and thus wish it to be abolished. The serious writers can easily make up for this with a few extra reads which are not hard to get. Form many churners, however, the 10p per writing is the bulk of their income, and they can achieve a higher income per hour than the majority of us who take the time to thoroughly research an opinion and take the time to write it down at length. We should also put aside our fear of revenge rating and rate the churners for what they really are: Unhelpful.
EXPECT LOWER READ EARNINGS IN THE FUTURE
When the new Ciao Germany emerged last summer as the merger of Amiro and the old, small Ciao, they introduced earnings of 3.3p per read, with no earnings for writing. This system was completely overhauled on January 1st. Products are now grouped in three earning categories, depending on their popularity. The reads earnings in these categories are 0.7p, 1.3p and 2p respectively (all converted from German Pfennings).
Ciao explained the move as being necessary for the financial well being of the company. Do expect the same for Ciao UK, once the community has reached the critical size. I guess they can't go below 1p in the British currency, so they may introduce two categories with 1p and 2p per read respectively.
The result of this move was a revolution among large parts of the German community. Some of the most prolific writers boycotted the site, anti-Ciao websites were set up and campaign newsletters circulated. This was the moment to see who was in it only for the money. January was a month full of personal disappointments, seeing members leave whom you had always regarded as credible personalities, whom you thought were not just after a few quick Deutschmarks.
Although the tide has calmed down, the community has never really recovered its original feel which used to be very close to that of Ciao UK at this moment. This development eventually triggered my switching from the German to the UK community.
THE PREMIUM FUND
This is probably the best invention Ciao ever came up with. It rewards those people who spend endless hours researching, writing and refining an opinion to make it live up to the highest standards. This is what the churners haven't learned yet: with one PF payment on my few opinions I beat all their reads earnings from their hundreds of 90 word ops.
I was a bit worried when one member mentioned on the eGroup a while ago that travel ops wouldn't perform well in the Premium Fund because they were not about "real products". As many of you know, I have specialised in travel opinions and will continue to do so - a place for everybody, and everybody in his place.
Relief came in the form of a newsletter from Ciao Germany which published how the various categories had performed in the premium fund (and travel DOES do well here). This may not apply equally to the UK, but the general trend may be the same.
Following is a table with percentage figures of
a) opinions in that category as a percentage of total opinions submitted, and b) opinions in that category which received premium fund allocations as a percentage of all awarded opinions.
Those categories doing over-proportionally well in the premium fund are marked with (+), the opposite case is marked with a (-).
The Premium Fund has had its effects on me. To be honest, I am also here for the money now. Not in the sense that I'm trying to get rich from Ciao (anybody who believes that he/she can should think again), but it's some really nice pocket money. It pays for my cigarettes, and once I quit, it will pay for my books. But it hasn't changed my general attitude towards Ciao. In the first place, I am here for the great community, information and feedback, but I will get to the "soft factors" in a moment.
EXPECT LOWER PREMIUM FUND ALLOCATIONS SOON
The monthly Ciao UK Premium Fund currently stands at 2,000 £. In Germany it stands at 25,000 DM (6,300 £), although the German site has probably fifty times as many users, if not more (currently 2,5 million ops posted there). As famous economist and Ciaoer Modena would say, this is the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns applied to Ciao. The more users Ciao UK gains, the Premium Fund will also increase, but at a lower rate.
FUTURE EARNING OPPORTUNITIES
In addition to Ciao Plus already online in the UK, albeit only with two product partners, Ciao Germany also has a so called Ciao Active. Both are links to partner sites of Ciao, inviting you to participate in surveys, register with other websites or make use of promotional offers, etc., all for extra money in your Ciao account.
I am sure that the same will arrive here eventually, but it has nothing to do with the rewards scheme, or with the idea of Ciao itself. It is understandable that Ciao wants to capitalise on its community and make some money, but it's loosing the original feel. Expect a lot of new earnings opportunities, worth a total of around 10 £ a month in your account.
I'm glad that the dirty money bit is finished. Finally I can get to what is really important to me at Ciao.
WRITING IN ITSELF
I assume from many opinions I've read on this subject that all of us are wannabe novelists. For myself I can say that just writing and knowing that I am being read is a great award in itself. The comments, feedback and appreciation I have received at Ciao has had a range of positive effects on me, both tangible and intangible.
Since joining Ciao UK in February, I have written around 150 pages (MS Word, Arial, 10 pt) only for Ciao. That's more than I have written in the whole of last year, online and offline (not counting the papers I have written in my job). Ciao has been a huge encouragement and also has given me a boost in self-esteem (with a view to writing). I have a range of publishing projects in negotiation at the moment, and due to the many positive comments here, I know that I can succeed in publishing my works.
LEARNING FROM READING
Having read thousands of opinions at Ciao, I have learned about areas I previously thought I would never be remotely interested in. Ciao reviews have influenced a handful of my purchase decisions and have turned my attention to products and services I didn't even know existed.
As a German on a British website, I have also picked up hundreds of new words in English. And I though my English was good before. In six weeks of Ciao UK membership, I have expanded my active vocabulary by an assumed 100 words and my passive vocabulary by around 300.
THE COMMUNITY FEELING
As Angus wrote in his op about Rewards at Ciao, it's a feeling of belonging. The Ciao chat room has become a second home to me at nights, and the Yahoo message board is now permanently opened in another window. Communication between Ciao members can take many different forms: emails, comments, messages, chat, referrers in opinions, etc. Altogether they have become a constant guide through my day, be it at work or at home.
I currently communicate with my Ciao mates more than with many other people in my life. My mother is still waiting for the long-promised letter, instead I have been leaving silly comments on Angus' opinions about Marmite. My Ciao addiction is a serious threat to my social life, I haven't seen my pub mates for ages.
THE CMW REWARD
I would still regard an invitation to become CMW a very encouraging reward. But I don't want to stir the controversy about this any further. If you want to read about my stand on the CMWs, read my February op about the Community Centre, entitled "Ciao's Most Fainted". That says it all.
I am still waiting for the ultimate reward, somebody leaving a comment that because of my opinion he/she made a particular purchasing decision and is happy with it. I haven't actually spotted a plain consumer at Ciao yet. Many opinions seem to be written with the community in mind (like this one), not the consumer.
When I look at my reads, they mostly come from people who spend so much time at Ciao that at most they will have time to jump into the next kiosk and buy a sandwich, beer and cigarettes for the night. The consumer, the unknown species.
The wind of change is blowing though Ciao, and I am p***ing my pants in fear of the good old days becoming a thing of the past. Several members of the Ciao UK staff have left in the last days and it seems that Ciao headquarters will try to enforce tougher standards on the UK site.
Don't forget that Ciao has to make money to satisfy the venture capital firms and its banks. The changes will result in making the site more commercial, with instruments such as product partnerships as described above. This will water down the site immensely, and a lot of the community feeling will suffer.
Ciao UK staff have enjoyed a lot of freedom to run the site to their liking. CMWs, some of the Community Centre features and many categories are inventions of Ciao UK. It appears that Ciao headquarters will streamline operations now, and might invest some money in marketing budgets to make the site more effective.
The result will be a Ciao UK website and community which will very much resemble the German one:
- pop-up ads everywhere - links to external websites all over the place - thousands of new members - your op getting kicked out of the 20 most recent within three minutes - 300 to 500 member reads on each op if you belong to the elite - churners like Begum getting lost in Nirvana
In short: your account may benefit from it, but the feeling will die.