Advantages Ability to earn pocket money, meet people, make friends & enemies
Disadvantages Inconsistent enforcing of T&Cs, community points, ability of abusers to prosper
It does, perhaps, smack of 'navel gazing' - the idea of writing a review of the site on which you are writing a review. However, given that 924 other folk have done the same, it would seem that we all have riveting navels.If you are reading this, you are probably aware that Ciao is a site with several aims, to wit:
Ciao fulfils these goals by providing certain benefits to the members who use the site:
1. a chance to earn money (albeit pennies, usually) by writing reviews in certain areas (more on that in a minute;
2. a chance to earn money (again, usually trivial amounts, though there are exceptions) by filling in surveys (after completing extensive 'personal profile' information);
3. a chance to belong to a 'community' of like minded folk, thus turning writing and reading reviews into a hobby;
4. a chance to write and have one's writing 'peer reviewed' (or sometimes just extravagantly praised, whether or not it deserves it);
5. a chance to read and review the work of other writers - in an ideal world, this would also be an opportunity to improve one's own writing, as the best way to learn to write well is to read a lot;
6. and, perhaps not least, a chance to use the reviews written to make purchasing choices (this is, of course, the opportunity afforded to EVERYONE who visits Ciao, member or not).
Let's take a look at the 'benefits' to members (the second list above), and examine how and how well Ciao provides these bonuses to members.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
So, let's now look at the various income streams available.
Earn Money through Writing
The idea here is that by writing reviews in certain categories and on certain products, you can earn cash for each member who reads your review and rates it favourably (Exceptional, Very Helpful or Helpful). The products which attract remuneration change frequently (they are apparently assessed monthly), as does the amount you can earn. When you are on the product page (the page that gives details of the product and links to places you can possibly buy it), if the product attracts payment, there will be one, two or three little pound signs (£) in a box. One £ is half a penny per member rating, two [££] indicates one penny per member rating, and £££ promises two pence per member rating (remember, these are MEMBER ratings - non-members don't count, except insofar as the remuneration rates are apparently partly based on the product's attraction for non-members). Furthermore, if you have written the first review of a paying product, you earn double the normal remuneration rate for the first month after publishing the review, after which you earn the 'normal' amount.
Generally, if you read and rate moderately around the site and get yourself reasonably well known, you should be able to expect, if you avoid 'churning,' around 30-50 member ratings. If you are VERY well known around the site, and have a lot of time to spend reading, commenting and generally making yourself available, you could get over 100 member rates per op. These kinds of numbers are more likely if you leave at least a few days between publishing each review.Furthermore, there is the Premium Fund. Each month, non-Café reviews (the Café is the part of the site that is especially community oriented - this is a non-paying section of the site where you can write stories, poems, the kind of question-and-answer essays that you tend to get through email - the 'what's on my duvet' type thing and so forth) are eligible for a share of the Premium Fund. A review can get anywhere from nothing additional to an extra 50p to £10.00 from the Fund. If a review gets £10.00 or more, a little gif of a diamond appears next to the review. Sadly, the criteria for diamond reviews are a closely guarded secret, and there are certainly months where it seems the diamonds have been rewarded more or less randomly. That isn't to say, of course, that every diamond rewarded opinion didn't deserve it. It just isn't clear what is required to receive one, and it isn't clear why some reviews and reviewers are rewarded and others are not. For the record, I've NEVER received a diamond - perhaps this colours my view of them.
Although the surveys aren't generally hugely well paying, there are exceptions, and it's these exceptions are what is likely to keep you filling the suckers in. Last summer, I filled in a survey worth around £1.35 or thereabouts - it was about credit cards. A few days later, I was telephoned and asked if I would be interviewed face-to-face for up to one hour at a time and place of my choosing. The interview took about half that, and to my glee, I received £40 in cash for my time. However, please note, this is the exception, not the norm.
Earn Money through Other methods
You can also earn money by inviting friends to join Ciao, using the 'invite a friend' link on the Member Centre. I will quote Ciao's Q&A here, since there isn't really much else to say about this method of earning money: "For each new member whom you recruit for Ciao, and who writes at least one product review on the site, we will make you a one-off payment of 50 pence, and then pay you a 50% commission on your member's earnings* from the Ciao website for the first 6 (six) months of his/her membership. (* Excludes survey earnings.)"
COMMUNITY & PEER REVIEW
Since you clearly cannot make a living writing on Ciao, what is it, you may ask, that keeps us here? What is it that gets us to practically donate our time and expertise writing for this site? What it is that attracts us despite the pop-up ads, despite the low pay, despite the surveys that kick you out after five minutes? For many people, it's the community - and in many ways, that is harder to define and describe than the earning potential.
There are some wonderful pieces in the Café, and some wonderful writers who publish mainly in the Café. I would guess nearly every member of Ciao (not all, but most) will eventually venture in for a virtual cup of coffee. However, there are some truly dreadful pieces in there, and some truly stupid, inane, ridiculous topics. For one, there is the 'everything that starts with' - this can seem handy (and yes, I've used it), since you can pretty much put ANYTHING in there. And boy, people do. You find all over the Café many confessional pieces - someone's goldfish died, someone has some awful disease, someone has problem with their parents/siblings/kids, someone is depressed, someone knows someone with some bizarre hobby or condition. Yes, there ARE some confessionals in there that are very good and honest explanations of whatever it is they are confessing. But much of it might as well be entitled 'please feel sorry for me'. Or alternatively 'I can't write a coherent sentence, but since this bit isn't designed to help the consumer, rate me VH anyway'.Please understand me, I am not saying that EVERY Café' writer is rubbish, or that every Café piece is drivel - that certainly isn't the case. After all, I've written there (*grin*). But for SOME members, it is the lazy way to earn community points. Which leads me neatly into the next point.
Each time you do pretty much anything on site, you earn community points. You earn a point for rating a review. You earn three points for writing a comment. You earn 30 points for writing a review, and 80 points if someone 'trusts' you (more on that shortly). You earn 150 points if you invite a friend. You also earn points for every member read you receive (depending on the rating), and for every positive rating your review gets. The better the rating, the more points you get (more or less) - You get two points for the read, six points if your review receives an E (exceptional) or VH (very helpful) rate, and three points if your review receives and H (helpful). Conversely, you LOSE points if your review receives an SH (somewhat helpful), NH (not helpful) or OT (off topic).As you accumulate points, little coloured dots appear next to your username. Each colour represents a band of points - my dot is orange, which tells members that I have somewhere between 50,000 - 100,000 community points. On my member page, you can find out exactly how many points I have. In theory, the point/dot system is supposed to indicate how experienced you are on site, and how active you are. Supposedly, the 'higher' your dot, the more respect you are receiving, and deserve. What the dot DOESN'T tell you, (and where the dot system completely collapses) is how responsible the owner is. Since you get points for rating and commenting, there is little to stop a member from opening up loads of windows and rating everything and commenting on all with nonsense comments (you do have to wait a minute or so between opening an op and rating it, but for the experienced skimmer, this doesn't present a problem). There is also little to stop a member from churning, so long as the standard of review is more or less reasonable.
The other issue with the community points is to do with the standard of rating. Because a VH and E attracts the most points, people see the VH rate as a minimum - as the 'norm' - since anything else doesn't get them up the dot ladder so quickly. Also, since one lower rate seriously affects the overall rating, which in turn affects the placement of the review down the category list (the highest rated review is at the top, the lowest at the bottom), anything but a VH often seems to be frowned upon. There are members who will rate pretty much anything VH, just to attract return reads, rates and trust.On the up side, having belonged to Epinions, where many reviews attract no comments, the points system does encourage communication between members. It would just be nice if more of it were meaningful communication.
It has become more than that, though. Each member can trust up to 100 other members, though there is no limit on how many people can trust you - so I trust eighty-odd members, but have just over 200 trusting me. Where this can be tricky is that a member receives 80 community points for each member trusting him or her. If a member ceases to trust another, that member loses the 80 points. It does, therefore, become a real issue for some folks. Some members feel it their responsibility to read EVERYTHING written by the people on their buddy (trust) list. They may also feel that they should automatically receive return reads. Apart from the fact that many people don't have enough hours in the day to read everyone who they trust or who trust them, this can become a bit of a millstone around one's neck, and can cause resentment.As an aside, I personally prefer Dooyoo's solution - there is a list of who you trust, and who trusts you, but no running tallies. There is no indication anywhere how many members are being trusted by you or are trusting you, so it doesn't become a big competition.
I am really of two minds about the Guest Book system. On the one hand, it does prevent comment threads (in theory) from becoming cluttered with the 'how are you' type comments. It also gives one a chance to promote meet-ups, events and the like - or indeed, just to hold conversations without necessitating the exchange of email addresses.On the other hand, it encourages gossip, feuds and general silliness. Since one can delete entries from one's own Guest Book, it can also give you a false impression of the owner - that they are nice and fluffy, or hard and demanding - or whatever impression the owner wishes to put over. The guest book facility often seems to lead to a cliqueness not found on the other main British site. To sit on the fence, I'm glad I belong both to a site that has them and to one that doesn't. Then I can choose what I'm in the mood for.
I really have little opinion one way or the other about this. I have stuff in my homepage, though I haven't updated it in over a year, largely because it now tells me that half my code is not allowed, and I can't be bothered to re-write it all. Still, for those of you with a visually creative side, go for it.There is also a tab to advertise your eBay auctions. From those who know, apparently that's quite cool. I don't eBay, so that tab is meaningless to me.
RULES & REGS AND ENFORCEMENT THEREOF
To keep the site from descending any further into chaos than it already has, Ciao has terms and conditions - rules and regulations. You can check those out for yourself, but many are obvious - don't be abusive towards other members, don't plagiarise, don't cheat or do anything illegal or that breaks copyright. You can only have one account per person, and you have to rate fairly, and not participate in so-called 'clicking cartels' (though how that differs from the trust system isn't entirely clear). Don't do anything that will disrupt the cosy little community that Ciao claims it values so well.
The thing is, there seems to be no rhyme nor reason in the way complaints ARE dealt with. Tongue in cheek comments, or 'advertising' on your 'about me' (mentioning any other websites in your about me is verboten) can get you removed from the site with no right of appeal, however blatant plagiarism is seemingly tolerated (and, by extension, encouraged). Opinions which have been critical of Ciao itself or its advertisers have been summarily deleted by Ciao with little or no explanation (which is something Ciao claims it doesn't do in its own FAQs), whilst fabricated, copied, plagiarised and offensive reviews have been allowed to stand. Long standing members who have won multiple Premium Fund awards and the respect of the community are removed, and serial abusers are allowed to return. Trivial matters are dealt with quickly, and serious ones ignored.This inconsistency on the part of Ciao itself, in my opinion, has created the tension that now exists on site. It is this, more than any amount of 'community fluffiness', or disputes between members, or silly topics in the Café, or poor rates of pay that has been contributing, and may possibly cause Ciao's downfall. If they are not careful, they will be left with the churners, abusers, plagiarisers, poor writers, emotional cripples and other internet pond-life that make Ciao sometimes an unpleasant place to be. Ciao are currently inconsistent, and any parent knows that being consistent when meting out discipline is key to a harmonious relationship between the parent (Ciao) and child (members).
CONCLUSION AND OPINION
Well, I'm still here. Just. I do currently have a specific grievance with Ciao relating to a review of mine that was plagiarised, so am, in all fairness, disgruntled. Today, anyway. Ciao is a good idea, and there are some good people who participate. There are some good writers and good raters. I have made friends - real friends - whom I've met and everything. That is good. I have also been 'shouted' at, revenge rated, copied and ignored. That's not so nice. Whilst things like that can happen in real life, their effects would be mitigated were Ciao simply fair and consistent when enforcing its own rules, and remembered that it is us members that earn money for them. They earn far more from us than we EVER will from them.
So...do I recommend Ciao? Yes, with reservations. Though at the moment, there are other sites I'd recommend first.
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