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Ciao is an international web based company predominantly based in European countries, including the UK, but has recently entered into the American market, perhaps in anticipation of its acquisition by Microsoft Corporation.
The primary purpose of Ciao is to serve as a place where individuals can upload product reviews in a central location, the purpose being that potential purchasers can read these reviews and factor them into their buying decision. The writers of the reviews (The Members) provide a star rating, with five stars being maximum, and one star being the minimum rating. The benefit of these to consumers is that they can see at a glance whether the consensus of opinion is good, bad or indifferent.
Ciao also serves as a price comparison site, again for the consumer. I think this part of the site is not as well understood by members as a general rule, although I use it occasionally if I wanted to buy something electrical for example, as it can be quite useful., if the quality of review is maintained. The site also provides some basic 'technical data' for the products it lists. This might be basic information about the product or service, which can be used to filter down products, and might relate to the format of DVDs, technical information on electrical products, the number of bedrooms in a hotel, the number of pages in a book and its ISBN number, and so on. Unfortunately, a lot of the site's writers do not always realise this or see the value, and this information is therefore repeated in reviews, when it doesn't need to be.
Members can also upload reviews in the Ciao Café area. This area is a kind of free for all, where all kinds of debates, quizzes, recipes and anything else fun and not consumer related can be uploaded. There has been some great debates in here over the last few years, but it can also be a place full of pointless quizzes and copied work e.g. recipes.
However, this category relates to the Rewards at Ciao.co.uk, and so having outlined the basic objectives of the site, I will now discuss the various ways in which Members can be rewarded.
Being Paid to Write Reviews
This is one of the most obvious ways to earn some rewards from Ciao. Essentially members can upload their reviews on their chosen product or service, and they will earn money every time it is read by other members (this process is called peer review). This is the basic principal at least. The amount of money earned can vary quite a bit, depending on how much Ciao wants to pay for your review…Each product has a number of £ £ next to it's title, and depending on how many are there, reviews can earn between 0.5p and 2.0p per read and rate. If there is no £ sign, then no money can be earned, and this is applicable to some categories, including the popular Ciao Café area, so writing a review here will not earn anything. There can be bonuses from time to time, including the opportunity to double your money, which can also occur if you write the first review in certain categories, and for technical writers, the top 50 products without reviews list often pay very well, compared to the average.
However, Ciao is definitely not a "Get Rich Quick" scheme, and if you are reading this as you are considering joining, then there is something else to consider in the above paragraph. You get paid based on the number of rates from your peers or other members. There are six ratings in total, which are Exceptional, Very Helpful, Helpful, Somewhat Helpful, and not Helpful.
You do not get paid for hits from non members, even although these hits can be very high. In a nutshell, if you want to get paid for writing reviews, you will need to dedicate quite a bit of time to reading and rating and commenting on other member's reviews. That way, your name will get known around the site, other members will return a read sometimes, or may get to like your writing style and enjoy the topics you write about, and add you to their alerts or Circle of Trust, meaning you should get more rates back, the more you give.
I have to say I do find this works to a degree. I have rated around the site quite a lot. I have actually given out 24000 reads, and received 4500 in return. However as I have not written an awful lot of reviews, I do notice I get high average reads on each one, with nearly all achieving 100 member reads on average. This means if they are paying reviews, then I can earn between 50p and £2 for each one on the average. You can see from that earnings are not that great, given the effort involved, and if you are thinking of joining just to make a few extra pennies, then I will suggest it is not worth the effort for you.
The Premium Fund
The Premium Fund is a pot of money that is distributed each month among the members, who must have written a qualifying review that month to receive any money. There is no logic to the premium fund, something that most members would agree with, but I tend to find if I have written a review, then I would typically be awarded an extra £2 a month. If I had written several reviews, it doesn't really go up, so I often think the majority of us just get £2 a month.
As the Premium Fund is distributed, the monthly Diamond reviews are also named. These can be found in the Member pages on the site. Unfortunately there are only ten of them, and so while it would be nice to earn an extra tenner or so, and get some additional recognition, the chances of this are very slim, when you look at the number of reviews that are written every day. I have never won anything here personally, but I tend to write a lot of reviews that don't even qualify, for example, current issues reviews in the Ciao Café.
'"Product of the Week"'
The more lucrative area of the site, where member earnings are concerned, has to be the "Product of the Week" category. Each Monday a new category is selected and listed in the member pages, and then all members have one week to submit their review. There are three prizes in total, and the winnings are £7; £5 and £3 for first, second and third respectively.
I personally have never managed to write a review in the Product of the Week, and this is completely down to the fact that they are never the kind of products I write about. Generally speaking the product is food and drink related, although there have been other products including DVDs and films. A glance down the list of past winners does show that there are quite a few people that are managing to earn a reasonable amount of money by contributing in these categories, although they obviously need to outlay for the product each week, unless it is one they are familiar with.
One of the most negative aspects of the product of the week competition is that it can result in a form of political voting. The competition is judged solely on the rates given by other members, and as a rating of less than VH drops a member much further down the list, then there can be some friction between members, and there is evidence of tactical voting the other way i.e. giving E ratings when the review might not warrant it. Personally, I don't think it is worth it.
Current Issue of the Month
These are reviews based on current affairs, and they operate in a similar way to the Product of the week competition. The difference is firstly they are only judged once a month, and there is only one winner. The prize however, is slightly higher at £15. I have participated in a couple of these, and I did win the top prize for the first ever current issue of the month, which was relating to the debate about whether more could have been done to prevent flooding in the UK.
I do prefer this competition as I think it requires a lot more thought to produce a good debate, although there is a tendency to use wikipedia too much, (and thinking that this is ok, providing it is referenced) rather than really being able to construct a good debate. I have not read one review in this month's competition that actually addresses the question set, which specifically relates to health and safety and budget airlines, and recent crashes. A lot of the reviews this month are just full of hearsay and not backed up with fact whatsoever and are of generally poor quality. That said, some of the categories are very badly worded, a point I have made often in my café contributions, the most memorable of which seemed to suggest that Scotland had recently achieved independence from Kosovo….!
This is perhaps one of the main reasons that members sign up to Ciao in the first place, a fact that is evidenced by the large numbers of members who have never written a review in their lives. Ciao surveys are sent via email, and are a source of discontent with most Ciao members despite their claims. Surveys in general pay very little money, often as little as 10p per survey which might take something like 20 minutes or more. Often when completing these surveys members will be thrown out after answering a certain question, which can be annoying if it is a question that has been answered in the member's profile, e.g. car owner, or number of children.
I used to do a few surveys occasionally, but I would only do one now, if I was really bored and had nothing else to do, which is never the case. I can't remember the last time I got invited to one to be honest though, so they are definitely not a way to earn much money on the site, there is more chance with the review writing (providing you are willing to rate as well).
These have been in place for a couple of years now, and they do tend to pay reasonably well, and have been the subject of special payment incentives in the past, presumably to encourage more people to submit them, and for ciao to build up their volume of video reviews. However, the vast majority of members do not bother, presumably as the effort involved in producing a video review to be proud of is much more difficult than simply writing a review.
All in all then, Ciao looks pretty bleak from an earnings point of view, despite the promises it makes to potential members. But on the positive side, there are a few other non financial "Rewards" which members can benefit from.
A Sense of Achievement
A large number of members DO get a lot out of the simple enjoyment of writing reviews for others. I definitely fall into this category. I particularly like to look through the current debate section in the café, pick a topic and then try and write a review linked to Environmental issues. This has proven successful for me in the past to help consolidate university learning, and as these tend to be my highest rated reviews by my peers, then they are typically the articles about which I am most proud.
This feeling can be linked with consumer reviews also. In particular, if I have had very good service, or very bad service, then it is satisfying to write a review to warn others, even if there is no financial gain from doing so.
Participating in the Community
I don't participate with the community other than online (not yet anyway), but Ciao can operate as a kind of social network site, and there are facilities for members to chat with each other on line via messages, although not in real time. It is possible to build up online friendships through reading and writing reviews, as they collectively start to build up pictures of individuals, their likes and dislikes etc. I do not participate that much with many members, in that I am not constantly chatting with people, but I do like the fact that I have a little circle of people from all kinds of backgrounds and locations and ages, who I can interact with on different levels, and particularly those who give respect and are willing to listen to differing points of view. There have been meetings of members in the past, and a lot of off line friendships and relationships have also formed. The participation in the site can also inspire off line purchases as well, and I do use the site for research, something I probably would not have done before I joined as a member.
I think that participation has its downsides too. For example, there is often friction about rating, and in particular over rating. On the one hand, it might be difficult to give a lower rating to someone who you might be quite friendly with, despite the fact the review itself is not worth it in the opinion of the rater. On the other hand, some members think that if most people have rated as VH or E, then everyone else should and tend to challenge that, when they have no actual basis to do so. Ratings are often contentious, with some members having all kinds of rules and regulations posted about how a VH from them is worth an E from everyone else, and that kind of nonsense, all a bit elitist, and that behaviour is completely unnecessary. Another bugbear of mine is when people down-rate others for not repeating information that would be in the public domain anyway. This always seems weird to me, as if we are rating as consumers, then we would have the basic information about a product (e.g. if I am researching a particular camera, I might already know it has 10 megapixels and is available from £399 on line), but I am reading reviews to get consumer opinion from other owners.
All this behaviour is relevant as it significantly affects the overall quality of the site as a source of information, and the political rating is not a nice aspect of the site either.
Of course participation is measured by coloured dots, which show how active or otherwise a person is in the community, dots are a representation of the member's community points, which in turn represent how much rating, reading, commenting and writing that the member has undertook. These dots can get a little addictive, especially when you are new to the site, but once you have got to a certain level, then the gaps between them become quite large, and they cease to be a motivator.
SO overall, how are the rewards at Ciao? Well certainly, if you want to make money, it is technically possible, providing you are very active, can write good consumer reviews, can put the time into the site, and can enter the product of the week each week, as that is where the bulk of the money can be earned. It definitely isn't possible to make much money by surveys, or without putting in a reasonable amount of time and effort.
For myself, however, and I suspect the majority of members, the rewards are largely non financial. I do enjoy the challenge of writing, although I do not contribute all that often. I do like the recognition of my work by other members, especially on matters and places that are most important to me, and I do enjoy the social side of the site, and the ability to make online friends with people from all different backgrounds. I also like the fact that many of my reviews have been read by several thousand non members, as that to me is the true measurement of whether they are worthwhile or not.