Thursday, July 31, 2014

Chatabout: Another Scam After All?

Well, it looks as if Chatabout.com is going down the drain. It was too good to last.

The idea was that if advertisers wanted to learn more about what we really think, they could pay to advertise on a site that paid us for cheerful friendly "chat." It was great fun while it lasted. The rules clearly stated that the amount one could earn from actual "chats" was capped at a dollar a day, so a reasonably efficient typist could earn a dollar in an hour or two while checking up on e-friends, putting in good words for deserving stores or books or whatever and warning people off bad ones, and admiring people's vacation pictures. Chatters earned a penny per Chat and could watch the meter tick over as we Chatted.

Yesterday, suddenly, for no obvious reason, we were all notified that the price had just been unilaterally dropped to half a penny per Chat.

The horrible thing was seeing all the Chats from people--I hope they were merely in denial--who typed that they'd "just get used to it." Hello? This is not like, say, changing a nice-looking woodgrain background to an ugly orange background, or a tidy row of pictures and/or headlines to a messy-bulletin-board effect. We're talking about people who've probably put in ten or more hours' work to earn five dollars, who've suddenly been told they have to put in that much more work to get their five dollars. If you actually read some of these people's Chats, some of them are talking about living with major disabilities during the year or two (on average) it takes their claims to be processed before they start collecting a pension. Some of them may actually be hungry. Some of them are wheelchair dwellers. We're talking about a corporation grabbing the lunch money out of the hands of wheelchair dwellers. This is not something decent human beings want to allow ourselves to "get used to."

How is this happening? Well...two other writing sites, Yahoo Voices and Helium, recently crashed and burned (because they had been cheating writers). So there are a lot of displaced writers on the Internet this summer. That's unfortunate. At Bubblews I'm seeing a lot of gibberish that's obviously been run through translation software, and today I saw gibberish that had obviously been copied from a magazine article and run through translation software so that it came out garbled enough to squeak through the plagiarism detector...but many of these displaced writers are competent.

There are ways the corporate writing sites that can already afford to pay us, without asking for donations, could address this overpopulation problem.

They could have "levels," as Associated Content had before it sold out to Yahoo, or as Hirewriter has, where short Chats or comments on other people's work are good for a penny, blog posts might earn a nickel, short informative articles or pictures might earn $5, and actual research or reportage ought to earn the $50 (or more) our time is worth. Of course, this would involve some actual editing, but (hint, hint) most competent writers are at least competent to sort documents for editing, if paid to do that.

They could limit the amount of time each person could invest in Chatting. Bubblews allows people to post up to ten mini-articles ("Bubbles") per day; if someone has written more and wants to download it into their Bubblews account, the site now allows extra writing to be stored on a "Drafts" page that's not available for public view. Chatabout is supposed to allow people to post up to a hundred Chats per day, although I have watched the meter fudge over into "Bonus Points"; the limit could be enforced, and in view of the number of people who want to Chat the site could even have pushed excess Chats into a "Drafts" page, too. I see some conversations between people who have obviously formed a real bond, who are Chatting each other through life crises, who really would like to stay in touch even if they weren't paid to do so, and those people could be gently prodded to take their conversations into private e-mail.

They could shut down the whole site "for maintenance" every few days, thereby indirectly reminding online writers to maintain real lives. Bubblews does that.

But if you've signed a contract to pay the amount X for the product or service Y, and you then try to alter that contract so that it binds you to pay 1/2X for Y, I think you should be shamed and shunned and shut out from the company of decent human beings until you have crawled your way back into society by paying everyone at least 2X for Y, plus late fees. What? You're a corporation that's over-invested, and can't afford to pay what you promised to pay? Er, um...where in the Bible or the Constitution does it say that you have to eat? Better to starve like a human being than eat like a cockroach.