Tsū: is allowing everyone to monetize content on a social network a good idea?

My habit of trying out new things has led me to open an account on Tsū, a social network created in 2013 that says it shares 90 percent of the money it makes with its users. It has recently been in the news following Facebook’s decision to block links from its pages, calling them spam. Some analysts say Facebook fears competition, but quite frankly, I don’t really buy that. It takes a bit more that what Tsū has today to get Facebook scared…

Tsū only opened to the public in October 2014 after several months under the radar. After garnering more than a million users in just five weeks and raising $7 million in a financing round, the company, the name of which corresponds to a Japanese character that looks like a smiley face, began an aggressive campaign on the App Store to boost downloads and raise awareness, while at the same time being criticized by some users for its business model, which has been widely described as multilevel marketing, which is a nice way of saying pyramid scheme.

The idea of paying users based on the popularity of the content they create is an attractive one, albeit in my opinion, poorly focused: if Facebook is able to generate millions of dollars from our content, wouldn’t it be fairer to share out those earnings among those who have actually created it, and simply keep a small percentage–10 percent in the case of Tsū–to cover costs? In other words: “Facebook is benefitting from content it doesn’t create without giving anything to the people who upload it,” making it the bad guy in all this.

The idea echoes many people’s perception of the internet as a race to the bottom: there is always somebody out there prepared to offer the same service as you for less money, to the point of forcing maximum efficiency. If you upload your content to Facebook, Mark gets rich. If you upload it on Tsū, you get a check every now and then.

Except it’s not quite that simple. Facebook isn’t “taking advantage” of anybody; instead it has created a platform to share content that didn’t exist before. What’s more, to create that platform it has had to set up a server network, develop an interface for users, along with certain rules, security protocols, storage space, etc. Can you imagine setting up your own Facebook-style page to post your photos, videos, thoughts or anything else you might want to share with the world, and then try to position it so that your friends visit it regularly? That’s right: it’s not going to happen: the services and technology are out there, but nobody’s really up for it.

At the same time, I think we need to ask why people upload stuff to the social networks: because we want to communicate with the world, to integrate, out of curiosity, self-esteem… except in the case of corporations or celebrities, nobody does so to make money.

What happens then, when a social network encourages its users to think about making money from it? The answer, as even the most cursory look at Tsū shows, is that it generates a lot of spam, that it relies on sensationalist, viral-oriented material: in short, it’s not pretty. If the idea of a social network is to encourage its users to make money out of sharing content, then that’s just what they’re going to do. But is that compatible with sharing our stuff? It is if you’re a celebrity or a corporation. But for most of us, trying to make money from uploading your photos or videos is going to be a waste of time, as you will rapidly discover.

Is Facebook right to dismiss Tsū as spam? I haven’t talked to the company, but I fear that it is not far off the mark, and that Tsū users, instead of working to create more earnings by boosting traffic through the site, prefer to scattergun their links in pursuit of the same goal. Sure, people who create content on Facebook will visit the site regularly to try to get the traffic flowing toward that content… but one thing is doing so “naturally” and quite another is through multilevel marketing. Facebook looked into this and decided to ban it.

It’s possible nothing sinister is going on here, and that all Tsū is trying to do is find a place at the table by sharing its revenue with users. But the reality is that such an approach is, in all likelihood, going to turn the site into a spam nest pretty quickly, firstly because of the tiny amounts of money users are making, unless they are celebrities, and because it has little else to offer. In my own case, I have gone no further than a quick tour of the site, but which has left me with the impression that this is not sustainable. Quite simply, I just don’t think that everything in our lives needs to be monetized. As things stand, I don’t see much future for Tsū, but I guess only time will tell.

(En español, aquí)