Why Social Networks Are Hiring Writers

It’s nothing new to think of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr as prodigious content producers. What’s surprising is their recent turn toward treating it as the proverbial slush pile. Tumblr’s hired editors to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. And Facebook’s brought a j-school grad onboard as “managing editor,” with vague-sounding projects in the works.

The question is: How will these networks measure good journalism? Will they opt for a metrics-based approach, à la Nick Denton’s Pageviews Scoreboard? It’s certainly in their DNA. Facebook’s goal has always been to retain eyeballs and increase time-on-site. That equals more ad revenue, and everyone loves more ad revenue.

Gawker's "Big Board" (via The New York Times)

But what about Tumblr? Their new Highlighted Posts functionality points to a more intriguing possibility. Stay with me here, because I know it sounds a bit naïve: they forego the obvious advertising support and implement a toolkit for citizen journalists and writers, charging for services as they see fit. It’s not so different from their fashion blogger strategy in January 2011. That was about community. Turn the dial a little and you have something like Kindle Singles for Tumblr.

Of course these are early days. Then again, if I had suggested five years ago Amazon would hire Larry Kirshbaum, it would have seemed equally odd…


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