Small Contributions are a Big Deal

Most of the excitement about user-generated content usually focuses around blogs, videos, reviews, social network profile pages, etc. However, microcontributions – extremely small interactions where the user participates in the community of a website – are also becoming a notable trend, and it’s a shame to over look them because they posses a lot of power. The onslaught of AJAXy rich internet applications, giving web pages the ability to accept input without refreshing, has allowed sites to cover new ground in this area.

There are an increasing number of good examples of microcontibutions. Netflix pioneered with its simple one-lick five-star ratings review of movies. All you have to do is “digg it” to vote on a news story which could make it to the top of that blockbuster site’s home page. During the registration process for Masthead portfolio company TripConnect (a social network for travel advice), users click on places that they’ve been or want to go, so that they can later on connect with likeminded individuals. And in the past couple weeks, I’ve seen a number of sites with the meme of pitting two things beside each other to determine which one is better (photos, art, people, karaoke performances). With a simple click of a button, people are engaging with a site, and a community.

Microcontributions are simple and elegant way to get people to connect, to defeat the resistance not to contribute at all. By reducing a user workflow into a series of incremental contributions rather than just a large one, sites which use this tactic can overcome the initial resistance to participate. Once a user is familiar with interacting with a site at a minimal level, s/he is more likely comfortable to expand that relationship. More importantly, in addition to becoming lead-ins to entice people to contribute larger portions of content, microcontributions also become content in and of themselves. Aggregated votes and clicks become interesting, and can be even central to engaging consumers with a facing web app. I think the lesson here is that when designing a social site, it’s important not to just concentrate on gathering content from creators, but also consider gathering microcontributions from participators who may not (always) be creators themselves.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.