-33

These sites ask for a professional level of research both in questions and answers. They are for-profit sites, but people are not paid for questions or answers.

So, is this a form of exploitation?

If, for whatever reason, somebody wants to spend time helping others to learn for free, why don't they do that for a non-profit site, for example improving articles in Wikipedia?

  1. The question is about ethics, not law.
  2. The answer should address the fact that some people are making a huge amount of money while the work is been doing for free by other people.
  3. I also wonder if all of the site is purposefully designed for this to happen (the "rewards" system, the rules for a question to not be deleted...) which would make this site even more unethical.
  4. Of course anybody is free to contribute or not and of course I won't contribute.
19
  • 3
    I do what I do for the love of it, if someone else monetises a different site on the network in order to keep my (unmonetised) favourite sites running, I'm OK with that. Besides fun and socialising, I learn quite a bit too, I'd say it's worth it, a fair deal. Jun 21 at 12:18
  • 8
    Does this answer your question? Is Stack Exchange in violation of New York labor law, in using volunteer moderators? The main question doesn't seem like it does, but there is a lot of good information in the answers and the related questions that might address your concern.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 21 at 12:18
  • 5
    I don't feel exploited; au contraire, I'm happy to share my knowledge free gratis and for nothing. Importantly, I prefer the format to e.g wikipedia (which I find problematic in many senses). If you feel exploited, then just don't contribute. Jun 21 at 12:24
  • 3
    You've been a contributing member of Stack Exchange for a decade. Have you felt this way all this time, or has something specific happened to make you feel as though you're being exploited? This is a genuine enquiry: it feels odd to me that you are only now taking issue with the site's business model, having seemingly used it without complaint for all this time.
    – F1Krazy
    Jun 21 at 12:50
  • 1
    @F1Krazy I have barely contributed, just a few questions. The specific trigger is realizing the high demads for a question to be accepted. The goal doesn't seem helping as many people as possible, but making a professional level profitable site using free high quality labour.
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 13:24
  • 4
    @FCardelle I'm not sure where you got the 'goal is to help as many people as possible' from... stackexchange.com/tour is much more specific: "We build libraries of high-quality questions and answers, focused on each community's area of expertise". Helping people is a side-effect of that, not the main goal.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jun 21 at 13:39
  • 1
    @Tinkeringbell and if you want to build high-quality libraries, you should pay the creators of the content, shouldn't you? (unless you make it a non-profit site) This is exactly my question.
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 13:46
  • 9
    Does that wikipedia site you mention in your question pay the creators of the content? If I recall correctly it doesn't, the only difference is that instead of a few ads, it has massive banners begging for money. To be fair, your question seems to become one of 'please commiserate with me' more and more. Is there a specific problem you are trying to solve by asking this? If so, your might be better served asking another question about solving the problem instead of asking for opinions on whether there is a problem.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jun 21 at 13:48
  • 10
    @FCardelle The technical classification of wikipedia doesn't matter to me. Several people are making money by working on Wikipedia, and it's not the people writing the content. Same as here, basically, though the amount of money and jobs involved might be different.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jun 21 at 14:00
  • 1
    @Tinkeringbell As you say, in wikipedia people are making money "by working", and hopefully an amount of money according to the job. Here we are talking of 1.8B "by owning" the site and "by not paying" to the workers.
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 14:28
  • 5
    Again, what specific problem are you trying to solve here? The comments are side-tracking a bit... Unless there's a specific problem that's not 'please agree with me', I'm afraid I'm done and your question to me is primarily opinion based: an arbitrary poll of people's opinions on your stance and definition of what is going on on this network.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jun 21 at 14:34
  • 1
    Of course ethical questions can be debated beyond personal opinion. A big part of philosophy does just that. Maybe some people have spent much time here and are reacting too emotionally to regard a good answer to the question.
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 14:52
  • 4
    'A good answer to the question' according to whose ethical framework? Yours, or mine? I'm done as well; you've a pre-determined answer in mind and will disregard other viewpoints. Jun 21 at 14:58
  • 7
    @FCardelle This site's topic isn't philosophy though, nor is it ethics. Again, what problem with the network are we actually discussing here, that needs solving in your opinion? What's the goal of having this discussion, except perhaps getting an answer that agrees with you and states in big bold letters 'Yes, I am being exploited'... now what?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jun 21 at 14:58
  • 5
    @Tinkeringbell I think if OP was able to provide a sensible answer to that question you would’ve had it by now! It’s a thinly veiled “this is what I think” wrapped up in a “what do you think”
    – Clive
    Jun 21 at 15:02
12

So, is this a form of exploitation?

Googling the meaning of exploitation gives "the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work.".

So yeah, that would make your question one of ethics, particularly your own ethics. What you do or don't consider fair is up to you. Based on that consideration, you can choose whether or not participation here would be in line with your personal ethics.

If, for whatever reason, somebody wants to spend time helping others to learn for free, why don't they do that in a non for-profit site, for example improving articles in wikipedia?

Again, it's up to personal ethics and decisions. Personally, I don't mind that these sites make money and Wikipedia doesn't have a page on exiting vim that I could theoretically improve.


In response to the edit that almost invalidated this answer by adding more clauses and stuff:

(1) The question is about ethics, not law [...] (4) of course anybody is free to contribute or not and of course I won't contribute.

Well luckily I managed to answer those two above, so less work for me!

Kind of a spoiler though: you have contributed in the past and you just did so again by posting this post. You might want to re-evaluate your stance on nr. 4, or do better in sticking to it.

(2) The answer should address the fact that some people are making a huge amount of money while the work is been doing for free by other people

Not necessarily true. From how I always understood it, most of the public Q&A sites don't actually make money, except for the few that have advertisements. Instead, this answer outlines what does make money, and none of that is being done for free by other people.

(3) I also wonder if all the site is purposefully design for this to happen (the "rewards" system, the rules for a question to not being deleted...) which would make this site even more unethical

Since I debunked 2 already, no these sites aren't designed for "this" to happen.

7
  • According stackoverflow.com.websiteoutlook.com, the site worths around 50M!!!
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 14:00
  • 2
    Looks like Stack Overflow got away with "murder" then when they agreed to sell it for $1.8B a few weeks ago to Prosus, @FCardelle . There's far more in the Stack Overflow community than just the Stackoverflow.com domain.
    – Larnu
    Jun 21 at 14:03
  • 9
    @FCardelle That non-profit wikipedia you've mentioned a few times is valued at much more on that same calculator. But that's just a random internet calculator calculating 'worth'. A good old saying from my dad: "I'm worth a lot. I just haven't found a fool to pay up yet.". A worth is worthless as long as no one pays up.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jun 21 at 14:08
  • @Tinkeringbell you are all the time slipping away the essential point. Some people got $1.8B a few weeks ago because of work done for free by other people. Is that ethically acceptable to you? Yes? No?
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 14:20
  • 4
    Yes, that’s ethically acceptable to me. So…question done?
    – Clive
    Jun 21 at 14:23
  • 5
    @FCardelle What concrete problem would having my opinion on ethics solve for you? Ethics are a personal thing, like I said in my answer. What networkwide problem are you trying to solve by asking others their opinion on what your ethics should be?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jun 21 at 14:24
  • Likewise, yes. If it wasn't, I wouldn't contribute. Everyone has that choice. Jun 21 at 14:24
11

Nobody charged me to help me learn what I know.

So, I pass the knowledge on freely, on a bunch of platforms, not just SE.

Some of those platforms barely cover their costs, and will vanish sooner or later because of it.

Some of those platforms do cover their costs, and good luck to them.

Some of those platforms make money, but not from the content I have contributed --SE falls into this category.

Why would I not share my knowledge here?

ETA:

Exploitation:

(1)the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work. e.g "the exploitation of migrant workers"

Nope -- doesn't apply. Nothing unfair going on -- no captive/coerced labour.

(2) the action of making use of and benefiting from resources. e.g. "the Bronze Age saw exploitation of gold deposits"

Yep; I'm a resource and happy to be so.

9
  • "Some of those platforms make money, but not from the content I have contributed" If there are ads besides the content you contributed, they are making money from that content.
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 13:48
  • 3
    And I still don't care. @FCardelle Jun 21 at 14:08
  • That you don't care is irrelevant to the question. You can be exploited and don't care. Of course this is not forced labour, but is it exploitation?
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 14:25
  • 5
    Why would you, or anyone, care what everyone’s individual opinion on whether the contrived definition you’ve presented is accurate or not is? What purpose does it serve? And to whom? Arbitrary opinion polls aren’t really a good use of this platform
    – Clive
    Jun 21 at 14:29
  • @FCardelle I am not being taken advantage of unfairly, no matter whether anyone makes money -- I am free to walk away at any point. Jun 21 at 14:44
  • 3
    @FCardelle "That you don't care is irrelevant to the question." it's basically the very heart of the question. In order to be exploited, somebody has to not be willing to do this work. But compelled to do it anyway. Or deceived into working for free. I don't think anybody here is either made to do work or unaware they are doing it for free. Saying they don't care that their work is contributed for free of their own free will seems to run exactly counter to claims of exploitation. Or can you prove otherwise - people don't know they do work for free or they are forced to?
    – VLAZ
    Jun 21 at 15:01
  • @VLAZ "Or deceived into working for free" ... and all that system of rewards (badges, medals...) , isn't it designed to deceive users into working for free?. Yes, this is indeed the heart of the question.
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 15:09
  • 4
    @FCardelle who thinks they don't work for free? You? It's certainly not me. And to my knowledge, most of the users are aware they are not paid. The deception doesn't seem to work very well. Or can you prove that many people think they aren't doing stuff for free?
    – VLAZ
    Jun 21 at 15:13
  • 2
    @Fcardelle No deceipt involved; the rules are clear. And at worst people will realise they aren't being paid when nobody asks for the details to send them money :) Jun 21 at 15:17
4

These sites ask for a professional level of research both in questions and answers. They are for-profit sites, but people are not paid for questions or answers.

So, is this a form of exploitation?

I cannot put a price tag on the knowledge I have gained, from doing the required research, to answer questions on my primary community. What I can say is I answer those questions, because I enjoy learning, and use the opportunity to become a better writer. I am absolutely not being exploited.

If, for whatever reason, somebody wants to spend time helping others to learn for free, why don't they do that for a non-profit site, for example improving articles in Wikipedia?

I despise the political viewpoints of Wikipedia. I will never support Wikipedia by donating money to them. I also not agree with some of the political viewpoints of Stack Exchange, which is the reason I personally will never donate money to the community, if requests for donations were to be requested.

The question is about ethics, not law.

I have no idea what this question is about but it actually has nothing to do with ethics or law. You have not actually raised an ethical question.

if you want to build high-quality libraries, you should pay the creators of the content, shouldn't you? (unless you make it a non-profit site) This is exactly my question.

There is a reason Quora is trash, Quora pays contributors, and their content often is inaccurate trash. Did I mention I hate Quora more than I hate Wikipedia?

The specific trigger is realizing the high demands for a question to be accepted. The goal doesn't seem helping as many people as possible, but making a professional level profitable site using free high quality labor.

It only takes a minimal effort to write a high quality answer.

2
  • In the beginning, Quora was Yahoo Answers with slightly better grammar. Now it is just Yahoo Answers (Yahoo Answers 2.0) - roamed by moderation bots of unspecified IQ, not real people. Perhaps it was always a provoked blogging site, not a Q&A site (despite the outward appearance). The founders are looking for an exit and then it can shot down, just like Yahoo Answers. Jun 22 at 9:53
  • Let’s not talk about Quora. They don’t deserve our attention
    – Ramhound
    Jun 22 at 12:11
4

I think that you are overlooking that people can get rewarded in ways that do not involve money.

If you are asking if Stack Exchange is unethical for allowing people to use the systems they've set up to build communities for the exchange of knowledge without any money changing hands, the answer is "no". If you compare Stack Exchange to a company like Facebook which seems like it's free, but generates much of its value by helping themselves to personal information about its users and selling that to third parties, Stack Exchange starts to look a lot more upstanding. Adults are making a choice to participate and it's pretty clear what they are giving Stack Exchange, and what they will get in return.

The value people get from contributing to the communities on the Stack Exchange network varies from person to person, but whatever it is that they get is of similar or greater value to whatever they give, or they wouldn't be giving it. Stack Exchange is very transparent about what it means to contribute here and how you are rewarded for your contributions. I don't see how Stack Exchange inviting consenting adults to participate here could be construed as unethical.

If you're asking whether the contributors are unethical for giving away their effort to a for-profit company, well I don't agree that they are giving it away; they just aren't getting paid in money. If I get an answer to a tricky software problem here for free, wouldn't it be ethical for me to "pay it forward" and answer someone else's question? If I really enjoy tidying-up text, is it unethical for me to edit posts here just for the enjoyment of it? If I like the communities here better than on the non-profit sites, is it unethical for me to participate where I have the most fun?

1
  • This is a good answer. I thought of accepting it, but I think I prefer to write my own one.
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 15:43
3

Two things to offer here.

Is Stack Exchange "Exploitative"?

You've provided one definition, and then referenced "ethical exploitation" in your answer using that definition:

Noun (1) the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work.
eg. "the exploitation of migrant workers", misuse, ill-treatment

You've omitted, however, a secondary definition of the term that's much more applicable here:

(2) the action of making use of and benefiting from resources.
eg. "the Bronze Age saw exploitation of gold deposits", utilization, usage

Stack Exchange is unquestionably exploitative in this way– but so are you! Just as Stack uses our contributions to populate their platform, you "exploit" that very same resource every single time you visit and read something useful. This is intended and by-design; Stack's mission is to "build a library of detailed answers to every question about [topic]". They're building resources to be exploited by everyone, for both your and their benefit. Their business model is fundamentally linked with people finding their sites valuable and worth exploiting; without that, Stack wouldn't possess nearly the clout that they do, nor the large pool of clients that they get to market their premium products to.

But Does the First Definition Apply?

Circling back to the first definition:

(1) the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work.

Stack only fits this definition if you can describe the relationship between Stack and its curators as "unfair", and based on what you've written in your question, answer, and comments, you seem to hold that Stack being for-profit is unfair because curators aren't compensated monetarily.

I think that you are vastly underselling the value that Stack offers to everyone with an internet connection, whether curator or otherwise. The main value of Stack Exchange is most certainly not to the wallets of Stack's stakeholders, it's to the millions of users that derive value from Stack's knowledge base every single day. If anything, that's unfair, not that Stack's employees and stakeholders are getting paid.

Stack is not unfairly benefitting from its curators; it's giving them a place to contribute, and providing a valuable service for millions of visitors, free of charge. And all that without the (largely unethical) data harvesting that's commonplace across the internet today.

0

You teach for free, and you learn for free.

The more curious thing is the fact that even the authors of research articles whose work is published (not in Open Access) are not allowed to circulate, upload, share their own work.

2
-15

I will try to write my own answer based on all the answers that I have received. I hope to be fair to them.

The owners of SE designed a system of "rewards" (badges, medals) to motivate experts all around the world to build a huge database of high quality questions and answers for free.

The system is successful and the owners have got a very valuable learning resource that they obtained at an extraordinarily low cost. As we can expect, the profit for them is huge and the site has been sold by US$1.8B recently.

The experts that contributed enjoy and learn through the process and they consider this to be enough compensation. In any case, the owners have not shared the huge profit with the experts that did the job in any extent whatsoever.

So, if we define exploitation as "the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work", is this exploitation? Yes, of course! In other words, was the trading of gold for trinkets exploitation?

But we live in a society where exploitation is not always considered unethical, and not only the contributors, but also millions of other people benefit from the high quality database. So we can call the SE model as a form of ethical exploitation, if that is not an oxymoron.

20
  • 13
    What a ridiculous answer. You’ve asked if something is exploitation, you’ve then, without even trying to hide it, redefined exploitation to suit your rhetoric, and then concluded by patting yourself on the back for proving your original point. This is embarrassing!
    – Clive
    Jun 21 at 15:55
  • I took the first definition of exploitation that I found with google
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 15:57
  • 11
    You’re twisting everything to suit your point, there’s no point pretending otherwise. You’ve also selectively ignored the questions people have asked you in the comments that you would find hard to answer, and that disprove your points. I used to know people who used these tactics in debate classes, they always got called out pretty quickly.
    – Clive
    Jun 21 at 15:59
  • What is it the hardest question for me to answer that would disprove my points? I promise I will adapt my answer accordingly.
    – FCardelle
    Jun 21 at 16:04
  • 3
    Re: "the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work" – Why have you made yourself the grand arbiter of what's "unfair" for the millions of contributors across Stack Exchange? Shouldn't they get a say in that?
    – zcoop98
    Jun 21 at 16:14
  • 2
    @Clive, let's not dignify this with responses? OP is perfectly free to cherry-pick the dictionary, ignore other people's answers, disregard the fact that so many people participate here happily without any monetary reward, and pat themself on the back. As you say, it's embarrasing, but chiefly for them. Jun 21 at 16:16
  • 2
    Also want to note that "ethical exploitation" is not at all an oxymoron, since you've completely disregarded another definition of the term: "the action of making use of and benefiting from resources". This perfectly describes what Stack Exchange does, and also describes what millions of visitors do everyday when they search and find some useful information on Stack that helps them: they benefit from a resource.
    – zcoop98
    Jun 21 at 16:16
  • 9
    Why do you think your judgment of a trade that I thought was fair should override my judgement of that trade? I’m going to give my nephew my old Xbox because I know it would make him happy. Is he exploiting me by not giving me the $400 I could probably get on eBay? Of course not, because I’m an adult and understand the choice I made.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 21 at 16:18
  • 2
    @FCardelle But it's not "in exchange for virtual points and medals". I don't participate here because I value "internet points". I don't go to movies or concerts so I can get the ticket stubs. What you think is "worth it" is not what someone else thinks is "worth it". As long as the person involved is competent, free to make an informed decision, and isn't being mislead, there is no exploitation in the sense that you're talking about.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 21 at 17:51
  • 5
    The minute a single author of a single answer is paid is the minute before I quit and take all my knowledge with me. Before I delete my profile I will downvote the answer that receive payment, because I lost my keys, and because I hate any content that is written by anyone that is paid to write it. You should fix the numerous grammatical mistakes contained in your answer. I make this statement after writing over two thousand answers.
    – Ramhound
    Jun 21 at 17:53
  • 2
    @FCardelle Every question could technically be answered with some version of "yes and no, but really yes." That doesn't mean that the people who think "no" is the answer will be mollified because their "side" is represented. It's simply not true that the SE model involves exploitation of their volunteers. There is no such thing as "ethical" exploitation of people unless you pretend that the word "exploitation" means something other than what it actually means in that context.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 21 at 18:43
  • 1
    ...is this exploitation? Yes, of course! But why? Your answer doesn't actually explain this, it just states it as a matter of fact. Are you arguing that any for profit company that allows users to post/upload their own content is unethical?
    – BSMP
    Jun 21 at 22:25
  • 8
    I don't know which answers or comments you read @FCardelle. Those on this post state exactly the opposite.
    – Luuklag
    Jun 22 at 10:12
  • 2
    @FCardelle 4 out of 7 answers explicitly state that it's not exploitation. One says it is only if you use a completely different definition and one says it depends on your own personal ethics. I also don't think you can reasonably state that your position is the consensus while your answer is currently at -13.
    – BSMP
    Jun 22 at 17:19
  • 1
    What might help is if you explain why you think it is exploitation. You seem to be taking issue with the sale specifically but it's been a for-profit company this entire time. I honestly cannot tell if your issue is with the general idea of sites where users add/upload content being for-profit, if it's just with Stack Overflow (because of the rules?), or if it's just the sale specifically.
    – BSMP
    Jun 22 at 17:23

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