It used to be that companies were created to serve customers. They would hire employees, build a product or service, and wait for people to beat a path to their doors. These days the prevailing business model on the Web seems to be the exact opposite: persuade customers to build the product themselves, and then have them do all the marketing by e-mailing their family, friends, co-workers, second cousins, and anyone else they can think of to come check out what they’ve done. It sort of makes sense. Why do all the work when you can get your customers to do it for you?
Let’s face it: People are fascinated with themselves. That’s why when it comes to content-driven websites — and what websites aren’t in that category? — there is nothing more viral or compelling than content generated by users. Whether it’s travel journals, group calendars, event listings, product reviews, or personal photos, people love to put their stuff up on the Web. Look at the popularity of photo-sharing Website Flickr.com, the consumer-written online encyclopedia Wikipedia, or consumer reviews on Amazon.com and Epinions. Hell, nobody makes customers work harder than eBay, whose entire business depends on sellers uploading descriptions, prices, and photos of their auction wares. Even offline, radio stations are springing up that plan to broadcast amateur podcasts.