There are plenty of reasons to wonder about citizen media’s business model. One, which I’ve talked about many times here and elsewhere, is the tendency of site owners to rely on free labor. The method goes roughly this way: “You do all the work and we’ll take all the money, thank you very much.”

People do things for many reasons, but it’s always about getting something of value back. The value may be a psychic reward of doing something good for someone else. It may be ego. It may be money, or the ability to save money. In community-driven websites it may be contributing a tiny bit of effort to something that gives the overall community, and thereby individuals, great value. Usually it’s a combination.

But when the big money starts to flow to a few who are leveraging the work of the many, a disconnect emerges. And that’s why I’m so bothered by part of an announcement of some interesting new features that will give users or reddit, a news-recommendation site owned by the parent company of Wired magazine, new ways to help each other understand the news. reddit is refining the process in a smart way, by dividing the recommendation system in ways — assuming it works — to make it better and, perhaps, more reliable.

There’s no sense of whether the “private” and “restricted” section of the site, in which the Chosen will presumably elevate the content because they are doing things better, will have any stake in the outcome beyond being given more responsibility. I hope so, and we’ll know more when the features roll out more widely.

What really bugs me most in the reddit blog posting about the changes is the following:

Right now we really only have English and German, but if you would be generous enough to translate reddit into another language, please email feedback@reddit to offer your support.

As usual, if you’re interested in working on reddit, please email jobs@reddit and describe what a badass programmer you are.

Read it again. You are invited to translate the site into another language, because you are such a generous person. If you are a badass programmer, however, you are invited to apply for a job and make some actual money.

I like reddit a lot, and think it’s doing some terrific work with community-driven news. But this request goes beyond the pale.

Conde Nast, a privately held empire that owns some of the most profitable magazines on the planet, paid a bundle for this site. It can afford to pay for translations.

If you are generous enough to do this kind of work for free, please consider doing instead it for a nonprofit site of some sort. Please don’t be giving away your time to mega-wealthy media barons.

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