Debate.org does not have some sinister commercial purpose
Two years ago, Juggle acquired debate.org for over $160,000. They have not put advertising on the site.
CEO Stephanie Leffler wrote that
"intelligent, well researched content has value far beyond its potential advertising revenue"
When she says "value" she doesn't mean actual value. She's talking about "intangibles" such as "credibility" and "relevance". There is nothing strange or sinister about that. I like to think of debate.org as a work of Art. Art is expensive. As Oscar Wilde famously said, "All art is quite useless." We still love it, though.
One of the Juggle companies, CrowdSource, offers a service called "content moderation". The description says, "From product reviews and forum posts to profile photos and more, CrowdSource workers can moderate all types of user-generated content." It sounds like "moderation" means faking posts online in discussion forums. But this has nothing to do with debate.org. It's a separate company.
Another of Juggle's companies, write.com, employs over 26,000 online writers to do short assignments. They have almost completed half a million assignments! Congratulations, write.com.
To join write.com, you need to do an assessment where you answer multiple-choice questions about grammar and style. Here's one of the questions
Choose the example that is NOT a word and phrase preference (in accordance with the style guide).
Note at the end of the question how it says "forum posts and debate arguments". I don't take this to mean that they regularly pay writers to write stuff for forum posts and debate arguments, and even if it does mean that, I don't see what it has to do with debate.org.
2. Juggle (and not Stephanie Leffler) bought debate.org. Debate.org is not a nonprofit (there is no donation option).
3. The goal of a for-profit company is to make a profit. One way to make a profit is to introduce advertising. However, according to Pro's own source (http://www.debate.org...), introducing advertising is expected to yield only about $5 a day, an insignificant amount (it would take over 54 years of advertising to make up the money spent in buying debate.org).
4. This presents a paradox - why would a for-profit company choose to spend $160,000 on "expensive", "useless" "art" that does not help the company make any money? Art is for individuals, not for-profit companies.
5. One possible explanation is that Juggle hopes to improve debate.org before selling it (along with all the debates and user information) to another company. Indeed, like Philip Ferreira, it is expected that Juggle would be willing to sell debate.org for a reasonable large bid (over $160,000).
6. CEO Stephanie Leffler supports this interpretation: "intelligent, well researched content has value far beyond its potential advertising revenue" suggests that Leffler foresees her company using the content on debate.org for commercial purposes and not mere advertisements.
7. Juggle not only intends to make money off of debate.org, but also intends to do so by putting the "intelligent, well researched content" to sinister, commercial uses. Making a profit by using the intellectual property of others (the users of the site) in ways that the creators of the intellectual property did not intend is quite sinister.
8. Thus the resolution is negated.
"When she says "value" she doesn't mean actual value"
Typically, when someone uses the word "value" they actually mean "value."
"She's talking about "intangibles" such as "credibility" and "relevance"."
Credibility and relevance do not provide enough value to offset spending $160,000 on the site.
"One of the Juggle companies, CrowdSource, offers a service called "content moderation"."
Note that this service generates a profit for Juggle. Juggle, being a for-profit, wants to make money off its services, including debate.org.
"Another of Juggle's companies, write.com, employs over 26,000 online writers to do short assignments."
Again, this company also has a commercial purpose - it contributes to Juggle's net revenue.
Thank you for your careful response, 00. I agree that it’s unusual for a for-profit company to acquire an expensive asset with ongoing running costs for no obvious reason. Why might they have done it?
You put forward two theories, both unsatisfactory:
For a while I toyed with the idea that they might challenge certain debaters on behalf of clients to get an opinion, but…nah, I’m not convinced. It’s not as if experts anywhere are shy about mouthing off. There’s Wikipedia and all kinds of resources online. It’s too cloak-and-dagger to be believable.
No, for me it’s the “content moderation” that’s the most compelling. You can imagine, say, cigarette companies paying to have ‘free choice’ advocated in discussion forums at a time when restrictions on advertising are being discussed. Or cosmetic companies could pay to have “feminists” argue that wearing lipstick at work is empowering.
This technique is the commercial form of grey or covert propaganda, which has been around for a long time (2). Using discussion forums is newish, though. I think there would be a lot of money in it if you could do it well. If debate.org were part of this grey propaganda machinery, it would indeed be sinister.
But what would its role be exactly? A training ground for sinister operatives? A platform to show off the techniques to clients? A testing site for new strategies before they’re unleashed for real? None of these seem likely.
Perhaps debate.org is a text resource so that Juggle employees can analyze appropriately casual language, grammar and etiquette, so that when they fake it up on client sites they’re not obvious. But why would they need their own site for this? Text examples are all over the Internet.
No. Like you, I think it’s mysterious, but without a workable theory of what’s happening, we can’t claim it’s sinister.
Sinister (adjective): giving the impression that something harmful or evil is happening or will happen (3)
I don’t get the impression that something harmful or evil is going to happen, do you? On the contrary, on debate.org I get the impression of a wonderful site where you can debate anything with anybody.
Yes it’s mysterious. So is your profile. But is it or you sinister? No.
Point 5 resolves this paradox: the only way to make money off of an unprofitable acquisition is by selling it or making it profitable. As for "why anyone would want to pay a lot of money for it," although the site itself may not be particularly valuable, the community and data stored on it has value.
Indeed, regardless of whether or not Juggle sells the site, at some point, it is expected that the owner of debate.org will want to make money off of the site.
For example, Juggle's plan might be to increase the number of users using debate.org before introducing targeted ads. Giving away users' profiles and debates to advertisers is commercial and sinister.
Another possibility might involve selling user information to companies doing a background check on potential employees.
Although these scenarios might seem unlikely, there is an easy way to prove that debate.org does have a sinister commercial purpose. Hypothetically, if ads on the site would make Juggle one hundred thousand dollars a year, do you believe that Juggle (or whoever owns the site) would put ads on debate.org? Bear in mind that some nonprofit sites such as Wikipedia refuse to implement ads, regardless of the large amount of money that ads would bring in.
If you do believe that Juggle is willing to sell user information to advertisers or others as soon as the opportunity to make a significant amount of money (and not 5 dollars a day) presents itself, vote Con.
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