Thursday, July 30, 2009

Helium policy change turns off APAC contributors

Helium.com is a content website which hosts articles on almost every topic under the sun. Helium members contribute articles, read and rate other articles and in return earn a small amount for the articles submitted by them. Sometime in 2005, Helium did lots of advertising using Google Adwords, to invite writers.

Till recently, helium.com was open to authors from all over the world. I registered at this site some 3 years ago and did contribute some 10-12 articles in total. Revenue from articles were primary motive to contribute but the other interesting factor was rating of articles-we'll get an idea where our articles stand compared to other articles on same topic. Few of my articles were ranking at top 3 while others did average to not so good. Earnings were so low and it seemed to take forever to reach minimum payout of US$25. Because of this I eventually stopped contributing, but once in a while used to login, read, rate articles.

That was only introduction-main thing I thought I'll share with you is Helium's recent policy change. Helium has decided not to accept articles from authors orginating from countries which do not have english as their primary language, so as to 'protect the quality of articles'. This essentially means users from India and other Asia Pacific countries aren't welcome to contribute at helium.

Below is the extract from an email Helium sent to its members originating from countries where "english is not the primary language"
"Helium.com instituted this policy as a result of careful consideration of its members and its publishing partners. Since our goal is to become the top-quality content site on the web, we realize that, as a US-based company, we cannot accept writers from countries where English is not the primary language. It has put those writers at a disadvantage in rating and getting the most from writing on Helium. To prevent frustrations from all writers and to limit staff time spent trying to accommodate non-English-speaking writers, we have decided to stop accepting submissions from locations that may have a negative impact on the quality of our site. "

Helium also removed all existing articles of such members and their access to site is promptly revoked. However, to be fair they retained articles for 4 weeks so that authors could take backup of their articles if they wish. Though my earnings hadn't reached minimum payout limit, (My earnings in 3-4 years were about 19$ in total, from about 10-12 articles) they transfered the amount to my paypal account. I don't have anything to complain (their site, their policy, their money) but just thought I'll bring this policy change to the attention of my readers.

Do you think writers from countries where english isn't the mother tongue have bad english? Are we diluting the quality of the website by our contributions? Aren't they denying themselve a chance to benefit from knowledge and understanding of other writers? What might have forced them into this policy change? Helium might have had their own compulsions/pressures, but what do you think on this?

Other thoughts:
* Isn't it unfair on their part to generalize things? Was it not possible to identify a more practical and sensible strategy to ensure quality that blindly turning down contributors based on their origin?

* Helium policy enforcement isn't foolproof. Since a computer can't identify origin of an user, they've blocked access (login feature) in countries where english is not primary language. But then, a US citizen who is a helium member can't login if he/she is in India while an Indian in US can create an ID and contribute as usual. Others might still be able to login via proxies or other workarounds.

* I'm not sure how serious members take Helium's rating feature. Helium members are expected to read and rate articles-two articles on same topic-but do people really care to spend several hours reading multiple articles on same topic, just to rate which one is relatively better?

* By deleting user accounts, they are losing a significant user base which was acquired after significant effort and expense. Even if they change the policy later, users will have a hesitation to sign up again. Pearl broken is lost forever.

* I was comparing my Mouthshut experience with that of helium. While Helium communicated its policy change to all affected users, gave them time to backup their articles before deleting the entries and made payments to settle dues, Mouthshut turns off users without warning, without responding to their mails while continuing to retain and earn from members' articles.

Similar: Mouthshut shuts me off * Ergo to close its print edition * Nishindra Verma on future of print media *

10 comments:

Mohan said...

It is the troubled economy that is forcing people to look for quality and better the service. Though I don't have complaints with their policy, I would say it is a lame decision to backout from contributors for non-english countries.

I would suggest them to know about the pulitzer prize winners and their roots. That will be an eye opener for them!

Mridula said...

Sounds like a lame decision to me too. But it was mighty decent of them to transfer your money.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Mohan,
No indians in this year's Man Booker prize list-all newspapers are making that a headline...

Still agree with you.

Mridula
Yes, good of them.

The Self-Proclaimed Wordsmith said...

Sounds a bit silly to me. It's probably true that people who contribute from non-English speaking countries will have worse English than their English-speaking counterparts, but that can't be true across the board, right?

I can think of one possible solution, but it might take a while to implement - have readers rate the content of the piece and the language. Then either a) allow only those authors (if they're from non-English speaking countries) to contribute and disallow others or b) if a high enough % of authors from a particular non-English speaking country are rated well by readers, allow them all.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for posting this.

I have to say that after reading this I have lost even more respect for that site. I do have some articles posted on there. My motivation was to 'win' in the rating system. Two of my articles did reach #1 but I never heard anything from the site, even after contacting them and asking about it. So what do they do with people rated #1? Who knows. In one of the two, it said if you were rated #1, you'd be published in a magazine, which really inspired me. I have yet to see that magazine....

But, on the flip side I don't think they should look at the country you originate and use that to judge the quality of your English/spelling/grammar. Few points:
1. If spelling was easy, no one would care to win a spelling bee.
2. If people from English speaking countries are so good at writing, then why are newspapers in America written for a fifth grade reading level?
3. Even between American, Australian, UK and other English varieties, there is variation in spelling, sometimes grammar and sentence formation- so who's right and who's wrong?
4. Do the Helium staff realize that to come and study in America one has to pass GRE (a written test) and TOEFL- a test many students from especially India master with more ease than me, who apparently, according to them (Helium) should know English better!!

I think it's discrimination. Rather than base their qualifications for writers on your geographical location, they should base it on your writing quality. They should have an editor who reviews all the posts before they go into the site. This, rather than blocking high-quality writers (as Mohan says, potential Pulitzer prize winners) would improve the writing found on their site and not limit the scope or number of perspectives on the site.

Now, I am a bit too wordy! :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Navneet,
Yes, Unfair to blindly generalize. But loss for them than writers. Quality writers can always find a more rewarding place to publish thier contents.

They do not seem to be in a mood to spend any efforts to assess quality. Else there were many ways to identify quality writers.

Jennifer,

Thanks for the detailed comment. Agree with you. But then, quality writers will always find a better place. So if anyone are at loss due to this policy change, it is Helium and its readers.

Also they would have lost goodwill of readers and writers from these places, which they'll never be able to earn back.

hari said...

That's one of the reasons I never contribute to third-party sites. Lack of editorial control.

Web space is damn cheap these days... Yes, you won't make a lot of money, but you will have full content control.

Bhupesh said...

But any way it is business .. and their business .. hope fully they know much batter then us what is good for them .. they have acted more fairly then any other Indian business would have acted in similar situation.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Hari and Bhupesh,

I agree. Thanks

Smarry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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