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Title: Tom Sawyer Production on the Internet: Getting the Good Stuff In, Keeping the Bad Stuff Out


User-contributed content as an input to the production of information services or goods is not new, but it is growing rapidly in prevalence and significance. Open-source software, Wikipedia and Flikr are but a few examples of the variety of information products and services relying on user-contributed content. I propose a characterization of user-contributed content, and identify contributor behavior issues critical for success. From the perspective of an information service provider, or the economy as a whole, these issues predict underprovision of content, inefficient mixes of quality and variety, and undesirable levels of content pollution. How might we design information services or systems to ameliorate these problems? Given the centrality of autonomous, motivated human behavior in user-contributed content problems, I argue this is a problem for incentive-centered design: how to configure economic, social, and psychology incentives to induce contribution, discourage pollution, and motivate sufficient effort to generate quality? To illustrate, for a content pollution problem, loosely based on a popular Web site's experience, I offer a stylized mechanism that relies on user-contributed (meta)content to screen out polluting contributions.