The revolution has begun—and it’s cheap. How would you like 50,000 Twitter followers, 10,000 Facebook Likes and 100,000 new visitors to your tiny blog overnight? For just $5 you can get these and more—with the click of a button. But while this will give your site a boost what does it do for the current system of social media and social sharing? Simple, it’s over. The game has changed and sites like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and even Google must make core changes or risk losing their credibility and becoming irrelevant. The culprit? A little startup called Fiverr and its army of $5 revolutionaries.
Fiverr.com is a global online marketplace that allows anyone to offer tasks or services to anyone else starting at only $5. It was founded in 2010 as an eBay-like platform for small services. By May 2012 it had secured $20 million in investments making everyone stand up and take notice.
You register on Fiverr as a buyer, seller, or both and deal in what’s called “gigs”, which are small tasks or services offered for $5. Recently Fiverr included features called “extras” which you can add on top of your main gig that cost more, but the $5 core gig is mandatory. There are categories and sub-categories that cover virtually any service you can think of. You can browse or search for a service or, if you still can’t find what you’re looking for, you can request a gig and wait for someone to agree to do it. The site is user-friendly whereas even the most novice of computer users can buy a gig within minutes.
With all of the recent attention being directed at crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter, the oversaturation of online marketplaces have been left in the dark, but this time it’s different. This time it’s real services that cost only pocket change and it’s disrupting the nature of things as we know them. Using things like pageviews, likes, followers, reviews, pins, diggs, etc. as barometers of popularity is now irrelevant as these can just be bought in bulk for $5. These systems relied on a form of online trust that has now been betrayed. Social sites must either change their beloved barometers or die due to a lack of credibility. The ability to hack these things has always been around, but it’s never been as easy as a button click, nor as cheap as five bucks.
Here’s a hypothetical example of a situation that’s happening daily on Fiverr. Joe Blow wants to be a successful author. Regardless of his lack of experience with writing, editing, marketing, publishing, or anything else, Joe hears that Fiverr is the key to quick success. Pre-Fiverr barriers of entry would make this a near impossibility, but not anymore.
Step 1: Joe registers on Fiverr for free. He’s decided to invest $100 in this venture. One click and he hires a writer to write him an outline of a 10 chapter eBook. Two days later he gets his detailed outline. Balance = $95.
Step 2: Joe hires a writer to write 1000 words for Chapter 1. Due to a process known as “article spinning” the writer has it done in one day. Joe has him do the same thing for the remaining 9 chapters. Two weeks a 10,000 word manuscript is complete and Joe’s an author. Balance = $45.
Step 3: Joe hires a graphic designer for his book cover. A professional looking cover is designed in a template and returned in one day. Balance = $40.
Step 4: Joe hires an editor to fix typos and make corrections. 2 days later it’s done. Balance = $35.
Step 5: Joe hires a web developer to create a blog for him. A WordPress site is up and running within a day, complete with the cover of Joe’s book, a brief synopsis, and Joe’s smiling face. The book is put up for sale on the site and an account is connected to PayPal to receive payments. Balance = $30.
Step 6: Joe buys a new gig that guarantees 100,000 new visitors to his site over the next few days. Traffic begins pouring in. His Google Analytics shows a massive spike and his Alexa ranking skyrockets nearly overnight. Balance = $25.
Step 7: Joe gets a gig that instantly gives him 50,000 Twitter followers, 10,000 Facebook Likes, and a heavy dose of retweets, Diggs, and Pins. Balance = $20.
Step 8: Joe lists his book on Amazon and buys a gig that will give multiple 5-star reviews on the site without a single person actually reading it. Balance = $15.
Step 9: Joe pays for a former model to do testimonial videos on the book. She does several videos which go on Joe’s website, his Amazon page, and YouTube. She’s a model and based on looks alone the YouTube video picks up steam. To help it along he buys another gig that gives him 10,000 YouTube views overnight. Balance = $5.
Step 10: Joe’s final $5 is used on a publicist gig that submits a press release to 500 news sites promoting Joe’s book and his sudden rise to glory. Several newspapers & bloggers pick it up and Joe’s in hot demand.
All of this happens within only a few months, with a tiny investment, and with virtually no effort or hard work by Joe. This return on investment (both in time and money) is unrivaled by any entrepreneurial innovation in recent memory. If everything can be bought and nothing needs to be earned how will impact online sharing and our economy as a whole? Likes, followers, reviews, comments, pageviews, can all be bought for less than a matinee movie ticket. Nothing social is real anymore and those that are have no credibility, because can we really be sure? For $5 I can become popular overnight. This will make you think twice about spending your $5 on anything but Fiverr. But what can be done about it?
So far there isn’t much the web giants can do. Every “fix” is easily countered by the Fiverr community and new gigs are created. “Drip-feeding” is the process that sends unnatural page-views, likes, followers, etc. in small amounts over time so as not to alert the companies that something is fishy. But even if they know about it what can they do? Google recently released an update to its search algorithm known as Panda. Part of the idea was to punish sites that contained “bad links” aka link spam by dropping them down in the search rankings. The problem now is that all you need is a link to do damage to any site’s rankings, even your competitors. The same will happen if the social giants decide to punish Fiverr-like activity. Will they ban an account that has unnatural social activity? If so then rest assured that shady people will send over 500,000 Twitter followers to their competitor’s account and sit back and watch their search rankings implode. Dirty business– easy to do.
Amazon’s crucial review system is also being hurt. Reviews can now be bought wholesale for pocket change. How are they going to stop that? Will they insist that you have bought the material before you can review it? Fine, a Fiverr gig maker will buy it, write the review, return it for their money back and collect their gig money. Dirty business– easy to do.
So now we can’t trust Facebook likes or friends, we can’t trust Twitter follower numbers or tweets, we can’t trust Reddit up-votes or Diggs or Stumbles or Google’s +1s. We can’t trust Amazon product reviews or comments left on any website or blog. We can’t even trust page traffic indicators, which, by the way, determine advertising dollars— still the web’s #1 way of making money. Social scorekeepers like Klout can’t be trusted and no longer mean a thing if points can be manipulated with the click of a mouse. So who can we trust?
The game as we know it is over. The rules have changed and a new system must arise from the ashes. The only thing you can trust in the post-Fiverr era is that people will (and have always been willing to) do anything for a very little bit of money. Fiverr makes that extremely easy and whether that’s good or bad it’s definitely revolutionary and it’s changing our entire digital landscape $5 at a time.