The Helium Bubble

Want proof that Web 2.0 is fast becoming an economic and cultural bubble? I got this spam email today from somebody called "Anders Sparre" with a very inflated pitch for a new social media site for writers called Helium:

Hello Andrew -- I saw your profile at writers.net and thought: Why not invite you to write on our web site, Helium? Helium is a new live reference created by users, for users. We are on a mission to create an indispensable resource of real-world knowledge. Recently Search Engine Journal described Helium as "About, Yahoo Answers & Wikipedia All Rolled Into One". Here are some of the things I think you’ll like about Helium:

  • Your high quality articles stand out because of Helium’s game-proof rating system.
  • You can brand yourself on your own About Me page – your online portfolio. All your articles automatically link to this page.
  • You will get more readers because we advertise and know how to be found by Google and other search engines.
  • You retain the copyrights to your articles, you can publish articles that have been published elsewhere, and you are free to publish the same articles other places than Helium.
  • You get access to a vivid community of over 7000 writers.
  • Helium gives a little variety in a busy daily schedule. Many of our writers tell us it’s a good way to take a break, find some new inspiration and test new writing ideas.
  • It's free and you can earn a share of the ad revenue from the site!

When a start-up business claims to be "About, Yahoo Answers & Wikipedia All Rolled Into One" you know it's actually rubbish, lies and hype all rolled into one unoriginal blast of hot air.

All the classic marketing hype of Web 2.0's social networking craze are included in the spam email -- 1) instant revenue (from an ad share, of course); 2) immediate community ("vivid" no less); 3) wisdom of the crowd ("game-proof rating system"); 4) massive audience (altruistically delivered by Google); 5) Open source principles (roll yer own copyrights).

What, I wonder, is the truth about Helium. Certainly it's business model is classic Web 2.0 -- all cents and no dollars. Here's a posting from a Singapore based writer (not so) high on Helium who reports:

I have written 32 articles so far on Helium.com and have earned US 46 cents since 9 Dec 2006.

So that works out to be a payment of around one and a half cents per article. Hmmm... Interesting business model. For me, as a Berkeley based writer with a $3,000 mortage (blame my wife who has never seen a house she doesn't want to buy), that would mean that I would have to write 210.000 articles a month just to pay my mortgage. That's a lot -- even for a writer with my warped imagination.

Helium's overblown tagline is "Where Knowledge Rules." But the truth about Helium is much less inflated. In spite of what seems to be a professional management team and a not inconsequential capital investment (Series A from Signature Capital), it's a me-too social networking site (a third rate version of Gather) for amateur writers that contains no original or valuable information. For example, the front page of today's Helium contains such essential "advice" as:

  • "Weight training for the elderly"
  • "A practical guide to suing commas correctly"
  • "Money saving tips for travellers"
  • "The dangers of leaving your child alone in the car"

In a word -- worthless. The hot air of wannabe writers. A complete waste of time, space and effort. All cents and no dollars. Pure amateurism.

There are now hundreds of funded Heliums out there -- me-too social networking, wisdom of the crowd, user-generated-content aggregators without an ounce of originality or value. Like Helium, none of these sites have any purpose. They are the true long tail -- the long tail end of the Web 2.0 boomlet.

So sorry Anders Sparre, the only original thing about Helium is your name. Otherwise, it's a business that will, inevitably, pop. Just like the increasingly flatulent Web 2.0 economy.