Al Muniz has been doing some very good work on characterizing the communities that form around brands. Newton or old Saab owners for example. I like his work. He’s careful about definition of terms; like community. For example Al’s work is where I lifted the three element model of community: common cause, common rituals, common aid. The work of this kind is also interesting because it’s one of the few places where careful work is getting done on the muddy ground between private goods and public goods.
But today let me strongly urge that you go read this excellent posting over at Many-to-Many which
critiques the ethics of BzzAgents, I think it was written by Kevin Marks. BzzAgents sells the labor of brand community members to the firms that own the brand.
There is a well-known phenomenon of cognitive dissonance in employment, where if you pay people less to do work, they are more committed to it, as they justify it to themselves in other terms. Many media companies run on young and hungry interns who do lots of work for free, while their managers are well-rewarded. The graduate student/professor relationship is often characterised in these terms too. Balter’s success in BzzAgent is in refining this model to the point where he gets paid well by corporations, and his agents are doing it for their own reasons
Conversely, Bzzagents is effectively, if not always explicitly, encouraging people to play mind games with their social contacts, to serve a central agenda
Welcome to the moral mazes which is work design.