The Flying Developer

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18 Feb 2014
Digital Ocean: Spec work is bad and you should feel bad

I don’t know how long they’ve been doing this, but was just alerted by a tweet from Digital Ocean about their community documentation practices:

On the surface, it looks great: Get paid $50 to write a tutorial on a topic you already know about.

Except that’s not the deal. The deal is more like ‘Write a tutorial on a topic you already know about and maybe, if it’s better than everyone else’s, we’ll give you $50 for it’.


This tactic is commonly known in the creative industry as ‘spec work’ (short for speculative work).

It’s great for publishers because they get to see finished products from a number of potential contributors and only pay for the one they want to use.

Unfortunately, it’s a shit deal for content creators. As a professional, I expect to be paid for the work that I do. Why wouldn’t I? When engaging in spec work though, I’m gambling my time/money on the fact that I’m a) better and b) faster than the competition.

Worse, I don’t even know what the odds are. Are there 5 other people working on the same thing that I am, or 50? Or 500?

I’m really disappointed that DO has gone this route to source material for their community documentation. I hope it’s an oversight that they can correct quickly, rather than a deliberate attempt to get docs written on the cheap.

I’d love to see DO hire a stable of writers to create this content instead. That way they can remove the duplication of effort by assigning topics up front, and give their writers confidence that their work is going to be compensatd. They can even keep the fixed rate if they want.

Aside from anything else if I know up front that I’m getting paid I’m way more likely to produce throughly researched, quality content in the first place.


Thanks for reading! If you like my writing, you may be interested in my book: Healthy Webhook Consumption with Rails

David at 00:29


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