The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

Adam Smith, not Winston Smith



An interesting story at BackChannel about the business model of Odyssey, a website that's built on content written by college students but edited by professional staffers:

Today, Odyssey is an expansive platform with 15,000 creators, most of them college students across US campuses….

[Odyssey's founders] wanted to scale what they were doing into a social network for "fully formed ideas." Those ideas would be written by contributors and curated on a grand scale. For three years, the small team they'd assembled tried to build an algorithm that would streamline the workflow of such an undertaking. By 2014, they'd launched one and given it the Orwellian name of the "Invisible Hand." Odyssey was counting on the Invisible Hand to allow it to succeed where others like it had failed. By passing pieces seamlessly through an edit desk, they hoped to create a sustainable business model that would churn out high-volume content for free [or, more precisely, inexpensively -EV]….

Odyssey believes it has developed a secret sauce with its Invisible Hand. Despite the ominous name, it's a workflow tool that organizes stories by subject matter and content, ranking their newsworthiness, topic, and popularity. Stories that come in are ordered and organized from most relevant to least depending on a range of factors, and then funneled to the editor focused on the pertinent topic, such as sports or politics.

As I said, an interesting story, but I was struck by the "Orwellian" and "ominous" characterization of the term "Invisible Hand"—a term that I associate with Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" rather than with Orwell's "1984." In any case, I thought I'd pass it along in case others likewise found this amusing.