Helium is a commercial writing site where anyone can sign up and submit articles on many different topics. Supported by ad revenue, Helium grants writers a share of the revenue for each pageview of their articles. There is no fixed price for an article, but each article will continue to earn money from being read as long as the site is up. Helium as a site has existed since at least 2005 as Helium Knowledge, a question and answer site, but in September of 2006, it left "beta" status and launched properly as "Helium - Where Knowledge Rules".
Based out of Andover, Massachusetts, Helium is run by Mark Ranalli, President and CEO of the company, as well as at least twelve other management staff. Many other people work both behind the scenes and directly with the writers, however. Jim Logan, aka. Jimzee, works at the help desk and, until recently, answered many user questions on the forums. Barbara Whitlock engages extensively with writers on the forums and is constantly helping and encouraging them there and by email to write quality articles. Janice Brand is the Director of Content and works hard to edit and approve new titles. There are many others as well, but those four in particular are the ones that communicate with the writers on the forums or by email most often.
Helium is similar to E2 in that multiple articles can exist for any title. However, writers cannot create new titles themselves; they must submit an article with a new title to an editing process to have the title approved. This is necessary because articles under the same title are directly compared to give each article a ranking. Titles have to be carefully chosen so that later articles submitted for comparison actually have a basis for comparison. Unlike E2, pieces must directly pertain to their topic so that articles that are compared to each other are about the same thing. Titles are intended to be search-engine optimized (SEO) so they cannot be frivolous or metaphorical.
The primary focus of the site is non-fiction. Many articles are product reviews or how-tos or opinion pieces, although there is a section for creative writing and poetry as well. Each non-fiction article is intended to be a relatively short piece on an individual topic rather than a comprehensive description of every possible piece of information like on E2.
The writers themselves determine the rankings of articles by rating pairs of articles to determine which is better. The rating system gives raters one semi-random pair of articles under the same title at a time. Writers cannot choose which articles to rate because the system is intended to be completely anonymous. It appears to be somewhat random, but in reality, the system is set up to produce articles that both need to be rated and that belong to writers who rate. In other words, rating articles helps your own articles to be rated more often.
Once an article is submitted on Helium, it cannot be directly deleted or edited. The only method for editing an article is the "leapfrog" method, where a new version of an article is submitted for comparison to the existing version. After three ratings, similar to the normal ratings to rank two separate articles, the better version is retained, whichever was ranked higher.
The site has a lot of potential, but it is really still in its infancy, and there are a number of problems that have yet to be fixed. One problem is the rating system itself. The anonymity would appear to be eminently fair, but due to the huge volume of articles on the site, many of them heritage submissions from the "Helium Knowledge" time, the system takes a long time to rate current articles. In addition, the mathematics of the pair system indicate that a title with too many articles will have a large number of possible pairs that each must be rated several times in order to gain an accurate ordering of the articles. Theoretically, the best articles are supposed to "rise to the top," but due to the inefficiency of the rating system, many good articles languish at lower rankings while poor articles maintain the top slots.
Another problem is the presence of many poor articles in the first place. Many are very short submissions written in response to the question and answer format that existed on the beta site. Now that the focus has shifted to solid articles, these poor articles are out of place and should really be deleted if Helium wants to maintain its image as a site for knowledge. The staff wants to preserve an inclusive atmosphere by not deleting anything that has already been submitted, however, unless it is actually offensive in some way. So the older submissions remain on the site.
Similar to E2, anything can be submitted to an existing title with no immediate moderation, so even without the poor submissions from the old site, a related problem is the presence of off-topic articles. Oddly enough, there are several places where well-written articles have been submitted to a completely wrong title or category. Despite the extensive staff presence, Helium is relying heavily on its writers to flag inappropriate articles, including these off-topic submissions, so that they can be handled by staff.
The best part of the site is really the way that the staff members quickly respond to writers. As mentioned, there are a few staff members that spend quite a lot of time on the community boards responding to questions and concerns. Helium in general is also very responsive to email. Specific technical or article issues can be sent to the help desk and will usually get a response within a day or two. Suggestions about inappropriate or misplaced articles or errors in titles will usually be carried out promptly. While they don't make every change or provide every piece of information requested, Helium has one of the most responsive group of staff of any commercial website.
The site has potential and is constantly changing and being updated, so it will be interesting to see where it goes in the next year or two. Most likely, significant changes will have to be made to satisfy those that are concerned about quality. Without those changes, only time will tell whether the site will thrive. In the meantime, it is a good place to practice writing and earn a little money on the side.