Monday Rambling: UGC and the Community

User Generated Content Is About Efficiency And Growth, Not Exploitation

There’s been a lot of talk lately from some people who incorrectly believe that social sites and user-generated content sites somehow exploiting their users. This is silly for a variety of reasons and is easily refuted.
However, a post by Stephen Dubner on the Freakonomics blog got me to thinking about the subject from a slightly different perspective. He pointed to a NY Times article about the guy who runs the lost-and-found for Metro North, the train system that runs from Manhattan to the northern suburbs of New York City. The guy, Mike Nolan, talks about a
web system that his team has put in place that allows those who feel they lost something to input what they lost and see if Metro North has found it. This is saving Metro North a ton of time, money and effort on incoming calls. Dubner highlights a key line from Nolan: “It’s great to have other people do my data-entry work for me.”

Now, some may bizarrely claim that this is “exploitation,” but it’s a situation where everyone comes out ahead. Those who lost something are likely to find it easier, faster and more convenient than calling while Metro North saves time and money as well. In many ways it reminds me of the stories when telephone systems moved away from operator-assisted calls to direct dial. It was the same sort of thing, where the “users” were doing the labor, and that saved the telcos money by needing fewer operators. There were some complaints that this was awful in that it put operators out of work, but it actually created many, many, many more jobs by making the telephone a much more useful tool. If all calls had remained as operator-assisted, the system never would have scaled to the same level and so many other telephone related innovations wouldn’t be here today — perhaps including things like fax machines and the internet. It’s once again a case of people mistakenly believing things are a zero-sum game. If you can make things more efficient in a way that expands markets and opens up new opportunities, that’s not exploitation, that’s growth and opportunity. Switching tasks from insiders to end users in a way that benefits everyone can be called “user-generated content,” but just as often it’s an example of growing markets by making things more efficient.

Techdirt: User Generated Content Is About Efficiency And Growth, Not Exploitation

Hmph. Not really the article I was hoping it to be. I was hoping this would be some tell-all scathing article based on online community UGC & entertainment repurposing of UGC.

As I’ve highlighted before, the big BUZZ these days is repurposing UGC created by an audience for public viewing through another channel (web to tv, web to phone, phone to web, phone to tv, etc). IE, “Acceptable TV” and “MeTv” and MTV’s future programing line-up (they’re lovey dovey with the UGC idea, which is awesome and interesting). Even Edgar & Ellen, our cartoon series hitting Nicktoons Network this fall, is in it (although, in my opinion, we do it in a very professional way– kids inspire our content… inspire allows them name credit and the ability to shape content, while giving the writers & creators the chance to make a really great program based on the pre-created brand identity & humor).

I support UGC. Why? Because that’s the kind of viewer I am. I’ve made many videos that I had planned on sending into various tv shows but never did (you should see my 22 Real World audition tapes I never sent in, much to the relief of my family).

User Generated Content reproduced for entertainment value can have some shady sides. Of course no one “wants” it to be shady… it’s just… you’re having the community create your content and then you’re taking this new free content and redistributing it in a way that generates revenue. That can be a bit too “Hollywood” for my liking. Let others do the work and then exploit it. Ya know?

HOWEVER– from what I’ve seen, people are starting to realize the power of the community. If the community is eager and engaged in having their UGC repurposed on television… then go for it! If a production company mishandles the UGC and offends their community– that’s playing with fire (just ask Digg).

It’s really interesting to watch the rebirth of the fortified community (even if it is online). This weekend I was visiting my friend in St. Louis– she lives in a quant little area in Sulard (or however you spell it) in a colonial square– several sweet apartments in refurbished buildings from early 1900s arranged around a small garden/patio. Very Colonial Melrose Place. My friend is a social butterfly– so of COURSE she knows everyone in the 16 apartments around her– they sit out and have drinks and even borrow cups-of-sugar. I’ve lived in my apartment for a year now… and I only know the names of the two dogs belonging to my neighbors (regardless of the fact I can hear EVERYTHING going on in their apartment). I’m a social buttefly, but I’ve never lived in an apartment building where anyone was interested in hanging as a building-community. In fact, I’ve only known my direct neighbors through hallway hello’s.

Sure, families & neighborhoods have mini communities too. But nothing really on a large scale outside of church fellowships or knitting groups or kids playgroups.

Online communities however are really taking shape! People bonding in DROVES to create content, share with strangers, and build relationships based on similar desires & joys (video sharing, parenting sites, gaming, entertainment, politics– everything!). And now companies have realized the potential of these communities and given them opportunities to explore audience ownership through content creation.

Which brings us back to Companies taking UGC from fans to repurpose for television content. Communities DO have the power to express displeasure for inappropriate use of UGC (stealing content, etc)… and as communities grow– they might shape the moral responsibility and increase UGC awareness, thus making a healthy (nearly equal) relationship between big business & fandom. The giant game of RED ROVER is starting to level out (fingers crossed).

Online communities are on their way to cementing themselves into the future. It’s great to see how they’re being used in various directives– makes the cement dry faster. I’m just glad I jumped into Youth communities when i did– why? Because the future is now. It’s time to pay attention to how the world deals with teen/adult communities, and shape what that means to youth (U13) and their presence online. Kid Empowerment, baby, it’s what the future is about!

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  1. May 15, 2007 at 9:30 pm

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