The myth of the UGC fad

Scott Karp tackles “the myth of UGC.”

The reality is that “average people”? don’t create a lot of content — at least not the commercially viable kind. Most people are too busy. Those that do “create content” — and who do it well — are those who are predisposed to being content creators. The have some relevant skills, training, raw talent, motivation, something.

“User-generated content”? sites like YouTube are much less a platform for armies of average people to create mountains of content and much more a platform for real talent to be discovered.

I think this is far too complex and nuanced a subject to generalize into “the myth of UGC.”

I long ago realized that YouTube was a great outlet for aspiring media producers. I found there a community of people with aspirations to audience and discovery. They were developing either segmented productions or mini-documentaries.

I also saw a lot of conversational video (there are people who seem to do nothing but record video responses) and random bits of cheaply and hastily produce video, some of it entertaining, most of it horrible.

There’s more going on at YouTube than obvious assumptions reveal — more than aspiring professionals, more than random UGC, more than stolen content, more than viral productions — it’s more stone soup than Cesar salad.

And there is a whole community of video and audio content producers, let alone bloggers, who operate outside of YouTube or other aggregation platforms.

The motivations for why people do what they do are as diverse as the human psych and vagaries of natural talent. There are people who can produce slick video with no aspirations to quit their day jobs, and people devoid of charm and wit who think they might become the next Jon Stewart.

Then there are people who amuse themselves cruising around the net dropping their insights and opinions where they seem to fit, and they would not think of themselves as content producers at all.
There is a myth that publishers think of UGC as something they can get for cheap/free to replace/supplement staff-derived content, but I’ve never met one of those publishers (and I’ve met dozens and dozens).

We are developing a “ugc platform,” but we call it that not because we’ve bought into some UGC myth, but because we believe in the democratization of digital media, the lower barriers to entry, the idea that good stuff can come from anywhere, that community engagement is a win-win for society and our business, and because if we don’t, somebody else will.

There is tendency among some pundits to speculate whether YouTube or Facebook or MySpace are just fads.

While it’s possible that any one of those sites might blow up under the weight of trendy backlash, by concentrating on the spikes in popularity, or hipness of particular brands, critics miss the fundamental truth that for the past four decades of digital history, networked communication consistently gravitates toward community, collaboration and communication.

Communities of the moment (the Well, CompuServ, AOL) come and go, but the conversation endures.

That’s why I think wedding community and conversation tools to established media brands, such as our small community newspapers, is a long-term EV+ bet. The UGC/community tools mesh with what people clearly want, and the established brands lend stability and trust.

It’s really a rather obvious thing to do.

2 thoughts on “The myth of the UGC fad

  1. I also believe in the democritzation of digital media, but have recently pulled the plug on an 18-month long effort to involve a variety of people in writing about their neighborhoods.

    Like many others, I suspect, I’m not quite sure what to make of the failure of our efforts, or of the failure of so many other effortss over so long a period of time.

    Only one thing is clear to me: there wasn’t enough perceived benefit in it for enough users to motivate them to contribute or continue doing so. Hopefully you can deliver more benefits to your users than we were able to.

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