The Future of User-Generated Content

Matt Geraghty   October 20, 2009


In the future, technology enables us to give birth to precious little content babies. (Image via Alberto+Cerriteño)

The Breakdown: User-generated content You are all too familiar with it. It’s where the mob rules. It’s where anything goes, where anyone can post anything, and where the experts and the crazies exist as equals. It’s information overload where expert opinion is often hard to find. There is much at stake for those who can capitalize successfully on the evolution of user-generated content. We asked a panel of UX and Media experts about the future of user-generated content for good or bad.

Shiv Singh, VP & Global Social Media Lead

User-generated content — or content that we create as regular people influencing, entertaining and informing each other is the most important form of content. It is what we create — our conversations, our thoughts, our opinions and our imagination expressed. The notion of it being considered something risky, dangerous, damaging or a bit too voluminous is looking at user-generated content through the wrong frame. It is time for marketers and individuals alike to realize that everyone else’s content (in all its forms) is the greatest asset that they ever had. The question really is whether the technology is where it should be to allow us to sift through all the user-generated content and figure out what’s important to us as individuals. The problem isn’t with UGC, it is with the filtering, sorting and prioritization and that’s where the technology, the semantic web and also the ability to filter through the lens of a social graph is going to make a big difference.

David Deal, VP of Marketing

Consumers will create more powerful personal brands thanks to our culture of self-idolatry and the proliferation tools that make consumer generated content more slick and professional. We will make our own “American Idols.”

Michael Barnwell, Content Strategy Lead

Allowing user-generated content usually has the goal of enfranchising the user and, indirectly, giving a greater sense of authenticity to the content — two noble goals, surely, although with very mixed results. How can anyone sort through the ton of dross to find commentary that’s in some way useful? It’s probably too late to recall the invite, but there may be a way to salvage the intention. It might be described as UGC light touch, or in other words annotations. A simple ranking of content — one basic example of annotation would be an easily sifted way of letting you know what someone thought about a piece of content, without the noise. Collectively, this kind of user contribution could lead to something resembling real added value, while saving a place for the user’s voice.

Steve Clough, Media Planner

We often talk about social media like it’s reinventing marketing, but the reality is that the fundamental strategies for success in social media and leveraging user-generated content are the same ones that marketers and sales people have been preaching for decades: 1) build relationships, and 2) provide value that fills consumers’ needs/wants. While the means may change slightly, I think the future of social media and UGC will continue to fulfill these fundamental business strategies.

Chris Boese, Information Architect

Now hear the user-generated First Principle of the Internet. First there was the Word, and the Word was the Internet. Users uttered the Internet into existence with their socio-communicative acts from the very beginning.  Non-social interfaces are an anachronism, a horseless carriage phase, like the early days of television when programs looked like filmed radio plays.

I believe the social Internet has always been profoundly destabilizing and politically empowering, and will remain so.  As with the French Revolution, there is an upside and a downside to this kind of grassroots empowerment, but that Cluetrain Manifesto left the station 10 years ago. This is no news flash. Former media monopolies are discovering it very late, to their own detriment. All businesses will face the same grim realities as the newspaper industry if they depend on old models for controlling and restricting commerce to futilely manipulate these empowered and uppity “customers.” Real power has already shifted. Some sectors just didn’t get the memo.

Robert Stribley, Senior Information Architect

There’s a lot of talk about the dark side of social media, as everyone clamors for their 15 minutes of fame – every day. But social media and the increasingly ubiquitous use of user-generated content are also ushering in an era of transparency unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Companies (and individuals) have long espoused transparency, of course, but the economic and viral advantages of tapping and responding to user-generated content are nudging us into arenas of more authentic rather than staged transparency. This open, real-time dialogue not only forces companies to maintain their brand more rigorously, it also demands that they express it more clearly.

Matt Geraghty, Content Strategist

One of the biggest areas for UGC innovation lies in global rights management. Who’s thinking big about the future of copyright? Well, YouTube has launched a service called Content Identification allowing major content partners and rights holders to better identify user-uploaded versions of their videos. With these content management tools, major media companies partnering with YouTube are deciding if they want to block, track, or take steps to reduce infringement. But it’s a two-way street. They can even encourage fans to market or distribute the content for their own benefit. The future of UGC global rights management will lie in solutions that strike a perfect balance between the goals of the copyright holder and that of the user.

Melissa Joulwan, Senior Content Strategist

It’s imperative that clients relinquish a bit of control over their brand voice and buy into the true value of UGC, i.e., arming customers with the mechanisms and information to be brand ambassadors. We recently had a client admit they were thinking about hiring writers to impersonate community members so that the resulting content was of higher quality. This kind of thinking will absolutely doom the future of UGC. An important component of our job as user experience professionals has to be to educate our clients to do UGC right or not at all.

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4 Responses

  1. All of the above comments are valuable insights. Still, until UX strategists step away from thinking in simple terms of UGC and move toward understanding UGC as a side-effect of UGA (user-generated activity), they will continue to miss its full potential.

    Back in 2006 I began tracking UX for myself in terms of both UGC and UGA, and this has greatly empowered my ability to understand user intention and desire, apart from the first-level meaning shown by a piece of UGC. Additionally, the UGA perspective can be used to:

    * Create new content (and a richer experience) by surfacing activity *as* content.
    * Within an organization, create more awareness of users as people with their own purposes (as opposed to thinking of them as ad impressions and UGC-creators).
    * Surface previously unnoticed relationships between specific content and activities.

    The more I think in these terms, the more clearly and creatively I see my users’ experience – and I’ve seen the same happen to others I introduced to the concept.

    Hope this is useful to someone :-)

  2. […] The Future of User Generated Content: “The Breakdown: User-generated content — You are all too familiar with it. It’s where the mob rules. It’s where anything goes, where anyone can post anything, and where the experts and the crazies exist as equals. It’s information overload where expert opinion is often hard to find. There is much at stake for those who can capitalize successfully on the evolution of user-generated content. We asked a panel of UX and Media experts about the future of user-generated content — for good or bad.” [Scatter/Gather @ Razorfish] […]

  3. CoyleArt says:

    The format of this post itself is a perfect example of how differing opinions, succinctly stated can come together to make an informative and insightful conversation. And I think it’s not hard to recognize the level of quality wherever it exists on the web. The future of copyright issue interests me greatly as well. A balance needs to be struck where creators can maintain rights in order to continue to make a living off of their work, yet keep the flow of information and creativity vital enough to inspire activity and connection between people. Great post.

  4. […] Singh, VP & Global Social Media Lead at Razorfish says that UGC is “our most important form of […]

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