The You in User

A professor once told us, “Only two industries call their customers users: IT people and drug dealers,” I had to get that out of the way. The internet has been alive with debate this week about “user-generated content” and I am happy to report that the name itself has been debated. As a content-creating user (is that what we’re calling it), I figured I could chime in on this subject.

Talking about a YouTube-esque video sharing site Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal writes today, ” The short cinematic pastiche we saw is an example of what has come to be called a “mash-up,” and for a big part of the tech world, these sorts of mash-ups are becoming the highest form of cultural production.” Ouch. Besides the fact that most user-generated content on the web is not a “mash-up”, is being derivative that shocking. One only needs to take a look at Google News to see the echo chamber that is the mainstream media. Hip-hop music is an entire art form based around building something new out of old tunes. And Hollywood can’t seem to get enough of “mash-ups”, be they sequels or remakes.

Most user-generated content, however, I think is “organic” content that comes out of people’s daily lives. SixApart’s new Vox service seems to be trying to cultivate people’s lives into interesting content. Flickr, for example, features lots of great original photography from a large group of users. There are plenty of worthwhile pictures for the public, but the others also are special because they mean something to someone. User-generated content is also helping to grow the “knowledge” of the Internet in exciting ways. The Wikipedia is a great example, there is a lot of stuff in there you could never find anywhere else.

I think the debate on books has triggered a lot of this backlash. I do not think books are dead, but I think there are certainly some that could be improved. A hyperlinked (even wiki-fied) textbook would be much more helpful than a printed one. Likewise, print encyclopedias are useful to no one. Still I think there is an audience for printed media. Coffee table books should not be done digitally. And I don’t think hyperlinking and commenting would do very much to improve literature. And I still think there’s something nice about a tangible object in your hands. I do think there is plenty of room for change though.

The Internet has enabled more opportunities for value creation than ever before. People can continue to complain about this or they can accept change and move forward.

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