Are you tired of hearing and using the phrase “user-generated content”? Well, I am.
Derek Powazek’s 2006 blog post, “Death to User-Generated Content,” did a great job of deconstructing the term “user-generated content.” I’m convinced that half the reason I despise the phrase so much is because it’s such a mouthful.
But it’s not just the name I dislike; it’s the concept as well. Let’s face it: more is sometimes … just more. There are thousands of blogs on just about every topic, and very few of them actually offer valuable information.
The lack of editorialized content on the Web is simply making it harder to find the information that we need. Over the past decade, the Web has shifted dramatically from being an information resource to a pastime. However, it still is a fount of terrific information; it’s just that most people are not using it that way.
We’ve begun to see businesses and organizations using UGC channels (blogs, forums, social networks, wikis) as a means to tap into the large audience that shares information via UGC. With the popularity of social networking, businesses must make the shift from transactional/informational to relational.
As traditionally credible sources develop UGC-type content, and as the lines between social networking, online communities and UGC blur, it is becoming harder and harder to distinguish between the credible, the frivolous and the just plain inaccurate.
At the recent Mediabistro conference we attended, Eric Hellweg from HarvardBusiness.org noted that the function of the online editor has changed (and, in many cases, diminished) in Web 2.0, now that Web sites have become aggregators of content drawn from their own audience. I couldn’t agree more. It’s because of this that I believe the future of Web content will eventually depend on good editors who take a more active role. As the amount of content on the Web continues to grow at a massive rate, we will soon hit a tipping point where users can no longer determine the source or the validity of information online and will demand editors to do it for them.
In fact, I believe we have already reached this point. A recent eMarketer report indicates that American Internet users perceive a decrease in the amount of online information that they consider reliable and accurate.
The worst part of UGC is the mercenary element: the people just trying to make money as opposed to truly being passionate about something. Everybody is trying to monetize his or her blog now, believing that he or she can be the next big professional blogger or D-level celebrity to come out of social networks or bad reality TV. It saddens me that what could have been a great means of developing community and solidarity has become solely about making a buck.
Don’t get me wrong; there is great UGC on the Web. At findingDulcinea, we frequently link to very informative user forums, message boards and expert blogs. And even Wikipedia has the occasional entry that is outstanding, complete and well written. However, in general, UGC is unreliable. How do you know if the person you are relying on has a decade of expertise in that area or is actually a teenager pretending to an authority he or she doesn’t actually possess?
No matter what information you seek, it can be found on the Web; the question you need to ask yourself is … who is providing it?
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