User-generated content is, by its very nature, an uncertain beast. Though content moderators stand valiantly between a torrent of prejudice and obscenity and the viewing public, they are not infallible – the users that generate are individuals, with their own, sometimes controversial, views.
There’s no better place to see this in action than YouTube; the world’s biggest user-generated site is host to some staggeringly different views. Leaving aside the moral debates, which are too plentiful and complex to go into here, there’s a serious business problem with YouTube. Though I myself have never indulged, I’ve heard rumours that some people watch full series of popular television shows through the magic of illegal uploading. As tirelessly as the moderators work, and as many channels are shut down or banned, the cheeky users endure. It’s not restricted to YouTube, either – Dailymotion, Megavideo are all equally plagued.
It’s this very truth that led to the enormous $1billion Viacom vs YouTube lawsuit of last year. Viacom alleged that YouTube had secured its popularity through tacitly allowing the unlicensed showing of network shows and not doing enough to combat the use of copyrighted music in original videos – such innocent videos as this:
YouTube were vindicated, after a nasty brawl that saw them accuse Viacom of secretly uploading their own material to get more ammunition for the lawsuit. But it does raise ugly questions about the legality of user-generated video and the fact that most users are either unaware, or not fussed, about obeying international copyright law.
Quite another area where user-generated content proves a volatile addition to a business model is the hospitality industry. Tripadvisor is now the go-to site for many a family heading off on holiday and in many ways, having a peer-review site for hotels makes perfect logical sense. These are the perspectives of ordinary members of the public, not professional hotel inspectors, and surely their priorities would be the same as yours – no cockroaches in the bath, no springs coming out of the mattress, and so on.
But here the magic of user-generated content comes in. The fact is that having a wide variety of different people reviewing the same location will result in a variety of opinions. Some, if reviewing a one-star hotel, will accept that it is basic and adjust their verdict accordingly. However some, outraged by the lack of amenities that they are accustomed to, will launch into a review of such articulate vitriol that it’s difficult to imagine staying in the same town as this hostelry – let alone the establishment itself.
And it does have an impact. Hoteliers are not happy about the combination of overwhelming negativity and potentially falsified positive reviews. There are complaints, both in the UK and around the world, that Tripadvisor has had an impact on peoples’ businesses.
Tripadvisor say that they have a rigorous screening process and that every effort is taken to ensure that only reviews that are fit for human consumption make it to the website. But that’s not enough for the hoteliers.
The site is increasingly popular and earlier this year the government announced that they would no longer back the official ‘star’ rating system run by organisations like the AA, citing Tripadvisor as a successful modern alternative.
The problems of user-generated reviews aren’t restricted to Tripadvisor. There’s Yelp in the US, or even the possibility of scathing feedback on Amazon. And it’s easy to be swayed by the opinions of your fellow man.