Author Archives: Sam Bradley

Getting a grip – Incentivising UGC

Incentivising can at times be a complex concept but when done well it transforms everyday interaction with a site into a game or a competition. You gain points for greater engagement, which gives you access to extra levels and features.

In this way, sites can effectively lure you into doing things you’d otherwise consider terribly boring – such as filling out surveys or reading and commenting on articles.

There is an element of this season’s Internet buzzword, ‘gamification’, about it. At the SXSW Interactive Festival, a lot of attention was given to this shiny new idea, where the principles of gaming were applied to ordinary tasks like work. Again, one advances through ‘levels’ as tasks are completed, gaining extra skills as obstacles are overcome. It’s just that in this scenario, the obstacle isn’t a jackal-headed god from the Underdark – it’s a Monday morning staff meeting.

Even social networking sites have cottoned on. Chinese Facebook-alternative Renren is heavily game-based (according to bilingual users – my Mandarin’s a little rusty), which combines the social aspect of a Facebook with the cut-throat competitiveness of Call of Duty.

The basic principle is one of loyalty. Incentivising retains a community – something called a ‘sticky’ experience where first-time users are encouraged and interested, but not overwhelmed by information. Hence Renren’s considerable success, as the games aspect pleases those who aren’t content with a simple social network.

Not that kind of badge! image: Alan_D

The reason this all springs to mind is the ‘social rewards and analytics platform’ Badgeville.  Launched only last year, Badgeville has recently announced that they’ve got fifty new clients signed up to use their widgets in only their first two quarters.

The principle behind it, as I understand it, is along the lines of the Facebook ‘like’. Users click on ‘Like’ buttons attached to website content, particular product-orientated Facebook pages and are rewarded on leaderboards, with the eponymous badges and various other treats. This will then result in a company-loyal community of followers, whose interests (gleaned from Badgeville’s analysis of their ‘likings’), can direct the company’s efforts.

Devious indeed, your2pencers – but it’s worth it for a badge.



UGC Advertising – The ASA STEP IN

As of the first of March, the Advertising Standards Authority now has powers over some user-generated content on the Internet. Excellent, you say. But what does this mean?

As the good people at ASA explain it, they now have jurisdiction over any marketing messages on an organisation’s website, or other ‘non-paid-for’ space under their (the organisation’s), control. And as a result, the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing now relates to that content. This covers rules about misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children.

But when it comes to user-generated content it becomes a little less clear.

Basically, it relates to companies using your reviews or comments about their products in their advertising. Which they are perfectly allowed to do – you say that your hair has thickness and lustre after using Mane & Tail, then they can whack you onto their website as a testimonial.

The problem is separating genuine testimonials from cunning marketing ploys. A typical example might be the selection of positive feedback from message boards or social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook, or from specialized sites like Which? The ASA will apparently take a dim view of glowing reviews that are presented out of their original context – not taking into account, for example, negative opinions about the same product.

Of course, enforcing this will be tough. Quite how they’re going to do it is, as yet, unclear – there is talk of random spot-checks and reprimands for ‘persistent abusers’. But it will be based primarily on the complaint of concerned consumers.

And there are concerns. Some industry-watchers are worried that the rules are still too vague and don’t properly explain what constitutes ‘marketing’ – it’s all very well saying that online advertising has to be ‘legal, decent, honest and true’, but that doesn’t thrash out what the ‘marketing’ element means.

To conclude – it’s great that the ASA can now step in if user-generated content is used for evil. But it would be useful if they could just clear the situation up a little bit.



Making your own way: user-generated map-making.

How many of us, when giving directions, have resorted to a Biro, a napkin and a map that looks like a starfish with some body issues? I myself have lost many a friend on the relatively simple route between restaurant and pub, solely down to my shocking lack of artistic skill and flawed sense of direction. Making maps, I decided, wasn’t for me.

Image: Daily Telegraph

As Sean Gorman of geographical data tool GeoCommons puts it – “the public often saw the end product of the map creation process, but was largely reduced to scribbling on paper when it came to creating maps of its own”. Maps were definitely something made by specialists and consumed by the masses. But now, that’s changed.

My very own, slightly terrible, MyMap

Internet mapping has embraced the user-generated element. The most obvious example is the ‘MyMaps’ service that allows Google account holders to add ‘pins’ that remind them of favorite or useful locations. GoogleMaps is also one of the many mapping services that lets users correct their details, though via a screening process; if you think your house or business has been mis-pinned, you can get in touch and change it.

So far, so good – but correcting where your house is on a map is a teeny bit boring.

Praise be, then, for the good people of OpenStreetMap. This is a fully cooperative, user-generated map of the ENTIRE WORLD, and its contributors are scrupulously, scarily accurate.  They have even held events where citizens take to the streets with handheld GPS devices – the Atlanta Citywide Mapathon, for example. First-timers were encouraged to go out and map their neighbourhoods, as well as joining in group activities such as adding points of interest to public areas like parks.

So a nice mix of community engagement and generating content there – Atlanta has an ongoing, and vocal, OpenStreetMap community dedicated to getting more people involved in personal cartography – and good luck to them.

But the great thing about user-generated mapping is that it can be almost anything you want it to be and not just a record of street names and geographical features. My personal favourite is the Global Poetry System (GPS – geddit?), a map that allows people to upload site-specific poetry either that they’ve found on a wall or a piece of public art or that they’ve created themselves. Which gives rise to little gems such as this:

Image: Lily Briscoe

On a slightly more serious note, user-generated mapping has infiltrated the headlines too. For example, there’s the Solidarity Map of the TUC March for the Alternative – people who weren’t able to make it to the march itself could log on and show where they were, just to give the demonstrators extra support. And then there’s the current efforts to crowdmap the spread of radiation from the Fukishima power station in Japan. Based around data-hub site Pachube, various interactive maps allow those equipped with Geiger counters and other radiation-detecting devices to upload their findings and allow the creation of images such as this:

Image: Usman Haque - Pachube

Maps aren’t just static objects now. They’re responsive and fluid – crisis mappers even helped rescue efforts in disaster zones such as Haiti by updating their charts of the area to show problems on the ground. They’re doing it now in Libya to help humanitarian organisations respond better to demand.

Maps aren’t the bosses of us any more – Internet cartography is anything we want it to be.



Google has a history of user-generated interviews – Authors@Google has been running for a while, where watchers can submit questions and be answered. But this took on a whole new level with one Stephanie Joanne Angelina Germanotta: the unstoppable force that is Lady Gaga.

Legions of her fans posted video-questions on her YouTube page and then got to see her responses. And the whole thing was streamed and uploaded onto YouTube itself!

It’s a nice take on the interviewing technique, especially for someone who’s as fan-conscious and social network-savvy as Gaga. This way, her devotees can put their own faces to their names and convey a little more about their situation in life and how they feel about her.

One of the questioners talked about Lady G’s support for gay rights, adding that he lived in the relatively LGBT-unfriendly Houston, TX. Others shared their experiences at concerts or asked about particular aspects of Gaga’s performance or aesthetic that related to them.

But the real strength was in the commitment and passion of the fans. They asked questions that a journalist might never think of asking, no matter how well briefed they might be.

The ‘Little Monsters’ who submitted their questions are unswervingly, wholeheartedly loyal to the Gaga – and as a result, their questions are heartfelt and incredibly well informed. These are people who follow everything that Gaga says or does in the media and absorb it – as the user above shows, they remember comments in interviews from years ago. That sort of commitment just wouldn’t happen in a showbiz journalist, no matter how dedicated.

So is this the future? It certainly works – reviews for Google Goes Gaga have been positive and the Mother Monster came across as sympathetic, funny and committed to her music and to her followers. Maybe it’s time the bands started bypassing conventional interviews and throwing themselves on the mercy of their fans?


Is UGC too small-scale?

The rash of dramatic events across the world, from the Christchurch earthquake to the Arab Spring to Japan’s current problems, have led to widespread debate about the role of the civilian journalist and many of the iconic images from the struggles have come from mobile phones or handheld cameras.

But after reading Emily’s post, I came across this blog on MediaPost, and it got me thinking. The author’s argument is that civilian journalism and crowdsourcing doesn’t work when it comes to vast natural events like the Japanese earthquake and tidal wave – the sheer size of the event means that the necessarily small-scale images captured by members of the public can’t convey the full impact. Instead, he argues that this is where conventional news, with all the resources of multiple cameras, aerial filming and rapid deployment, come into their own. Conventional news gives a sense of perspective that UGC just can’t provide.

But is he right? This prompted a heated debate on the issue from commenters – some of them with some very interesting perspectives. One actually said that the advantage of professional news is its neatness and the sheer convenience of its packaging – instead of ‘trawl[ing] through heaps of UGC’ you can get all of the facts, and the most pertinent images, in one place – simple and quick. Others argued that the inherent strength of UGC is its ability to get the unexpected shot by being on the spot by sheer fluke at the right moment.

There are elements of truth to both of these arguments, but I fundamentally disagree with the original thesis. I think that some of the images coming out of Japan captured by normal people as the battle their way through a horrible event are utterly mind-blowing – see the footage below, taken by a man as his car was overtaken by the tidal wave. The essence of UGC is not the ‘being on the spot’ – it’s the fact that it reminds the viewer that these terrible things are happening to real people. This is a crisis experienced on a deeply personal level, a level which its difficult to appreciate as you watch helicopter shots of tiny houses, tiny cars, tiny people on rooftops. That makes you feel further from the real horror of the situation, turns you into something along the lines of a cinema-goer – with the news teams focusing on ‘spectacle’, its easier to overlook the human cost.

And then the other day I found this post, also on MediaPost, which explains in very simple and affecting terms just how UGC can be more than ‘entertainment’. It can actually help people – help them find family and friends, help them understand what has happened in a more immediate sense. Is it safe on my street? Which areas are affected?

Obviously, there’s a place for perspective. Explosions at the Fukishima nuclear power plant need to be captured on a grand scale. But UGC isn’t professional and it isn’t concerned with looking good. It’s the reactions of real people to shocking circumstances and that’s what makes it so powerful.


Playing your own game

I’m the first to admit I’m not a gamer. I’ve got no co-ordination and I’m a terrible loser, which isn’t the best combination. But would I be more inclined to get involved if I could create the missions I went on?

Infamous 2, from Sucker Punch Games, is a ‘step forward’ in the gaming experience. According to their Development Director, Chris Zimmerman, Infamous 2 escapes the usual trap of the computer game – the fact that no matter how much programming the manufacturer does, eventually all the options are exhausted. However, with the addition of this new feature, gamers will be able to extend this even further, putting forward their own contributions for approval and potential inclusion in the game.

Image: Sucker Punch Productions

For those who are novices, like me, I shall do my best to seem knowledgeable. Infamous 2 is an open-world or ‘sandbox’ game – which means that, unlike basic or antiquated arcade games, there are no ‘invisible walls’ which curtail the avatar’s actions. So you can roam gaily through the game, using any of multiple ways to achieve your objective.

Sandbox gaming isn’t new – it’s been around for years. But this is a step further. The gamers are closer to being in charge.

The risk is that the world gets just too big – with an ever-expanding number of missions, if could be that gamers might never log out…

If you’re a gamer, then let us know what this will mean for your gaming habits! Is this a gimmick? Or is it the way forward?


Getting your money’s worth?

Today, everyone, I’m going to have a go at generating content – and getting paid for it.

In a way, it’s like a commercial Wikipedia; experts write articles according to their areas of interest, which can then be picked up by journals or websites – who then pay the struggling artist for the privilege.

Let’s take an example. Helium is a grand institution in this area that’s been around for more than four years now. Helium describes itself as a ‘knowledge co-operative’, where they champion the ideas of sharing expert knowledge and believe that ‘readers want a choice of viewpoint – not just one opinion on any subject’ (neatly sidestepping any issues of bias). One merely joins (for free, thank goodness), uploads an article on any subject under the sun, from TV reviews to guides to woodland birds to the success of the Egyptian protests, and you’re away.

How you get money for these sparkling efforts is slightly more complicated. According to Helium ‘the best writing rises to the top’. Writers can either earn upfront payments through the site’s Marketplace, can win various ‘writing competitions’ or can undertake freelancing work on behalf of publications that are linked to the site – though this last one is often expertise or geo-specific (such as doctors-only for medical fact-checking, only people working in Pittsburgh etc).

The upfront payment method is by far the most confusing. Writers put their articles up for consideration for these payments on the Marketplace – the best one gets selected. This is done through editor grading, the ratings from other members of the sites and ‘some staff input’. The payments range from anything from $0 to $15 – the $0 is just a way of securing the article for a particular publication.

And then the knotty issue of the rights. If your article is accepted for anything above $0, Helium gains exclusive rights to it. Apparently this is the best way – “With Helium holding exclusive rights to your article, it should not be published anywhere else on the web, so anyone who reads your article will be reading it from one source. This gives your article a much higher SEO value and should increase your potential ad revenue share.” So you’ve been published, but just in one place.

But it isn’t all fun and games. It’s difficult to find the places to upload – I’ve been trying to offer up my own genius for some time, but I’ve been told that the status of this is ‘pending’. It’s hard to contribute directly to the communities you want to target; Arts and Humanities is safe in its ivory tower. The money isn’t yet rolling in.

So far I’m a little bit wary, but I’m willing to give it a go. It’s worth noting that Helium isn’t the only option out there – AOL launched a similar service called Owl last year, which uses a content management system called Seed to crowdsource from their many websites. It should be noticed it’s now keeping a very, very low profile. Or there’s Hubpages where you create ‘Hubs’, or topics of discussion, that people can then respond to. They’re all slightly different – Hubpages, for example, makes a great deal of the fact that they’re a ‘community’ as well as a place of business.

Worry not, your2pencers – I’ll report back.