Category Archives: UGC in action

We’ve taken a look at how established media organisations and start-ups use UGC. Read here to see how these ideas and technologies are shaping the future of journalism.

The y2p panel judges “Readers’ Tips” at The Sun


You might not think The Sun, with all its reliance on puns and tits, is the right kind of place for UGC. But hidden away in the dark corners of the website is the Readers’ Tips page, a brilliant example of all that UGC can be – good, bad, ugly and funny.

So the y2p team chose tips to explain what works and what doesn’t – you can click on the images to see an expanded view.

This perfectly exemplifies the Sun’s attitude – a bit cheeky and thoroughly down-to-earth. This is something that journalists would never have the inventiveness to come up with, and it’s a nice insight into the slightly peculiar lives that the readers lead. But I don’t think I’ll be taking their advice on this one…

This made me literally laugh out loud because 1) it sounds ridiculous 2) it’s the type of thing I would do and think is perfectly sensible and 3) I’m kicking myself I didn’t  think of it first. Don’t worry though, I’ll be doing it from now on. What I like about this page is that the postees aren’t afraid of sounding silly and the readers obviously like picking up the tips. Just remember to turn the straighteners off.

This is such a practical suggestion, the kind of which you’d only get from another punter who’s not trying to sell you anything. I can’t imagine DIY websites suggesting it. This UGC works for me, freely sharing information and not expecting anything in return.

This UGC is pants! These white-knickered buttocks could only appear on a website for the toosh-loving Sun. They’d be considered too bad taste for a more sober news platform, and they’re right. Secondly the suggestion is utterly useless – why would you stick your post-it note somewhere you can’t even see it, why not post on the fridge? I’ve got a feeling we’re witnessing the more exhibitionist UGC here – Karen seems confident enough about her bottom to want to show it off.

This typifies the best and worst of UGC. While there can be no doubt of the deterrent effect of a snake in one’s flowerbed, Roy’s effort lacks the key details which a professional journalist would give. For example, to say nothing of potential ethical conundrums, is the breed of snake a determining factor? Ought the snake to be on duty full time, or would the aroma of a part time snake be sufficient? Oughtn’t Roy to include a more expansive discussion of the necessary fencing arrangements round the flowerbed? In short, this tip is a clear indication of UGC’s questionable reliability.

UGC is about making your readers feel like they are a part of your publication and share in a community of readers. The value of the tips is not in the suggestions themselves, but the sharing process. I think it’s important that we see pictures of the readers and their families on the page. You might not bake your flapjacks in a bun tin, but it’s hard not to be touched by darling little Katie.

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The UK vs. USA – can StreetLife step up to EveryBlock?


EveryBlock.com is the answer to every American nosy neighbour/journalist’s prayers. It keeps them up-to-date with all the news and civic goings-on happening in their city, neighbourhood and block. It covers everything from building permits, restaurant inspections, local blogs, and photo-sharing to local business reviews. Launched in 2008 the site has grown rapidly – last month it brought in around 220,000 unique visitors.

Screen-grab of EveryBlock.com - what's the latest in Manhattan?

But what about all the nosy neighbours/journalists in Britain?

We have OpenlyLocal, JournalLocal and even FixMyStreet, which allow us to access valuable local governmental information or to moan about the rife potholes after the big freeze. But we’re losing out on the sociability of Everyblock.com, dubbed the social network for the neighbourhood. On this site users can update their status, “follow” specific locations and share posts on Facebook or Twitter.

But this might all be about to change now that StreetLife.com has hit our hoods… Like Everyblock, StreetLife is a social network based on local communities. Users can talk to individuals, groups and even local buinesses with the aim of sharing advice, skill sets and resources (Big Society eat your heart out). You have a news-feed, local chat function, private message facility, and incase it all gets to much, you have control of how much information you receive.

A screen-grab of the StreetLife Welcoming

But will it work?

I asked Paul Bradshaw if there was a UK answer to Everyblock, and he responded:

The same sentiment applies to StreetLife.com. The Freedom of Information Act in the UK is far more limited that the US, where there are no restrictions on who may access government information under the FOIA. The only requirement is that the requester must be a member of the public.

This is what social media journalist and hyperlocal blogger Joseph Stashko had to say:

Are we too saturated by social media as it is? Do we need another account to check and maintain? Or will the fact that, like EveryBlock, we can link up and share with Twitter and Facebook enhance our social networking experience?

In Joseph Tartakoff’s recent review of EveryBlock he said: ‘there’s lots of potential for abuse; a search for “conversations” in my neighbourhood brought up only two entries, which were both essentially advertisements’. StreetLife could rapidly become less about ‘community spirit’ and more about promotional plugging.

I looked up my local street on StreetLife and was pleasantly surprised to find lots of interesting posts. I know that Felix, just opposite, has had his bike stolen, where my local optician and pharmacist is, who’s having a loft conversion and who’s selling up. I’m excited by this, it’s nice to feel part of something local and as a journalist it’s  a great source for stories.  I’m not sure I’m ready to abandon StreetLife yet, it’s in it’s early days but it could grow into something interesting…

EMILY ARCHER

Tweeting in the Commons?


The journalist’s pot of UGC gold looks likely to be enlarged after the Commons Procedure Committee decreed that MPs should be allowed to tweet in the Commons chamber. After they were initially banned in January, the committee recommended that smartphones and tablets should be allowed (but not laptops as they take up too much space), provided that they are on silent and used in a way which does not ‘impair decorum’. The Commons will vote on the measure within the next two months.

Objection!

The move hasn’t been without controversy. James Gray, Tory MP for North Wiltshire, argued that excessive use of electronic devices would lead to a ‘worrying change of atmosphere’ in the chamber, in which members weren’t properly concentrating on the debates. But the potential effects for MPs and journalists (who can tweet from the public gallery) could run far deeper than that.

Where does it go from here?

According to the report, 225 MPs now use Twitter. One of the committee’s main supporting arguments is that it will bring parliament a whole new audience, in the form of hundreds of thousands of MPs’ Twitter followers. Moreover, it seems likely that many more MPs will feel compelled to begin tweeting; if so many are communicating with their followers/constituents directly, those passing up the opportunity will appear increasingly distant.

Rich Pickings

This means that a huge new source of UGC material becomes available – MPs may tweet their reaction to others’ comments, and conversely may respond to journalists’ tweets questioning their behaviour. Useful too will be the large amount of constituent-MP tweeted discussions during an actual debate which might have a significant influence on the MP’s vocal comments and eventual voting.

Potential Pitfalls

An example of Twitter hosting co-debates was seen in the Australian parliament, where MPs have always been unrestricted. Back in 2009, a row flared up between the Speaker and MP Peter Dutton, in which the latter tweeted criticisms about the Speaker’s apparent favouring of the opposite party. (The Speaker warned that tweets were not covered by parliamentary privilege).

Shifting the Debate

This shows that Twitter has the power to lift a debate from the chamber and into cyberspace, allowing anyone – MPs, lobbyists, journalists – to join in.  Again it is another example of the traditional top-down media role being undermined. Should the committee recommendations be adopted, parliamentary reporters will have to pay as much attention to the cyber debate as to the Commons floor itself. This raises tricky issues for a Speaker trying to adjudicate without looking at his/her own device. But as a whole new world of co-debate, involving anyone and everyone, is invited into the chamber, there are rich UGC pickings indeed. Truly democratic, and virtually uncontrollable, no journalist worth their salt will be able to ignore this new dynamic.

CARON BELL

Tablets and UGC


This week Kerry McCarthy became the first-ever MP to read her speech off a tablet computer during a Commons budget debate. They seem to be slowly embedding themselves into our society, but what of tablets’ contribution to UGC? Of course, their portabilty enhances the opportunity to interact with news while on the go, and at the source of the action.

But it’s not all smooth sailing.

Integrated UGC

I have an HTC Android Desire phone, which has a camera/video camera and voice recorder. The Android Sky News app I’ve downloaded has a direct UGC facility. Should I happen to capture something juicy, I can touch the app’s ‘Your Report’ tab, which enables me to send the material straight to Sky News, with the option of adding a comment. Fast. Free. UGC.

The Missing Element and its Knock-On Effects

But the much-vaunted Sky News iPad app – launched on March 17th 2011 – lacks this capability, principally because the first iPad lacks that integral part of our online experience: a camera. The iPad apps for CNN and BBC are therefore similarly constrained. New though they are, all have yet to be updated to fit the more sophisticated iPad 2 which, thank goodness, has front and rear-facing cameras. Yet other tablets have had cameras from the beginning, like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. This means their users can take advantage of the Sky News for Android app’s ‘Your Report’ feature, as well the CNN ‘iReport’ function which is very similar.

The Reasoning

The first iPad then was focused around the consumption of media, rather than the creation of media, and the limiting effects are still evident in its apps. So, why did Apple take this seemingly regressive step in the first place? Well, when announcing the coming of the iPad, Steve Jobs was very clear that it wasn’t supposed to be just a beefed-up version of the iPhone. (Because actually it’s more a beefed-up version of the iPod Touch). Nothing wrong with vehicles of traditional, mainstream media of course. But for £399 I can’t help feeling those early iPad pioneers were short-changed.

Since the iPad still holds 73% of the tablet market (according to an International Data Corporation report in the last quarter of 2010), its lack of camera represented a significant dint in the progress of UGC. Now that this big drawback has been addressed, let’s hope the apps catch up!

CARON BELL

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.

SAM BRADLEY

User Generating Children


Newsround has always had a tricky brief: making world news accessible to children who would probably have preferred it if CBBC had left the cartoons on. So UGC has been the programme’s key way of engaging the naturally narcissistic young; remember watching some lucky child’s Press Pack report back in the day? Fast forward fifteen years and the bustling Newsround website has given the programme a host of extra strings to its audience-engagement bow.

Keeping it Young

Some of the UGC is very distinct to a young audience…

The chatrooms too are buzzing, and host not just discussions on major news stories, but also other threads more immediately relevant to the programme’s target audience of 6 to 12 year-olds:

As with adult sites, children are invited to send in pictures and clips, comment on articles, add personal music reviews, vote in polls. And yes, the Press Pack tradition is still going strong. (For the uninitiated, this is an opportunity for children to send in their story ideas. If picked, they get to present a report on their story which is then aired on the main programme). The site, in short, is positively dripping with opportunities for child-friendly and child-directed UGC:

Why it Works

Is it that children are just greatly inclined to engage with the media in the hope of seeing their name on the screen? Well, no, actually. Whizz over to the online home of Young Times, the Times newspaper’s children’s section. Like Newsround, no one could accuse them of lacking child-friendliness:

But, riveting though this issue is for 6 to 12 year olds, no one has taken up the offer of leaving a comment. In fact, out of the seven stories featured on YT’s front page, only one has a comment. Of course, the comparison with the Newsround site is not strictly fair: the latter is part of the national child psyche, and many more children will visit its website. But that’s not the only difference.

What the Times, and other similarly underused children’s pages such as First News have tried to do is foist drier, adult-style UGC opportunities onto a young audience, and it doesn’t work. Children evidently demand more scope to direct the content themselves and thereby make an adult site their own. Any hint of top-down management and the site takes on the fatal whiff of a homework project. Children’s UGC can play a bigger role than in adult news, but you’ve got to put them in the driving seat.

CARON BELL

GOOGLE GOES GAGA!


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?

SAM BRADLEY