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.




TwiTrips – What the Tw***er?

I was at school with a bit of a bright spark who later at Manchester University set up the (now defunct) crowdsurfing website youngineurope, a UGC site for young backpackers, who might well have been broke but who still wanted to explore Europe.

After being snapped up by the Guardian in his final year Benji Lanyado is now by his own admission  a 27 year old ‘travel journalist for (mostly) the Guardian and (sometimes) the New York Times‘ as well as a bit of a social media guru.

Over the past year Benji has developed the ‘Twitter trip‘ or ‘twitrip’ for short – where he is parachuted into a city and people suggest where he should go via twitter. So what better way to tell me all how the magic happens than to do a little interview over twitter…

And that is where technology failed us and twitter went down….sometimes it’s still worth meeting face to face. Anyway, it’s worth watching Benji and his movements.  The twitrips idea is so beautifully simple yet still so innovative and he’s got a lot more where that comes from.

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!


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.


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.


A tea break with Ben Marsh

After looking at the Channel 4 cuts map i thought i’d just grab a quick chat with the creator Ben Marsh – the freelance web developer who has easyjet, Channel 4, vodafone among his clients…

Your2pence: Firstly who are you and what do you do?

Ben Marsh: I’m a freelance web developer who creates ‘mashups’ – which means extracting information from various (potentially unrelated) resources and putting them together in a meaningful way.

Y2P: Why did Channel 4 come to  you to create the cuts map?

BM: Channel 4 approached me after seeing my #uksnow Map over the winter. With all the spending cuts that are currently taking place they wanted to show this in an alternative visual.

Y2P:What’s the point of this map though? Why don’t we just keep it nice and old fashioned?

BM: Visuals and graphics are usually a better way of getting complex information across. Being able to see how spending cuts are taking place geographically and also on a month-to-month basis gives a different angle to what is happening.

Having the ability for a consumer to discover and understand content their own way can only be a good thing.

Y2P: How has the internet helped to shape your ideas and projects?

BM: There is a huge resource of open information on the internet, and it is getting easier and easier to pull these sources together and make something more meaningful. I’ve been creating apps and sites for quite some time, but the first one that caught the public imagination was the #uksnow map, which took locatable snow reports from Twitter and plotted them on a map.

You might like to check out Ben’s latest project which has just been launched for easyjet and the Royal Wedding. They are looking for…you guessed it Europe’s best Will and Kate look-a-likes…

Courtesy of Ben Marsh

Follow Ben and what he’s up to on @benmarsh.

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