Tag Archives: community

User-generated photo-journalism and how to build a lasting network


Tackable is the latest UGC smart phone app straight out of Silicon valley and the team behind it are being very smart about how they build their network. Your2pence spoke to its Chief Marketing Officer Luke Stangel, to learn a thing or two about growing UGC communities.

Luke Stangel

Tackable aims to be an essential journalistic tool and a fun destination. Journalists and publications have profiles from where they create photo “assignments” requesting images of news events. Users respond by uploading those images, but they can also post random photos of interesting things they’ve come across. They get to see their pictures in print and earn points as they collate photos on their profile. Users and journalists subscribe to each other’s feeds to keep on top of it all.

1.) Start small

Tackable’s main app is still in beta but will be ready in the next few weeks, in time for them to launch across  newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area.  In the meantime they’ve made a dedicated app for The Spartan Daily, a student publication at San Jose StateUniversity, as a testing ground.

The Spartan Daily app launched on the 24th January and now has 441 downloads and 111 active users. Although its not a huge number, Luke’s happy because ‘engagement in the name of the game’ and they’ve ‘developed a base of students who come back and check in day after day’. Spartan Daily has taught them a lot about how to engage with users and its an exercise worth studying.

2.) Give people reasons to join

Luke says this success is because people are encouraged to participate in 2 different ways. Although ‘everything you do on Tackable earns you points’ completing an official assignment gets you more than uploading a random picture. And when points add up, they turn into vouchers for things like tacos around campus.

"Snow Day" assignment asked students to "Check out this amazing event"

For some the drive to participate is reward-driven and the assignments are like ‘a real-world scavenger hunt’. These users make up the body of Tackable’s network so far. But there are others who are ‘motivated by social rewards’ – ‘when they witness something happening in front of them’ they think ‘”This is really cool. I want to share this right now”‘. Luke reckons the number of social users will increase as the platform develops.

3.) Know who, and how many

These motivations work well enough for the students, but will they stick in the real world where users have less free time, are less tech-savvy and live in a less defined community? Luke says that while the target audience is under-35, smartphone-owners used to social media, they want it to appeal to all ages. But it’s probably that core of young users that will get the ball rolling and create the framework for others to develop.

And he’s also being very careful with numbers. ‘Most user-generated content platforms operate on some variation of the 90/8/2 principle’ he says. ‘90% of your user base will consume media and do nothing else, 8% will get lightly involved with that media, either by commenting on it or sharing it elsewhere, and 2% will create the bulk of your content’.

He says a city of a million would be ‘well-served’ by a Tackable base of 1,000 active participants. But of course ‘at some point, you have to let go and let the community take over’.

4.) Make it relevant

It’s this hyperlocal approach that they reckon will win through. Tackable distinguishes itself from other UGC news sites like MaYoMo and iReport by being ‘bottom up’ – catching the smallest stories first and building up from there. Much of the pull for the user is the sense of ownership and belonging that comes with the “take photos for your local newspaper” impetus.

And that’s evidenced on the  Spartan Daily “tackboard” where you can see photos of sports events, protests and just kids around campus. Most of the material is ‘totally uninteresting to anyone living outside Silicon Valley, but intensely interesting to the students on the platform’.

Responses to the Snow Assignment

This is the appeal for publications too. As well as helping reporters gather information about what’s going on in their patch, Tackable will help publications directly relate to their readership. Users might not create the news agenda, but they do facilitate it, helping reporters on their ‘first draft’ of a story.

5.) Expand when you’re ready

In Tackable’s pitch video, Luke says they aim to eventually have global reach. But can a hyperlocal model such as this stretch that far? For the moment Luke is trying to create a ‘sustainable model that works on a small scale’ but is confident that if they can get that right, it can ‘go viral’ in good time.

We’ve got our eye on Tackable; you should do too.

HARRIET BIRD

Mods and what journalism can learn from videogames


It’s the internet that really makes UGC happen. But the pace of change in the online world is so fast that it leaves most of us wondering what on earth will happen next. One place we can look for answers is the path taken by that nerdiest of pastimes, videogames.

Mods

Image: ehud42

Gamers have been doing UGC for years. The heyday of the ‘bedroom coder’ was in the 1980’s providing seminal experiences for a generation of gamers whose interest lay not just in consuming but creating. Modifications, or ‘mods’ are archetypal UGC. They’re user-created extensions to already existing games which use the game ‘engine’ (the underlying code). They range from unofficial patches and bug-fixes through to additional content or even entirely new games, known as total conversions.

By allowing people to make their own experiences and speak to an audience at times frustrated by the mass market approach of commercial developers, mods have developed into a vibrant niche. It’s an examplary UGC network and a big one, with more than 10,000 mods in existence.

Developers soon realised that mods are a good thing and provided access to their game engines and tools. Today, a casually interested gamer can easily play

Usercreated is a popular mod site

around, download new maps (game environments) or check out any other mods through dedicated websites. Almost anyone who buys a game (at least on the PC) can extend their enjoyment through UGC.

Difference and art

Without the restrictions of commercialisation, mods allow for real experimentation. Dear Esther, originally released as a mod for Half-Life, was created as a research project at the University of Portsmouth to explore storytelling beyond the traditional conflicts of shooting aliens. It’s now being released as a commercial indie.

Commercialisation and the future

Valve (makers of Half-Life, Counter Strike, Left 4 Dead and Portal) are the

Team Fortress Image: Bryan Sutter

masters at making the most of UGC. In 2001 they brought in the makers of an old mod called Team Fortress and released it for free. That might seem like a good way to lose money fast, but a community soon developed and it quickly garnered a host of UGC maps. Interest grew and the buzz for the free mod sustained sales of Valve’s other games.

Valve now incorporate user generated additions to such an extent that they’ve made a marketplace where players buy them. Valve approves and controls the sale of all the items and keeps 75% of the money. They profit from opening to door to user-participation.

Journalism

Clearly ideas like Creative Commons and Open Source sites are a step in this direction in the wider online world. But there are concrete reasons why mods have been so successful.

  • a reasonably niche and defined area
  • die-hard fans
  • easy to use tools and distribution channels
  • an active community where members talk to each-other

There are plenty of journalistic areas that would be  fertile ground for this kind of UGC. Trade publications with narrow specialisms, or fan-based journalism like celebrity or political blogging, are just a few.

Hiring

Significantly, there is a steady flow of modders into full-time employment with game developers. But should this be be the route bloggers take into paid journalism? The idea is attractive, but the problem is money. Gaming is a bigger industry than films these days, and there’s cash to spend, unlike in journalism. With editors tightening their belts, it’s unlikely we’ll see much hiring any time soon.

HARRIET BIRD