Tag Archives: user

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.




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.


The Dark Side – problems with UGC

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.

Cheap and cheerful, or stay away?

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.