You could say that User Generated Content is a new name for an age-old concept. Since the early days of Fleet Street readers have been keen to give their tuppence-worth by writing letters to the editor. Radio and Television broadcasting ignited the trend of text and phone-ins to engage their audiences.
However, when the term User Generated Content entered mainstream usage in 2005, the Joe Public’s interaction with media was rapidly changing from passive to interactive. On the day of the July 7 bombings it was the dramatic stills and videos from passengers on the tube that led the BBC’s 6 O’clock bulletin, far removed from the eyes of professional journalists. Suddenly mass media organisations saw the significance of the citizen journalist to broadcast news – not only to comment on it, but also to break it. As a result journalists are increasingly looking to tap into users’ own platforms as well as curating the material that comes through their own websites.
The arrival of UGC saw a shift from media organizations creating professional content to producing web services that allow amateurs to publish their own content – think YouTube, Twitter, Digg and the Guardian CommentIsFree website. The one-way media of the past (the letters and phone-ins) had become a two-way, conversational media. Today web users are able to establish relationships and build communities with like-minded people, or debate with different-minded people. The net provides an unlimited amount of space for people to exchange opinions and ideas.
In contrast to traditional media web users have few barriers to entry – it’s easy to post a comment and you’re more or less guaranteed publication. And you don’t need to send something to mainstream media to reach large audiences – one of today’s top watched YouTube videos Yellow Socks has 2,519,238 viewers, 96,755 comments and counting…
With YouTube users loading 24 hours of new video content a minute, Twitter receiving approximately 28,000 unique visitors a month, and the Guardian.co.uk getting half a million comments a month and rising, UGC is an ever increasing phenomenon. The question is how to control the content from third parties whilst retaining a sense of accessibility and freedom of expression. And how to trawl the millions of daily comments, links and postings most efficiently to unearth those few golden nuggets of information.