The Mark Ledden Blog

…audio, video, web and general tech ramblings.

Power to the People! (User-Generated Content)

User-Generated Content, as the name suggests allows anyone to create their own content. This has come about through the improved technology of hand-held devices like digital cameras and mobile phones which, can be used to capture this content then distributed worldwide thanks to the on-line revolution using sites like YouTube.

This readily available, convenient and increasingly cheaper technology is a means to capture any moment imaginable: When a News or Television crew maybe nowhere to be seen there will always be plenty of cameras and mobile phones within range and ready to capture the event in an instant.

The true power of User-Generated Content has the potential to reshape everything that it comes into contact with; It has already had an effect on news reporting and is being experimented with in advertising and film making.

After seeing Shoot the Summer (BBC, 2008) where Hugh Gary gave out mobile phones to people at various festivals to capture the event as they saw it I was only mildly impressed. Conceptually it was a brilliant idea and a great example of how we can use these new technologies but I hardly think this idea will take off and we’ll be seeing many more films created on mobile phones by the general public. Maybe I’m missing something though.

Never mind, could UGC be better suited to advertising?

As shrewd as businesses are they always manage to turn things to their advantage and many companies have recently setup advertising campaigns based around competitions where they ask the general public to create an advert for their product in return for some form of prize. This works incredibly well for the businesses as the competition itself will generate some hype, they also get to tap into a massive pool of creativity and end up with a relatively cheap, effective advert made by their customers and for their customers. Everybody wins!

Can we can find an even better use for UGC though?

The real place for stuff like this I believe is in news coverage. We’ve all seen the examples on the news of the poor-quality footage captured at terrible and freak events by witnesses and bystanders on their mobile phones. It is through this we are able to get a valuable insight into what is actually happening so we can see it for ourselves: A graphic insight which we traditionally may not have have gotten. In the case of the G20 protests in London last year this footage has even been used as evidence.

So UGC is beginning to transform the media and has led to the likes of the BBC and CNN to setup their own dedicated departments for aggregating this content and incorporate it into their news gathering. In this article about the BBC launching the first UGC News Programme, members of the public who submit material which is “particularly editorially important or unique” receive payment for their contribution. So now we all have the potential to be journalists.

So far all of this is good stuff, but I think there comes a point where it becomes too much. Take YouTube as an example, the ratio of ‘quality’ to ‘crap’ content is insane! When news programmes and topical shows ask viewers to send in their pictures and videos on any mundane subject just to fill air time, there’s just no need. Keep it useful!

Charlie Brooker gets the point across in a far better and more entertaining way on Newswipe as he goes through UGC and the participation of the public in news reporting:

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