The problem with UGC (User Generated Content) is, as anyone dealing with UGC already knows, err..well, all those Users really. They make a lot of noise—some is interesting, but most is noise. UGC can fill your site with a lot of content, but how much of it is 1) relevant 2) monetizable?
Example: UGC problems at YouTube. While they are serving 1.2 billion streams per day how much of it is worth watching or not infringing? YouTube has a commercial partner program to try to sift out the good from the bad and reward stuff that adds value. It is hard to imagine just how many take-down notices they process each day? Millions? When YouTube kills an account for breaking the community standards, there is a flare of angst against them.
UGC is random (which is most interesting) and repetitive, dumb and/or unrelated (which is not at all interesting). UGC is also full of problems like spam, hate, porno and copyright infringement. In fact, I think the days of UGC as an objective are over as Media Convergence heats up.
We did a lot of work in the Second Life virtual world environment where we created and ran in-world brands, sold digital goods and hosted more than 2.5million avatar visits (our Greenies Home is still there). SL claimed to be a online environment created by its users. This was a powerful concept. Some people came and made their own stuff, their house, art, avatar clothes but also made a lot of useless crap (UGG = user generated garbage). Not fun junk, but broken, incomplete, uninspired and boring digital leftovers.
Yet, as SL was also a microcosm for the larger online dynamic—we noticed something else more interesting than the obvious UGC headache. We began to understand that some people really cared quite a lot about their status in an online Community.
Identity, role, assets and recognition have significant value in the online realm. I think the virtual world crucible accelerates this as you come into real-time contact with people, make friends and perhaps engage in some activities that enhance (or destroy) your online identity. (If you are a noob—get an alt if you are going to do something out-of-character.). Your online trail is easy to catch and easy to follow in most cases. So actually rather than seeing people hide behind their online identity, we began to understand how important that identity is as a part of your real self. Hence, how other people respect you and understand you within a Community is very important.
People who care about being in a Community then will make a special effort to contribute to it and even regulate it. This is both content creation on one side and moderation on the other. This is the virtous circle—but it isn't without effort and attention. I seem to think of it as Community Inspired Content (CIC). CIC is not random, it is complimentary to the Community. People add comments to express something that displays their online persona so they are in fact sharing something of at least marginally value—and on occasion some serious insight. CIC also implies some respect for other members where UGC is more often about screaming really loud. Is CIC the mature version of UGC then?
Net net = CIC is more valuable on-site and should be scalable. If it is relevant, it should also be better to monetize.
My point is this really, if you want to get CIC you need to run your site very differently than if you only want UGC (with a little moderation on the side). UGC works well enough in the traditional make-->push content creation model. Either your commissioned staff “make-->push” content or you get the users to “make-->push” content from their side. It is one-way with a little feedback in the comments.
So how to get CIC rolling then? Well, we are trying to figure that out right now as you can see over at Heritage Key with some of the lessons we picked-up at Rezzable.com. There seem to be some basic drivers worth noting now though.
The other big issue for CIC is can big brands even begin to be a home for it? Do the people that run a CIC site actually need to be very visible/active on it? Ultimately the web while making somethings scalable, still might be bound by the limits of what people can do—actually that doesn't seem like too bad a thing!