Is User Generated Content A Good Idea?

Exactly. I can't say it any better, so I'll just pull some of my favorite quotes from Gomes.

Now, though, he said, users will be able to actively make their own new movie, or at least a short clip, by mixing up scenes from the site's small online library. One such creation was displayed: Through editing, people from one film were made to seem to be reacting to events and people that, in fact, were from another movie.

"Great, isn't it?" asked the presenter.

Not really. Watching a good movie is "passive" in the same way that looking at a great painting is "passive" — which is, not very; you're quite actively lost in thought. For my friend, though, the only activity that seemed "active," and thus worthwhile, was when a person sitting at a PC engaged in digital busy work of some kind….

…It is an odd state of affairs when books or movies need defending, especially when the replacement proffered by certain Web-oriented companies and their apologists is so dismally inferior: chunks and links and other bits of evidence of epidemic ADD. Reading some stray person's comment on the text I happen to be reading is about as appealing as hearing what the people in the row behind me are saying about the movie I'm watching….

…Today's mash-ups remind me of those Time magazine collages: all cutting and pasting, signifying nothing….

Low barriers to entry and the ability to "mash up" are good because people with good ideas can be heard even though they don't have the same platform as popular gurus or major media outlets. But the downside is that to find those diamonds in the rough you have to wade knee deep in lots of crap.

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I have to admit that I don't find YouTube even slightly appealing. I've been to the site and it is boring. There isn't good content, there is the "hope" of good content, which is why you click through watching video after video until you realize that almost all of them are worthless.

Have you ever read something really great? Doug Hofstader's remarkable intro to a chapter of "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" comes to mind. The script reads exactly the same backwards and forwards. It shocked me the first time I read it. You don't get that by surface level mashups. That kind of quality only comes from the depth of genius.

I'm not saying that users can't contribute. But don't equate feedback with creation. A lot of VCs are getting ready to lose a lot of money from that mistake.

  • David G

    Points well taken.

    Don’t make the mistake of putting acclaimed creators into a non-human “box” though; they are merely talented humans BUT the ‘old way’ also required that they be major self-promoters and on top of that extremely lucky for their stuff to even see the light of day. Have we missed out genius? Definitely!

    What has changed is that the artificial barriers to popularity have been removed – that is progress and it will have a marked improvement in quality of creative works because the gene pool is now so much bigger.

    Attention scarcity as content explodes is a challenge all media consumers will face – and there-in lies the importance & the wealth of networks.

  • Jason

    Clearly, then you haven’t seen this:

    Tons of Youtube links to old 80’s music videos. Sheer brilliance :).

    On a more serious note, it seems to me that having a subscription fee would be a good way to go – not a huge one, but even a small subscription fee will weed out a lot of the junk. Yes, you will lose out on some talent, but at the end of the day, my guess is that you’re dealing with a filtering problem, not a lack of talent problem.

  • Rob

    Both good comments. I think the future of user generated content is to combine the two ideas. It’s a filtering problem not a talent problem, and the previous filtering mechanisms were primarily who you knew and how much you could self-promote. So the key to a good UGC site might be spending lots of time on the filtering mechanisms.

  • Bill

    I think you might be in serious error! From Escher, Godel and Bach, the symbolic representation may be not quite be isomorphic in its representation. Quoting from Robert Starbird Dorney, The Professional Practice of Environmental Management, “Given the transformation of industrial economics by the combination of the microchip and biotechnology, it is important to speculate on the effects such transformation in information processing and genetic manipulation may have on the natural resources and landscape ecology of the globe. Some likely results are….Increased simplification of genetic diversity through breeding programs and loss of genetic diversity due to extinctions.”

    Dorney was one of the finest professional environmental managers in NOrth America whose spouse grew up in Louisville…so there is link back to Louisville.

  • Bill

    But what is the architecture of the strange loop?

  • Bill

    And what if there were many people who were acting as “filters” that kept economies from developing? Thereby causing enormous financial loss?

  • David G

    I’m thinking a lot lately about filters vs windows into content-generating networks. I think filters are not the solution – to work, filters need to a) see everything and b) screen perfectly. Both are impossible and expensive to maintain.

    If you rather ignore all of the network except for a few choice “windows” into it, network effects will dictate that all relevant, quality content eventually passes by your windows.

    Case in point; a year ago, I was “reading” 100+ bloggers, now I read only 4 and I’m far better informed. The most popular bloggers claim they stop reading other blogs – that’s because their audience has become a super-efficient window into the net.