Robert Scoble of scobleizer.wordpress.com has an interesting post on his blog in which he tries to get at the question of Web 2.0 services whose “content,” as it were, is produced by its users — something like Flickr.com being an obvious example. The pictures are uploaded by others, they are shared with the community, and Flickr derives revenue from that and from ads that run alongside the pictures. WordPress.com (which hosts Scoble’s site, and whose software powers this one as well) does the same thing with blogs, and for that matter Google.com does the same thing by aggregating other people’s content and then selling ads related to it. What does that make you and I? “Content generator” makes it sound like some kind of soulless, Matrix-style factory. Participant? Partner? Content provider?
Anil Dash has also wrestled with this issue, not so much the naming of it but the relationship between the content service and you the person whose stuff drives the service (Caterina Fake of Flickr responded to Anil here, and Matthew Gertner responded too as did The Teutonic Spectator, who made some good points). For me, the equation comes down to why you do what you do — put pictures on Flickr, or post blog entries, or whatever. Presumably you do so because you want people to see and/or read them. The service you use — WordPress, MSN Spaces, Blogger, Flickr — helps you to do that, and then takes a cut of the attention that people are paying you by looking at your pictures or reading your blog. That doesn’t seem like such a bad deal, especially if it keeps the service free.