I like Derek’s “user-generated content”

I was going to write a post about terms like “user-generated content” – which my boss at globeandmail.com, Angus Frame, and I had a discussion about awhile back, after he said how much he despised the term “citizen journalism” – but I don’t have to any more because Derek Powazek has a great post that says everything I was going to say, as well or better (hey, anything is possible). As he puts it:

“Can I make a suggestion? Let’s all stop using the phrase “user-generated content.” I’m serious. It’s a despicable, terrible term.” Let’s deconstruct it.

User: One who uses. Like, you know, a junkie.

Generated: Like a generator, engine. Like, you know, a robot.

Content: Something that fills a box. Like, you know, packing peanuts.”

Derek is totally right. “User-generated content” is something that a marketing ‘droid would say in a report to upper management or the accounting department, about all that stuff that someone produces somewhere that gets ads wrapped around it. It has no soul, it has no life, it has no meaning. Jeremy Zawodny has joined the fight, and so has Umair Haque of Bubblegeneration, and Jeremiah Owyang. Derek says:

“Think about the rest of the world. Writers produce stories or articles. Authors write fiction or memoir. These are words infused with meaning and romance. Can you imagine a writer saying “I am a content provider” when asked what they do?”

If you feel okay with saying you’re a “content provider,” then I hope you are writing stuff for the back of packages, or user manuals for enterprise-class printers or something like that. Why not just call it writing? Derek wants to call it “authentic media,” which is a nice try but has (ironically) a kind of fake ring to it. I’m going to continue to search for a good term – and it will be as far away from the term “user-generated content” as possible.

GM and Spike Lee – do the right thing

Lots of chatter about General Motors and its ad campaign for the Chevy Tahoe, which let consumers create their own ad campaigns. According to a number of reports, including this one from CNet, stupid old GM totally missed the boat with this one, and got suckered into hosting a whole pile of critical ads about how big and ugly and environmentally unfriendly the Tahoe is, etc.

As is often the case with these kinds of things, Mike Masnick of Techdirt gets it right when he says that it’s not clear GM screwed up at all. In fact, it might be the smartest thing that the almost-bankrupt (financially and creatively) car company has done in a long time. To quote Mike:

“In fact, by then being open about it, GM is getting even more mileage from this campaign, and making it appear that they are more open to listening to those who disagree with them.”

Dominic Jones of Investor Relations Blog is on this side as well, as is AdRants. And Umair Haque, whose in-depth treatises on how to take advantage of “the edge” often make my brain hurt, also believes that CNet and others have gotten it wrong, and that GM is doing the right thing. As he puts it:

“GM’s finally woken up to the fact that it’s brand desperately needs authenticity – and this is a very nice way to end the bullsh*t and nonsense that became branding in the latter half of the 20th century.”

Admittedly, it’s difficult to think of GM as having actually done something smart – or at least avoided doing something stupid. But hey, anything could happen.


The New York Times has a story up about the controversy.

Why I love Web 2.0 – episode 1,015

It’s one thing to talk about how Web 2.0 – or the “Dynamic Web” or the “Live Web” or whatever we’re calling it today – allows companies to start and even grow to an extraordinary size with a little ingenuity, some open-source tools and some moxie, but it never ceases to amaze me when a new one pops up. Thomas Hawk has a great post about one called Zoomr.com, which is an online photo-sharing service kind of like Flickr – which as we all know was started by a Vancouver couple (who appeared recently on the cover of Newsweek) and was then bought by Yahoo.

I got an email from the guy who started Zoomr a little while ago, and checked out the service, but I have to admit I wasn’t all that impressed. Great – another photo-sharing site, I thought. It has some features Flickr doesn’t have, but I didn’t think it was anything special. In fact, when it comes to Flickr competitors, I think Bubbleshare.com (another Canadian startup) has a lot more going for it. But then I read Thomas Hawk’s post, in which he describes how Kristopher Tate, the 17-year-old who started Zoomr.com, added a new feature while he was talking on the phone with Thomas.

“So while I was chatting with Tate about trackbacks at 10:32 a.m. this morning he wrote me, “yes, one big thing that I want to do is a sort of photo “trackback.” We then chatted a bit more about it and at 10:53 he wrote “Hmm, I think I’ll add the trackback feature in now.”

And just like that, trackbacks or refers were implemented. A feature that Thomas Hawk and others have been waiting for from Flickr.com for months, but which the larger site can’t implement because it is wrestling with integration of its servers with Yahoo, and so on. Yes, Zooomr.com is just another competing photo site, and yes it probably suffers from the same deficiencies as far as a business model is concerned that many other Web 2.0 companies do — but damn. That is cool.

Competing without even trying to

My old colleague Richard Siklos, who now writes for the New York Times – he and I worked together as summer interns at the London Free Press in picturesque London, Ontario a couple of lifetimes ago – has an interesting piece in the NYT today called Death by Smiley Face, in which he talks about “purpose-driven media” and how it is creating no end of problems for regular old media like newspapers.

Jeff Jarvis thinks it is kind of old hat, and of course he is right, but it’s still worthwhile seeing the Grey Lady writing about it. My favourite part is where Richard writes:

These are new-media ventures that leave the competition scratching their heads because they don’t really aim to compete in the first place; their creators are merely taking advantage of the economics of the online medium to do something that they feel good about. They would certainly like to cover their costs and maybe make a buck or two, but really, they’re not in it for the money. By purely commercial measures, they are illogical.

As I commented on Paul Kedrosky’s blog, this gets to the heart of what newspapers have trouble getting their heads around. Craig Newmark of Craigslist.org often seems slightly baffled when people single him out as the guy who is killing the revenue side of newspapers, because it’s not like he set out to kill newspapers. He’s just using the natural economies of the medium to do something he sees as worthwhile, which kind of defines “purpose-driven media.”

The fact that what Craig and others are doing is taking away printed media’s bread and butter is almost beside the point. And the fact that he doesn’t even care whether he makes money at it just rubs salt in the wound.

An inspiring talk by Jeff Cole

Along with Mark Evans and Rob Hyndman, I sat in on a terrific presentation given Friday morning by Dr. Jeff Cole, the director of the World Internet Project (thanks to Jordan Banks of eBay Canada for inviting me). The WIP is a joint project organized by the UCLA Center for Communication Policy (now the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future) and involves research in more than 26 countries, including Canada, into how people use the Internet.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Cole – who is a compelling and funny speaker – talked a lot about how Internet use has increased, how broadband penetration has increased, how newspapers are dead, how TV is doomed, how the advertising industry is in major upheaval, and so on. Not a big news flash, at least not to anyone who has been paying attention over the past decade or so. One of the commenters on Mark’s post about the event asks why he was so impressed with the presentation – after all, this is all “superficial and obvious.”

But as Mark notes, it is one thing to believe these things and even to have read about them – but it really brings those points home when someone like Dr. Cole lays out the picture in such detail, and with five years of intensive surveys and research to back it up. In particular, it was interesting to hear about how broadband changes the way people approach the Internet even in subtle ways, since it changes the process of getting online from being an occasional, almost ritualized event – in which people make lists of things they want to accomplish when they dial up, and then disconnect when they are done – to something that is far more a part of their lives all the time, using it now and then in small ways.

In that sense, Dr. Cole noted, the Internet has followed the same kind of evolution that TV did. People used to schedule their TV watching around a particular show, and then turn it off when that show was over – but more recently people simply switch the television on whenever they are in the room, even if they don’t know what they want to watch. In the same way, the Internet has gone from a destination for specific purposes to something that is just “always on.” At the same time, people have moved their PCs and Internet use out of the back room or office and into either the living room or the kitchen, which has made it much more a central part of their everyday lives.

There was plenty more that was fascinating in Dr. Cole’s presentation – how people feel more empowered politically and socially as a result of having the Internet, how it is making younger users more interested in becoming creators of content instead of just consumers, and other things that we hope participants at our mesh conference in May will be interested in discussing. For more of his findings you can read the World Internet Project summary report.