Umair: It’s user-generated “context”

Umair Haque, the new-media theorist who writes the Bubblegeneration blog and recently launched the Havas Media Lab, has a great take on the phenomenon of “user-generated content” and how it hasn’t really measured up to what many proponents — both outside the traditional media and inside it — were hoping for and/or expecting. In the first research paper released by the media lab (available in PDF only at this point), Umair argues that this is because user-generated content is mostly a misnomer. What users generate is *context,* he says.

As many others have, Umair notes that the Techmeme leaderboard is composed primarily of mainstream media sources — but says this makes perfect sense when you think about user-generated context instead of user-generated content. Most of those commenting on media stories or blog posts aren’t generating content per se, but are taking content that is created by others (whether the traditional media or new media outlets) and contextualizing it in some way that is meaningful for them and others who share their interests. As Umair says:

“From an economic point of view, user generated context is an entirely different good from content: a complement. Demand for one amplifies demand for the other. The tail of content is lengthening – but that supply curve is made up of new content players like PaidContent and RocketBoom.

By conflating the content and context, we mistakenly assume that what connected consumers create is inherently worthless – when, in fact, it’s by letting connected consumers contextualize content that tsunamis of new value can be unlocked (just ask Google).”

Media entities that recognize this can take advantage of it to build value, he says. User-generated context means that connected consumers “aren’t their competitors — but are vital, essential complementors, who create real value for them. The more context there is, the greater demand for their content is likely to be.” Advertisers also have to make the shift, Umair says, from thinking about advertising as something that is created and then delivered to something that is created through the process of contextualization of content. Get the whole paper here.

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