What is User-Generated Content?

Posted By BrokenClaw on May 1, 2008

User-generated content is a relatively new concept on the Internet. Sites like YouTube and Flickr have been highlighted in mainstream media, so a lot of people have at least heard those names, even if they have never visited the websites. These sites in particular, and probably hundreds of others, exist only because users take time to submit their own material, known as content on the Internet, or to edit and rewrite someone else’s content. The websites merely provide the platform to hold and display the content.

YouTube and other video-sharing sites provide a tangible service to their submitters. They provide a free service for users to share digital media with family, friends, and the world. YouTube has become a conglomeration of video styles. Many of the videos are short clips recorded by home users which show something funny or amazing, in the style of “America’s Funniest Home Videos“. A lot of the videos are karaoke-style, where users record themselves, their friends, or their children singing along to music. People also upload video clips from movies and television shows, which causes YouTube to be constantly under fire from media companies who claim ownership of copyrighted material. Commercial ventures and professional photographers use the sites as free advertisement. Amateur submitters hope to gain their proverbial 15 minutes of fame, and some have, by producing a viral video.

The photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Photobucket operate in the same manner, although they are more rigorous in enforcing the rules against uploading copyrighted photographs. Photo sites have also become a valuable reference. When users upload their photos, they are encouraged to tag them with captions, or key words, which make them searchable. For example, if you’d like to know what the swimming pool at the Flamingo Hotel Casino in Las Vegas looks like, you could go to the hotel’s website and see a photo. But you’ll get a much richer experience if you go to Flickr and search “Vegas Flamingo pool” and browse the hundreds of photos uploaded by hotel guests.

All of theses sites also have a social networking aspect, in that they allow registered users to form groups of family and friends, so that they can share certain photos only within their group.

Another category of user-generated content is called social news. On these sites, such as Digg and Yahoo Buzz, the users find news or feature articles from anywhere on the Internet, post the link, and then other users vote on which are their favorites. The stories that get the most votes move up the rankings to the front page. There is a definite benefit for the actual writers and publishers of the original content, in that, the higher they are on the rankings, the more traffic they get to their site.

With regard to pure information, there are two other major categories of user-generated content. One is the Wikipedia and similar sites, where users build encyclopedic data. The other is Ancestry.com and similar sites, where users contribute genealogical data.

For commentary on this subject, read the Value of User-Generated Content.

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