Archive for the ‘ugc’ Category

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Does authenticity matter? (The case of Marié Digby)

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent piece on Marié Digby, a “YouTube sensation” that turns out to be a sort of recording-industry stool pigeon. As it turns out, Digby’s ascent has been carefully orchestrated by a major label, and everyone’s been lying about it, not least twenty-three year old singer herself.

It’s going to be an interesting test case for Web 2.0. Everyone says that “millenials” value authenticity more than anything. Sites like YouTube have stoked things, but there has always been something extraordinary about finding something interesting, instead of having it pushed on you.*

There’s a good post about this on the Matchmine blog, asking why this stuff makes us “feel so dirty.” One explanation is particularly good: We want to believe we’re one idea away.

“The web has made celebrities out of regular people, and billionaires out of ham and eggers. Or at least that’s what we want to believe. There is something optimistic about the web; there is a feeling of opportunity here. I think that many people are hungry for examples of ‘amateur has idea, takes it to the web, makes it big.'”

I find this idea appealing, and I think it’s been responsible for some of LibraryThing’s success—that people know it was a hobby project of a booklover (me) that took off. If it was revealed that LibraryThing was some sort of astroturf plot by Borders or Amazon, I think people would react quite negatively.** I know this how we felt when an author created sock-puppet accounts on LibraryThing to shower her book with positive reviews. Of course, we blew her accounts away, but one employee—not me—was so angry he took the time to add creative insults to her Amazon page.*** How dare she?

Maybe I’m idealistic, but I hope the Digby stunt backfires in the same way. I’m something of an old-fogey when it comes to music and copyright. But, if I liked her music, I’d go the extra mile to steal it.

*For my senior thesis at Georgetown I ended up reading a lot of antebellum literary reviews from the South, looking for images of anient Greece. The writers that filled these journals are mostly quite forgotten and, particular as concerns the poets, rightly so. Anyway, one day I came across the poem “To Helen” and thought “Wow! Has anyone noticed this before?” Pseudonyms and initials-only names are the norm in these things, and not all have been subsequently deciphered by scholars. So I took down the initials and prepared to look them up in an index to these things. “E. A. P.” Oh, dammit, I just discovered Poe!
**Against this idea, we have our largest competitor, started by music people, funded by Amazon and responsible for a lot of astroturfing blog comments. It hasn’t hurt them… yet.

Labels: authenticity, book reviews, marié digby, ugc, user generated content, web 2.0

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

No more User Generated Content on LibraryThing

Did that get your attention? I mean no more using the term “User Generated Content.”

I hated “users” already, and have largely dropped it in favor of “members,” “people” or “you.” “Users” is too impersonal, and as some anonymous genius* said, the only other industry that calls its customers “users” is not one we want to emulate.

Anyway, there’s an excellent IT Conversations podcast with Doc Searls (Cluetrain Manifesto co-author), run by Phil Windley, where Doc expands on his hated of the term “User Generated Content.”

Doc Searls: One reason is I’m not just a user. I’ve never like the term “user” either. I realize there’s no better term. It’s like “content.” You need an encompassing word that stands for everybody who’s sitting at a computer or using a telephone or whatever the “usage” happens to be.

But on top of that, I don’t like the term “generated.” I don’t generate what I create–I write it. “Generating” is something that an inanimate device does. It’s not something that a person does.

And I don’t produce “content.” I never sit down at the keyboard or pick up a camera or draw something thinking “I’m going to generate some content here.” Nobody is motivated to generate content. Content is a measure of volume. It’s packing material. It’s container cargo. It’s not creative work.

And “user generated content” is the kind of thing only an exclusive, controlling producer can say. And to hear people in the Web 2.0 world or the online world saying “Oh, we need more user-generated content here!” It’s that you’re adopting the langauge of the old world when you do that. …

It’s not just about packing stuff into a vehicle that’s a medium. I don’t even like the term “medium” very much any more.

Phil Windley: Or “delivering information”—that’s another one.

Doc Searls: Yeah again, it’s the container cargo shipping version of the world–that assumes a distance. It assumes that you’re way over there and I’m way over here, and I need to “scale” a whole pile of you and I got to scale it up in way that I can package it up and I’m going to pack a lot of advertising around it because I can sell that shit. Oh, come on.

I mean, there’s nothing wrong with doing a business with that. But at least know what you’re doing. What you’re doing is to some degree diminishing the profoundly individual and deeply personal and socially transforming nature of the best of what that stuff is. …

When you say “user generated content” you are now subtracting out all the value of everything everybody’s doing.

The relevance to LibraryThing is obvious. We should never adopt the “containing shipping” model of what our members are doing, even in how we talk about it.

But I think there’s some special relevance to libraries too. Uncertainty about “user generated content” among librarians centers around issues of authority, certainly. But I suspect the mixture of impersonal technology and impersonal personality is also toxic. After all, most librarians have jobs that put them in frequent, meaningful contact with their patrons**. Librarians value the patron’s role in the library, and I suspect that, like teachers and students, many librarians learn from their patrons every day. I suspect there would be less resistance to “user generated content” in the library if it sounded less like communal sausage production.

We in the “Lib 2.0” world gain nothing by using the language of language of container ships to describe the writing, knowledge and opinions of patrons.

*Help? Paul Graham?
**A good term.

Labels: cluetrain, doc searls, lib2.0, ugc, user generated content