Srinivas Reddy’s Weblog

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User generated content

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The final goal of all software is to create or help in creation of ‘content’ that delivers ‘real value to end users’.  In the good old days (to an extent in the foreseeable future) such ‘content’ existed in the ‘human memory (brain)’ but with the dawn of the digital age we increasingly rely on computers to manage this ‘content’.   The scope of this ‘content’ could range from ‘simple information’ to a ‘highly complex domain expertise’.  The source of such information/knowledge could vary from formal training / experience /….  In an increasingly digital world we are creating ‘digital’ versions of ‘all content’.  

I personally prefer to think of content as either ‘personal content’ or ‘business content’.  Personal content encompasses all content related to our personal lives (could be anything from family details, finance, health, music, entertainment, friends,…) and Business content consists of all content related to your profession (could be anything from your employer details, tasks, skills, industry, projects, co-workers,…. ). While the distinction may not be obvious at all times, the point is here is ‘content’ mainly exists in a specific context and we are increasingly using digital tools (be it something as simple as sending a SMS or writing complex software to automate payroll) to create such content.

In the early days of ‘digital era’ such ‘digital content’ was mostly produced by ‘domain experts’ and due to their high costs were also not accessible to all.   Be it ERP systems (which automated business process content) or  PC’s (which automated personal tasks) .  Media content (be it news, books, music, movies…) was also developed in a ‘controlled’ environment.  With the start of the ‘Internet era’ and the ‘Web 2.0’ phenomenon in particular the ‘content creation’ ecosystem is seeing a major disruption.  

‘Open Source’ software development has been a pioneer to show how ‘software content’ can be developed by harnessing the ‘collective intelligence’ of a distributed ‘domain experts’ in a ‘collaborative’ way. Open source software is in a sense ‘end user generated content’.  Companies such as ‘Amazon’ and ‘E-bay’ took this to a next level. By providing features such as ‘user ratings’, ‘user feedback’ and other, it was possible for end users (be it online shoppers, marketplace traders) to contribute to the purchase/sale process.  Why did the end users do it?  Writing a product review takes time and does not add any value to them, so why did users still do it?  A parallel may be found in why do open source developers work for free?  In general people want to share there skills/knowledge (for different reasons)  and ‘digital era’ has made it very easy to do this and in the process creating a ‘end user created content revolution’

‘Wikipeda’ raised the bar for ‘end user generated content’.  The best way to create the worlds largest encyclopedia is by providing a platform which could be used by ‘global domain experts’ to contribute to it.  This is exactly what wikipedia is doing. While the risk of abuse is high in such  ‘open content creation’ environments but by having right processes in place its possible to harness ‘collective intelligence’ for the common good.  

The Web 2.0 phenomenon leverages ‘end user generated content’.  Any ‘Web 2.0’ (actually this term has now morphed into

2.0, Travel 2.0, Social networks x.0, …. based on whom you talk to) company is about providing a platform for specific ‘end user content’.  Be it Youtube (for videos),  Blogger(for blogs),  Friendster (for social network), Flickr (for photos),  many travel related sites, many Map related sites,….. What each one of them is trying to do is, help end users contribute to a ‘specific domain’ with there experience/expertise.  They can digitalize (personal) content , share it with other users and re-use in different contexts (mashups!) with very little coding effort.  We see this happening across different business/personal domains. While the success of different startups in this area is difficult to predict, the acceptance/adoption of ‘end user generated content’ is mainstream now.

The latest and hottest addition to the ‘user generated content’  mania is ‘Second life (www.secondlife.com)’ .  For more details on what it is about check http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5182759758975402950&q=http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5182759758975402950#&subtitle=on&pr=goog-sl

By providing a platform for users to create and trade in ‘virtual entities’ of themselves and most physical things, it marks a new high for ‘user generated content’.  If you happen to try second life, check on what IBM is doing in ‘second life’.  I started to play around with it and am very impressed with potential applications for ‘secondlife’ platform.

We have come a long way in ‘content creation’.  ‘Knowledge workers’ needs to learn to work in the ‘emerging collaborative ecosystem’. Hopefully now you appreciate value of user generated content (including this post) and consider being part of the revolution :o)

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Written by srinivasreddy

March 19, 2007 at 4:57 am

Posted in Technology

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