How to approach content in the digital age

The phrase “User Generated Content” (UGC) has always been a troubled notion. At its heart it emphasises a divide between the user and the professional, with the implication that users have their place, and the professionals have theirs.

Perhaps the aversion to this phrase stems from the fact that it is so simplistic. It doesn’t really capture the diversity of a site’s readership or community. The simple fact is: Not all readers are equal. Not all readers want to write or contribute, some are quite happy to lurk behind the scenes. There also may be expert contributors in your site’s community that know much more than your editors do, or by the same token there may be readers who are there to learn about a particular subject — and may not feel confident to contribute comments or other content.

So, just referring to your community as “UGC” is a sledge-hammer approach that doesn’t quite capture the complexity of a community. It simply puts the publisher in one corner and the user in the other, neglecting to recognise the shades of grey inbetween. The other day I linked up with internet entrepreneurs Jon Sumroy (former and Stephen Marks (former Olive Software), and discussions with them helped crystallise my thoughts around this.

Content on the web comes in different guises. Here are some of them:

  • PGC or Professional Generated Content — it’s what the trained professional such as a journalist, doctor or lawyer writes. He or she subscribes to some code of ethics or professional code governing his or her writing, and its generally their vocation. This content is subject to strict gatekeeping processes.
  • EGC or Expert Generated Content — this is content from a user able to publish expert commentary and first class writing. This kind of user is often given more of a spotlight on the site, and is usually part of the editorial gatekeeping process, passing through the site’s editors. Many sites fail to identify and recognise their expert users — and miss this opportunity. A crude equivalent to this would be a “by invitation” column. A more sophisticated application of this would be the Thought Leader site.
  • CGC or Computer Generated Content — this may not be what you think it is. It involves publishers automatically creating new content pages via aggregating their content via tags and creating niche content pages. It usually involves automatically pulling content, based on tag relationships, out of archives or from other sites to create new aggregation pages/portals/indexes.

Comments (2)

  1. Mattintouch wrote::

    Hi Matthew,

    Very interesting post.

    When we use ‘Generated’ that means ‘created’ (at least according to wikiedia!), it’s quite different from testimonies, as for Journalists or Citizen reports?

    As journalists don’t ‘create” but “report”, shouldn’t we have also a term for User Reported Content (URC)?



    Monday, November 10, 2008 at 12:17 pm #
  2. Marc wrote::

    Howzit Matthew.

    I think you’ve hit on something here that I meant to blog about… The value of high profile contributors / bloggers.

    As we share a common employer, you’ll know that on Fin24, a lot of return traffic is generated by the ‘high profile’ columnists.

    As much as ‘journos’ take a lot of grief for being bottom of the food chain, their role is becoming increasingly important in generating the best possible content that differentiates your site from somebody elses…

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 6:13 am #