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User-generated content (UGC), alternatively known as user-created content (UCC), is any form of content created by users of a system or service and made available publicly on that system. UGC most often appears as supplements to online platforms, such as social media websites, and may include such content types as blog posts, wikis, videos, comments or ecommerce.
The term "user-generated content" and concept it refers to entered mainstream usage in the mid-2000s, having arisen in web publishing and new media content production circles. The BBC adopted a user-generated content platform for its websites in 2005, and TIME Magazine named "You" as the Person of the Year in 2006, referring to the rise in the production of UGC on Web 2.0 platforms.
User-generated content is used for a wide range of applications, including problem processing, news, entertainment, advertising, gossip and research. It is an example of the democratization of content production; whereas during the 1970s and 1980s, traditional "gatekeepers" such as newspaper editors, publishers and news shows approved all content and information before it was aired or published, in the 1990s and 2000s, as media production through new technologies has become more accessible, user friendly and affordable to the general public, large numbers of individuals are able to post text, digital photos and digital videos online, with little or no "gatekeepers" or filters.
- 1 Definition
- 2 Media pluralism
- 3 History
- 4 Motivation for creating UGC
- 5 Ranking and assessment
- 6 Types
- 7 Effect on journalism
- 8 Use in marketing
- 9 Opportunities
- 10 Criticism
- 11 Legal problems
- 12 Research
- 13 See also
- 14 Sources
- 15 References
- 16 External links
The advent of user-generated content marked a shift among media organizations from creating online content to providing facilities for amateurs to publish their own content. User-generated content has also been characterized as citizen media as opposed to the 'packaged goods media' of the past century. Citizen Media is audience-generated feedback and news coverage. People give their reviews and share stories in the form of user-generated and user-uploaded audio and user-generated video. The former is a two-way process in contrast to the one-way distribution of the latter. Conversational or two-way media is a key characteristic of so-called Web 2.0 which encourages the publishing of one's own content and commenting on other people's content.
The role of the passive audience therefore has shifted since the birth of New Media, and an ever-growing number of participatory users are taking advantage of the interactive opportunities, especially on the Internet to create independent content. Grassroots experimentation then generated an innovation in sounds, artists, techniques and associations with audiences which then are being used in mainstream media. The active, participatory and creative audience is prevailing today with relatively accessible media, tools and applications, and its culture is in turn affecting mass media corporations and global audiences.
- Publication requirement: While UGC could be made by a user and never published online or elsewhere, we focus here on the work that is published in some context, be it on a publicly accessible website or on a page on a social networking site only accessible to a select group of people (e.g., fellow university students). This is a useful way to exclude email, two-way instant messages and the like.
- Creative effort: Creative effort was put into creating the work or adapting existing works to construct a new one; i.e. users must add their own value to the work. UGC often also has a collaborative element to it, as is the case with websites which users can edit collaboratively. For example, merely copying a portion of a television show and posting it to an online video website (an activity frequently seen on the UGC sites) would not be considered UGC. If a user uploads his/her photographs, however, expresses his/her thoughts in a blog, or creates a new music video, this could be considered UGC. Yet the minimum amount of creative effort is hard to define and depends on the context.
- Creation outside of professional routines and practices: User-generated content is generally created outside of professional routines and practices. It often does not have an institutional or a commercial market context. In extreme cases, UGC may be produced by non-professionals without the expectation of profit or remuneration. Motivating factors include: connecting with peers, achieving a certain level of fame, notoriety, or prestige, and the desire to express oneself.
It is important to have an objective before attempting to become part of the UGC/social networking environment. For example, companies may ask users to post their reviews directly to their Facebook page. This could end up disastrous if a user makes a comment that steers people away from the product.
Mere copy & paste or hyperlinking could also be seen as user-generated self-expression. The action of linking to a work or copying a work could in itself motivate the creator, express the taste of the person linking or copying. Digg.com, StumbleUpon.com, and leaptag.com are good examples of where such linkage to work happens. The culmination of such linkages could very well identify the tastes of a person in the community and make that person unique.
According to Cisco Systems, in 2016 an average of 96,000 petabytes was transferred monthly over the Internet, more than twice as many as in 2012. In 2016, the number of active websites surpassed 1 billion, up from approximately 700 million in 2012. This means the content we currently have access too is more diverse than ever before.
Reaching two billion daily active users in June 2017, Facebook has emerged as the most popular social media platform globally. Other social media platforms are also dominant at the regional level such as: Twitter in Japan, Naver in the Republic of Korea, Instagram (owned by Facebook) and LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft) in Africa, VKontakte (VK) and Odnoklassniki in Russia and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, WeChat and QQ in China.
However, a concentration phenomenon is occurring globally giving the dominance to a few online platforms that become popular for some unique features they provide, most commonly for the added privacy they offer users through disappearing messages or end-to-end encryption (e.g. WhatsApp, Snapchat, Signal, and Telegram), but they have tended to occupy niches and to facilitate the exchanges of information that remain rather invisible to larger audiences.
Production of freely accessible information has been increasing since 2012. In January 2017, Wikipedia had more than 43 million articles, almost twice as many as in January 2012. This corresponded to a progressive diversification of content and increase in contributions in languages other than English. In 2017, less than 12 per cent of Wikipedia content was in English, down from 18 per cent in 2012. Graham, Straumann, and Hogan say that increase in the availability and diversity of content has not radically changed the structures and processes for the production of knowledge. For example, while content on Africa has dramatically increased, a significant portion of this content has continued to be produced by contributors operating from North America and Europe, rather than from Africa itself.
It should be remembered that the massive, multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary was exclusively written by user generated content. In 1857, Richard Chenevix Trench of the London Philological Society sought public contributions from throughout the English-speaking world for the creation of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. As Simon Winchester recounts:
"So what we're going to do, if I have your agreement that we're going to produce such a dictionary, is that we're going to send out invitations, were going to send these invitations to every library, every school, every university, every book shop that we can identify throughout the English-speaking world... everywhere where English is spoken or read with any degree of enthusiasm, people will be invited to contribute words. And the point is, the way they do it, the way they will be asked and instructed to do it, is to read voraciously and whenever they see a word, whether it's a preposition or a sesquipedalian monster, they are to... if it interests them and if where they read it, they see it in a sentence that illustrates the way that that word is used, offers the meaning of the day to that word, then they are to write it on a slip of paper... the top left-hand side you write the word, the chosen word, the catch word, which in this case is 'twilight'. Then the quotation, the quotation illustrates the meaning of the word. And underneath it, the citation, were it came from, whether it was printed or whether it was in manuscript... and then the reference, the volume, the page and so on... and send these slips of paper, these slips are the key to the making of this dictionary, in to the headquarters of the dictionary."
In the following decades, hundreds of thousands of contributions were sent to the editors.
In the 1990s several electronic bulletin board systems were based on user-generated content. Some of these systems have been converted into websites, including the film information site IMDb which started as rec.arts.movies in 1990. With the growth of the World Wide Web the focus moved to websites, several of which were based on user-generated content, including Wikipedia (2001) and Flickr (2004).
The BBC set up a user generated content team as a pilot in April 2005 with 3 staff. In the wake of the 7 July 2005 London bombings and the Buncefield oil depot fire, the team was made permanent and was expanded, reflecting the arrival in the mainstream of the citizen journalist. After the Buncefield disaster the BBC received over 5,000 photos from viewers. The BBC does not normally pay for content generated by its viewers.
In 2006 CNN launched CNN iReport, a project designed to bring user generated news content to CNN. Its rival Fox News Channel launched its project to bring in user-generated news, similarly titled "uReport". This was typical of major television news organisations in 2005–2006, who realised, particularly in the wake of the London 7 July bombings, that citizen journalism could now become a significant part of broadcast news. Sky News, for example, regularly solicits for photographs and video from its viewers.
User-generated content was featured in Time magazine's 2006 Person of the Year, in which the person of the year was "you", meaning all of the people who contribute to user generated media such as YouTube and Wikipedia. A precursor to user-generated content uploaded on YouTube was America's Funniest Home Videos.
Motivation for creating UGC
While the benefit derived from user generated content for the content host is clear, the benefit to the contributor is less direct. There are various theories behind the motivation for contributing user generated content, ranging from altruistic, to social, to materialistic. Due to the high value of user generated content, many sites use incentives to encourage their generation. These incentives can be generally categorized into implicit incentives and explicit incentives.
- Implicit incentives: These incentives are not based on anything tangible. Social incentives are the most common form of implicit incentives. These incentives allow the user to feel good as an active member of the community. These can include relationship between users, such as Facebook's friends, or Twitter's followers. Social incentives also include the ability to connect users with others, as seen on the sites already mentioned as well as sites like YouTube, which allow users to share media from their lives with others. Users also share the experiences that they have while using a particular product/service. This will improve the customer experience as they can make informed decisions in buying a product, which makes them smart buyers. Other common social incentives are status, badges or levels within the site, something a user earns when they reach a certain level of participation which may or may not come with additional privileges. Yahoo! Answers is an example of this type of social incentive. Social incentives cost the host site very little and can catalyze vital growth; however, their very nature requires a sizable existing community before it can function.
- Explicit incentives: These incentives refer to tangible rewards. Examples include financial payment, entry into a contest, a voucher, a coupon, or frequent traveler miles. Direct explicit incentives are easily understandable by most and have immediate value regardless of the community size; sites such as the Canadian shopping platform Wishabi and Amazon Mechanical Turk both use this type of financial incentive in slightly different ways to encourage user participation. The drawback to explicit incentives is that they may cause the user to be subject to the over justification effect, eventually believing the only reason for the participating is for the explicit incentive. This reduces the influence of the other form of social or altruistic motivation, making it increasingly costly for the content host to retain long-term contributors.
Ranking and assessment
The distribution of UGC across the Web provides a high volume data source that is accessible for analysis, and offers utility in enhancing the experiences of end users. Social science research can benefit from having access to the opinions of a population of users, and use this data to make inferences about their traits. Applications in information technology seek to mine end user data to support and improve machine-based processes, such as information retrieval and recommendation. However, processing the high volumes of data offered by UGC necessitate the ability to automatically sort and filter these data points according to their value.
Determining the value of user contributions for assessment and ranking can be difficult due to the variation in the quality and structure of this data. The quality and structure of the data provided by UGC is application-dependent, and can include items such as tags, reviews, or comments that may or may not be accompanied by useful metadata. Additionally, the value of this data depends on the specific task for which it will be utilized and the available features of the application domain. Value can ultimately be defined and assessed according to whether the application will provide service to a crowd of humans, a single end user, or a platform designer.
The variation of data and specificity of value has resulted in various approaches and methods for assessing and ranking UGC. The performance of each method essentially depends on the features and metrics that are available for analysis. Consequently, it is critical to have an understanding of the task objective and its relation to how the data is collected, structured, and represented in order to choose the most appropriate approach to utilizing it. The methods of assessment and ranking can be categorized into two classes: human-centered and machine-centered. Methods emphasizing human-centered utility consider the ranking and assessment problem in terms of the users and their interactions with the system, whereas the machine-centered method considers the problem in terms of machine learning and computation. The various methods of assessment and ranking can be classified into one of four approaches: community-based, user-based, designer-based, and hybrid.
- Community-based approaches rely on establishing ground truth based on the wisdom of the crowd regarding the content of interest. The assessments provided by the community of end users is utilized to directly rank content within the system in human-centered methods. The machine-centered method applies these community judgments in training algorithms to automatically assess and rank UGC.
- User-based approaches emphasize the differences between individual users so that ranking and assessment can interactively adapt or be personalized given the particular requirements of each user. The human-centered approach accentuates interactive interfaces where the user can define and redefine their preferences as their interests shift. On the other hand, machine-centered approaches model the individual user according to explicit and implicit knowledge that is gathered through system interactions.
- Designer-based approaches primarily use machine-centered methods to essentially maximize the diversity of content presented to users in order to avoid constraining the space of topic selections or perspectives. The diversity of content can be assessed with respect to various dimensions, such as authorship, topics, sentiments, and named entities.
- Hybrid approaches seek to combine methods from the various frameworks in order to develop a more robust approach for assessing and ranking UGC. Approaches are most often combined in one of two ways: the crowd-based approach is often used to identify hyperlocal content for a user-based approach, or a user-based approach is used to maintain the intent of a designer-based approach.
There are many types of user-generated content: Internet forums, where people talk about different topics; blogs are services where users can post about many topics, product reviews on a supplier website or in social media; wikis such as Wikipedia and Wikia allow users, sometimes including anonymous users, to edit the content. Another type of user-generated content are social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or VK, where users interact with other people chatting, writing messages, or posting images or links. Media hosting sites such as YouTube allow users to post content.
Entertainment media publications include Reddit, 9Gag, 4chan, Upworthy, Inbound.org, and Distractify. Sites like 9Gag allow users to create memes and quick video clips. Sites like Tech in Asia and Buzzfeed engage readers with professional communities by posting articles with user-generated comment sections. Other types of this content are fanfiction like FanFiction.Net, imageboards; various works of art, as with deviantArt and Newgrounds; mobile photos and video sharing sites such as Picasa and Flickr; customer review sites; audio social networks such as SoundCloud; crowd funding, like Kickstarter; or crowdsourcing. Some forms of user-generated content can be considered as a form of citizen journalism.
The travel industry, in particular, has begun utilizing UGC throughout their websites to show authentic traveler experiences. The Millennial and Gen Z adventure tour company Busabout has recently relaunched their website, featuring UGC in 99% of images and creating an interactive map visualization of the best social content their customers post in real time – leading to 39% increase in average time on site and a 9% increase in UK bookings.
Yelp is another example that provides a lot of user generated content on local businesses. According to their website they have a monthly average of 27 million unique users. As of Q4 2017 they have over 148 million reviews.
Video games can have fan-made content in the form of mods, fan patches, fan translations or server emulators. Some games come with level editor programs to aid in their creation. A few massively multiplayer online role-playing games including Star Trek Online and EverQuest 2 have UGC systems integrated into the game itself. A metaverse can be a user-generated world, such as Second Life.
A popular use of UGC involves collaboration between a brand and a user. For example, the "Elf Yourself" videos by Jib Jab that come back every year around Christmas. The Jib Jab website lets people use their photos of friends and family that they have uploaded to make a holiday video to share across the internet. You cut and paste the faces of the people in the pictures to animated dancing elves.
Some brands are also using UGC images to boost the performance of their paid social ads. For example, Toyota leveraged UGC for their "Feeling the Streets" Facebook ad campaign and were able to increase their total ad engagement by 440%.
Some bargain hunting websites feature user-generated content, such as eBay, Dealsplus, and FatWallet which allow users to post, discuss, and control which bargains get promoted within the community. Because of the dependency of social interaction, these sites fall into the category of social commerce.
Wikipedia, a free encyclopedia, is one of the largest user-generated content databases in the world. Platforms such as YouTube have frequently been used as an instructional aide. Organizations such as the Khan Academy and the Green brothers have used the platform to upload series of videos on topics such as math, science, and history to help aid viewers master or better understand the basics. Educational podcasts have also helped in teaching through an audio platform. Personal websites and messaging systems like Yahoo Messenger have also been used to transmit user-generated educational content. There have also been web forums where users give advice to each other.
Students can also manipulate digital images or video clips to their advantage and tag them with easy to find keywords then share them to friends and family worldwide. The category of "student performance content" has risen in the form of discussion boards and chat logs. Students could write reflective journals and diaries that may help others. The websites SparkNotes and Shmoop are both used to summarize and analyze books so that they are more accessible to the reader.
Photo sharing websites: Flickr is a site in which users are able to upload personal photos they have taken and label them in regards to their "motivation".:46 Flickr not only hosts images but makes them publicly available for reuse and reuse with modification.:35
Effect on journalism
The incorporation of user-generated content into mainstream journalism outlets is considered to have begun in 2005 with the BBC's creation of a user-generated content team, which was expanded and made permanent in the wake of the July 7, 2005 London bombings. The incorporation of Web 2.0 technologies into news websites allowed user-generated content online to move from more social platforms such as MySpace, LiveJournal, and personal blogs, into the mainstream of online journalism, in the form of comments on news articles written by professional journalists, but also through surveys, content sharing, and other forms of citizen journalism.
Since the mid-2000s, journalists and publishers have had to consider the effects that user-generated content has had on how news gets published, read, and shared. A 2016 study on publisher business models suggests that readers of online news sources value articles written both by professional journalists, as well as users—provided that those users are experts in a field relevant to the content that they create. In response to this, it is suggested that online news sites must consider themselves not only a source for articles and other types of journalism, but also a platform for engagement and feedback from their communities. The ongoing engagement with a news site that is possible due to the interactive nature of user-generated content is considered a source of sustainable revenue for publishers of online journalism going forward.
Use in marketing
The use of user-generated content has been prominent in the efforts of marketing online, especially among millennials. A good reason for this may be that 86% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they support, and 60% believe user-generated content is not only the most authentic form of content, but also the most influential when making purchasing decisions.
An increasing number of companies have been employing UGC techniques into their marketing efforts, such as Starbucks with their "White Cup Contest" campaign where customers competed to create the best doodle on their cups.
The effectiveness of UGC in marketing has been shown to be significant as well. For instance, the "Share a Coke" by Coca-Cola campaign in which customers uploaded images of themselves with bottles to social media attributed to a two percent increase in revenue. Of millennials, UGC can influence purchase decisions up to fifty-nine percent of the time, and eighty-four percent say that UGC on company websites has at least some influence on what they buy, typically in a positive way. As a whole, consumers place peer recommendations and reviews above those of professionals.
User-generated content used in a marketing context has been known to help brands in numerous ways.
- It encourages more engagement with its users, and doubles the likeliness that the content will be shared.
- It builds trust with consumers. With a majority of consumers trusting UGC over brand provided information, UGC can allow for better brand-consumer relationships.
- It provides SEO Value for brands. This in turn means more traffic is driven to the brands websites and that more content is linked back to the website.
- It reassures purchase decisions which will keep customers shopping. With UGC, the conversion rate increases by as much as 4.6%.
- It increases follower count on various social media platforms.
There are many opportunities in user generated content. The advantages of UGC is it is a quick, easy way to reach to the masses. Here are some examples:
- The companies could use social media for branding, and set up contests for the audience to submit their own creations.
- The consumers and general audience members like to engage. Some have used a storytelling platform to both share and converse with others.
- To raise awareness, whether it be for an organization, company, or event.
- Gain perspectives from members that one wouldn't otherwise get to engage with.
- Personalization of the content put out; 71% of consumers like personalized ads.
- E-WOM (electronic word of mouth) will spread quickly and efficiently with social media. 
The term "user-generated content" has received some criticism. The criticism to date has addressed issues of fairness, quality, privacy, the sustainable availability of creative work and effort among legal issues namely related to intellectual property rights such as copyrights etc.
Some commentators assert that the term "user" implies an illusory or unproductive distinction between different kinds of "publishers", with the term "users" exclusively used to characterize publishers who operate on a much smaller scale than traditional mass-media outlets or who operate for free. Such classification is said to perpetuate an unfair distinction that some argue is diminishing because of the prevalence and affordability of the means of production and publication. A better response[according to whom?] might be to offer optional expressions that better capture the spirit and nature of such work, such as EGC, Entrepreneurial Generated Content (see external reference below).
Sometimes creative works made by individuals are lost because there are limited or no ways to precisely preserve creations when a UGC Web site service closes down. One example of such loss is the closing of the Disney massively multiplayer online game "VMK". VMK, like most games, has items that are traded from user to user. Many of these items are rare within the game. Users are able to use these items to create their own rooms, avatars and pin lanyard. This site shut down at 10 pm CDT on 21 May 2008. There are ways to preserve the essence, if not the entirety of such work through the users copying text and media to applications on their personal computers or recording live action or animated scenes using screen capture software, and then uploading elsewhere. Long before the Web, creative works were simply lost or went out of publication and disappeared from history unless individuals found ways to keep them in personal collections.
Another criticized aspect is the vast array of user-generated product and service reviews that can at times be misleading for consumer on the web. A study conducted at Cornell University found that an estimated 1 to 6 percent of positive user-generated online hotel reviews are fake.
Another concern of platforms that rely heavily on user generated content, such as Twitter and Facebook, is how easy it is to find people who holds the same opinions and interests in addition to how well they facilitate the creation of networks or closed groups. While the strength of these services are that users can broaden their horizon by sharing their knowledge and connect with other people from around the world, these platforms also make it very easy to connect with only a restricted sample of people who holds similar opinions (see Filter bubble).
The ability for services to accept user-generated content opens up a number of legal concerns, from the more broader sense to specific local laws. In general, knowing who committed the online crime is difficult because many use pseudonyms or remain anonymous. Sometimes it can be traced back. But in the case of a public coffee shop, they have no way of pinpointing the exact user. There is also a problem with the issues surrounding extremely harmful but not legal acts. For example, the posting of content that instigates a person's suicide. It is a criminal offense if there is proof of "beyond reasonable doubt" but different situations may produce different outcomes. Depending on the country, there is certain laws that come with the Web 2.0. In the United States, the "Section 230" exemptions of the Communications Decency Act state that "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." This clause effectively provides a general immunity for websites that host user-generated content that is defamatory, deceptive or otherwise harmful, even if the operator knows that the third-party content is harmful and refuses to take it down. An exception to this general rule may exist if a website promises to take down the content and then fails to do so.
Copyright laws also play a factor in relation to user-generated content, as users may use such services to upload works—particularly videos—that they do not have the sufficient rights to distribute. In many cases, the use of these materials may be covered by local "fair use" laws, especially if the use of the material submitted is transformative. Local laws also vary on who is liable for any resulting copyright infringements caused by user-generated content; in the United States, the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA)—a portion of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), dictates safe harbor provisions for "online service providers" as defined under the act, which grants immunity from secondary liability for the copyright-infringing actions of its users. However, to qualify for the safe harbors, the service must promptly remove access to alleged infringing materials upon the receipt of a notice from a copyright holder or registered agent, and the service provider must not have actual knowledge that their service is being used for infringing activities. The DMCA has a section 512. It states that the service provider will not be liable if they do not have knowledge that the service is infringing but once they do they must remove it. This helps ISPs avoid the copyright that the users make. Youtube was a part of a billion dollar lawsuit in which Viacom sued them for stealing videos and gaining views. Youtube used the safe harbor and fair use in defense. In the UK, the Defamation Act of 1996 says that if a person is not the author, editor or publisher and did not know about the situation, they are not convicted. Furthermore, ISPs are not considered authors, editors, or publishers and they cannot have responsibility for people they have no "effective control" over. Just like the DMCA, once the ISP learns about the content, they must delete it immediately. The European Union's approach is horizontal by nature, which means that civil and criminal liability issues are addressed under the Electronic Commerce Directive. Section 4 deals with liability of the ISP while conducting "mere conduit" services, caching and web hosting services.
A study on YouTube analyzing one of the Video On Demand systems was conducted in 2007. The length of the video had decreased by two-fold from the non-UGC content but they saw a fast production rate. The user behavior is what perpetuates the UGC. The act of P2P (Peer-to-Peer) was studied and saw a great benefit to the system. They also studied the impact of content aliasing, sharing of multiple copies, and illegal uploads.
A study from York University in Ontario in 2012 conducted a research that resulted in a proposed framework for comparing brand-related UGC and to understand how the strategy used by a company could influence the brand sentiment across different social media channels. A study by Dhar and Chang, published in 2007, found that the volume of blogs posted on a music album was positively correlated with future sales of that album.
- Carr-Benkler wager
- Cognitive Surplus
- Collective intelligence
- Communal marketing
- Consumer generated marketing
- Creative Commons
- Customer engagement
- Fan art
- Fan fiction
- Networked information economy
- Participatory design
- Participatory culture
- User innovation
- User-generated TV
- Web 2.0
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