The myth of user generated content?

Posted March 28th, 2007 by Paul Ayres

A post from Jane Secker reporting on a session at the LILAC 2007 conference in Manchester, showed that library and information professionals would like to see the Virtual Training Suite feature more user generated content. I hope to catch up with my colleagues who were at the session soon and find out what delegates specifically mean by user generated content.

Is user generated content all its cracked up to be? And is there much of it out there, that is educational? Wikipedia is often cited as the doyenne of user generated content, but people may not be using it for entirely scholarly purposes, which may drive others towards the newly founded Citizendium instead. And over 70% of the content is produced by just a few hundred people, despite Wikipedia’s global user base of millions and hundreds of thousands of registered users.

These figures should not come as a surprise, as they fit in with longer term trends about online participation stretching back to the use of discussion boards and other systems, as pointed out by Jakob Nielsen. Or to put them in a truly up-to-date context, the Freakonomics blogger Stephen J. Dubner recently explored the issue of blog comments and stated that the ratio of readers to commenters was gigiantic.

Perhaps the reality behind the user generated content hype is that most of us prefer to watch, rather than take part and that the lesson of everything 2.0 is not the current proliferation of blogs, wikis and social networking sites, but that users have collectively realised that they want to be able to edit, annotate, remix and create content themselves and not just be passive receivers of information.

But in the meantime, it’s worth pointing out that the Virtual Training Suite already features a fair slice of what is “traditionally” referred to as Web 2.0 or user generated content – we feature academic blogs, have reviews of various podcasts and have even tracked down a few uses of wikis by the Higher Education community.

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