Direct the Net: Creating User-Generated Content to Win the Dog Race

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In the last piece I wrote for ADOTAS, I identified user-generated content as a key part of what I termed ‘The New Creativity’. So here are six entirely subjective points about what is rapidly becoming the possibly most over-used buzzphrase of the moment (147 million results when Googled) despite describing something that’s been around a lot longer than the phrase itself.

1. MOST USER-GENERATED CONTENT IS REALLY, REALLY BAD.

A quick cruise around any of the main UGC hotspots, MySpace being the obvious one, will ram this particular fact home. (I’m distinguishing here from the user-generated content that’s really, really bad in a whole different sense — the kind that’s available in all those triple-X-rated corners of the net that we won’t be discussing here. Like I said, it’s been around a lot longer than the descriptor.)

2. BUT THE GREAT THING ABOUT THE INTERNET IS THAT IT CAN ACTUALLY HELP YOU TO MAKE IT REALLY, REALLY GOOD.

The democratization of creativity online and the formation of social networks that encourage it (particularly because creative self-expression is a key part of establishing an online identity that projects you in an appealing and interesting light), has resulted not only in communities of users creating their own content, but experts within those communities only too happy to proffer their expertise to help improve it.

Whether that improvement is empowerment of the originator (craft skills advisory) or subsequent enhancement by others (open source/morphing), it demonstrates that things can only get better and that there are always resources available to make that the case. For example, UK TV network Channel 4 runs a scheme soliciting four-minute documentaries from members of the public, who can reference documentary filmmaking guides on the website at www.channel4.com/fourdocs/. They can then submit their documentaries to a Channel 4 commissioning editor — which brings me to my next point.

3. IT CAN EVEN HELP YOU MAKE IT, FULL STOP.

I may have sounded overly harsh in point 1 above. Make no mistake, what I love about user generated content is its ability to inspire and uncover creativity in people who might never have realized what powers of visualization, storytelling, comedy or scripting lay within them, without inspiration clearly visible in front of and all around them, to do what so many other people are doing and to do what can now be done so relatively easily.

And not only does it bring out the creative in everyone, it has the ability to showcase talent, generate a significant buzz in the public domain and thereby bring it to the attention of the right talent-brokers, in a way that was never previously possible. David Lehre of ‘MySpace The Movie’ (www.youtube.com) has a Hollywood deal off the back of his short movie parody.

In the offline world, ‘On the Lot’, the just-announced new reality show that Fox has commissioned from Mark Burnett, will put a bunch of aspiring film-makers through their paces with the aim of enabling one lucky winner to work on a movie with Steven Spielberg. There are now whole new pathways to ‘getting discovered’ and making your dreams happen that were available as options before — which is why I (not altogether unseriously) termed user generated content the ‘casting couch of the future’ in the title of this piece.

So to some extent it was inevitable that user generated content should be the latest approach to trade on the fact that…

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