In the last post I looked at some of the drivers of UGC activity – motivations, that is, on the user side of things. My question was fairly straightforward: given that hardly anyone is making any money out of this*, why are quite so many people getting involved? Here’s the second batch of drivers we’ve been thinking about.

Self image
We talked last week about social capital. Self-image is closely related to this, of course, and in an inherently public space like the world of UGC, any kind of image is formed in the context of others’ attention. However, I think it is worth noting that for some creators, UGC activity is a kind of mirror, a way of reflecting back to ourselves who we are.

At the “low-engagement” end of things, image is all about projection (think of that perennial observation from social media naysayers that it’s all about “what people ate for breakfast”). But once creative acts are more involved, more, well, creative, they all take on at least some degree of self image-building. Of course, the act of publication comes from other impulses altogether; and in any case, creativity as a function of self image is hardly unique to the age of technology. But as the availability of tools has grown exponentially, so too has the ability to respond to this very human need.

It also relates very closely to…

Personal development
Back in the spring of 2008 I first wrote (on my personal blog, DGMFS) about the phenomenon of teenage “shred” guitar players posting clips of themselves on YouTube; here’s what I had to say at the time:

“I’ve been very taken recently with the overwhelming amount of bedroom shred/metal guitar playing posted on You Tube [sic]. Now of course, there’s some narcissism at work here, but at its best you get a sense of a real dialogue between musicians trying to nail a new lick, solo, rhythm part or indeed whole song. Here are a few random examples; I’ve taken Meshuggah and Meshuggah’s genius guitarist-composer Frederik Thordendal as a cue. With all of them, check out out the comments thread.

Now I admit that on one level this is just a bunch of musicians helping each other on, and using the web to do it. But check that last clip. That’s the opening track from an album that’s been out for less than a month! There’s that speed of transmission again. This is, I believe, a paradigm shift; something truly tectonic is afoot here, and I love it.”

I’ve written about the whole scene in more depth since, and indeed used these examples when talking to clients in the arts sector, but my initial thoughts stand. Let’s summarise the whole process a little less hyperbolically:

  • Around the world, young guitar players are posting videos of themselves playing along with extremely difficult music** on YouTube.
  • Other guitar players then critique them in the comments. (Actually, the word “critique” feels a little refined for most of the comments, but that’s what it is.)

That’s it. So what’s this got to do with development or self-improvement? Isn’t this just about showing off? Well, yes, it is. But it’s that “critique” which is crucial here. The world of YouTube isn’t just public, it’s feral. Think Lord of the Flies. But as blunt-going-on-bilious as the comments are, they are, effectively, real-time feedback, and from peers. No music student in history has had this level of feedback, and it shows: the speed with which young musicians develop in this environment is astonishing.

Now I’ve picked an area where the incentive to develop is a pretty crude one (and an area, for the record, which I personally love), but the template works for countless areas of creative endeavour. Publishing one’s work thorough UGC channels instantly exposes it to public feedback, crucially, again, from peers. If that response is channeled constructively by the creator it is an invaluable tool in developing his or her craft.

Later this week, in our final look at the drivers of UGC, we’ll be looking at career development and tools.


* As we discussed here.
** Yes, yes, to the uninitiated it sounds like an incoherent racket, but trust me on this.