Archives for posts with tag: youtube

Yep, I know, a bit quiet here again, but we’ve been super busy organising this autumn’s run of Angel Academe Studio Events – and all that goes with them – and we’ll be reporting back on some of that activity I’m sure.

Anyhow, I wanted to have a little bit of a rant about streaming music, as a couple of bits of recent news have caught my eye. (It’s a bit of a long rant at that, so I’m going to break it up into some shorter posts which I’ll put up over the next few days.)

Anyone who’s been reading me on here or over on my own DGMFS blog will pretty much know my position on the streaming debate.  It certainly makes me smile wryly when I read Bob Lefsetz talking triumphantly about the triumph of streaming. Not that he’s wrong – in fact he’s dead right – it’s just that I’ve been convinced this is the case since going on the DTI Digital Music Mission to the US West Coast back in 2001.

That was quite a moment, looking back. The DTI (now BIS) took over about a dozen of us with various involvements of digital representing radio, the record industry, music practitioners, academia and so on. (I was, at that point, the BBC’s Head of Music Online.) Now remember: this was 2001.  It was years before the iPhone or iPad, the iPod had only just launched, the iTunes store was years away, as was Spotify. Furthermore, despite the advert of Napster, the record industry had only just (slowly) begun its decline, and that was from the astonishing peak at the end of the 90s (financially rather than creativity, of course).  Oh, and the dotcom crash was raging.

And yet, and yet… it was obvious to me at that point that in many ways the game was up. Moreover, it was equally apparent that while downloads were the future, they were a short-term future. Once ubiquitous, mobile broadband was a reality, then no-one would need to download anything – you’d simply stream it.

But surely, people would ask, consumers would want to own what they bought? Well, yes, if what they bought was a physical thing – but not if it was intangible data. Why would they? And I said (and still say) this as a man whose walls groan under the weight books, LPs and CDs (and who got rid of his VHS and cassette collection more or less at gunpoint). I simply didn’t buy then, and buy even less now, the idea that, given the choice of access to music on a rental basis, consumers would elect to buy downloads.

Now of course the decade plus since has given us the iTunes store and Amazon’s digital marketplace and, yes, the iPad, the iPhone, the Kindle. And so a lot of people have paid an awful lot of money to download digital content. Some have suggested I should eat my words, but I’ve stuck to my guns on this, and I think I’ve been proved right.

Oh there are still some big issues here. Certainly in the UK, ubiquitous high bandwidth mobile connectivity remains, well let’s say it’s an aspiration.  And frankly any compressed audio files are, once you “tune in”, something of a sonic travesty. But these are tech issues which will be overcome: ISPs and MSPs, somehow, will sort their shit out, and streaming lossless is, I’m assured, around the corner.

So the real issues, the real stumbling blocks, will remain around business and legal frameworks. And that’s where the various bits of news I discussed come in. So over the next few posts I’ll be discussing Frank Zappa, Ministry of Sound, Thom Yorke and, of course, Spotify. And jazz backing tracks on YouTube. Betcha can’t wait.


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As part of my Content Industries Specialist role with the Creative Industries KTN I have, over the last few months, been sitting on the Data Building Blocks sub group of the Copyright Hub. It’s a phenomenally clever bunch of people, with decades’ worth of experience in the area of rights/assets/data across several industries, including music, AV, broadcast and book publishing. As the group’s strategic input into the main project shapes up I’m sure I’ll be reporting on it, but in the meantime I simply want to draw your attention to the very first iteration of the Copyright Hub, which launched last Monday.

Funnily enough, only this weekend, the acerbic and generally spot-on US music and tech blogger Bob Lefsetz made this observation, in a lengthy post entitled Changes in Our Lifetime:

Music… Was something you listened to, now it’s something you use. You add it to YouTube clips, you integrate it with your projects, it’s all done very easily but copyright law has still not caught up with today’s uses, nor has the music industry.

Well, the Copyright Hub has come about in response to that very situation; specifically, its institution was recommended by the 2011 Hargreaves Review of Copyright, which asked for the implementation of an “industry-led solution to improve copyright licensing”. And again, it’s the “long tail” of the kind of mash ups and music re-use Lefsetz talks about above which the Hub is principally there to deal with. Remember: this is a very long and potentially very lucrative tail indeed. As we cited in our recently-published Ofcom report into UGC, at the height of the Harlem Shake meme, over 4000 different versions were being uploaded to YouTube daily.

Of course, the Copyright Hub is there to deal with all media, not simply music. And I should point out that the Hub team are very clear that this launch iteration (a handsome site built by Lime Digital) is highly experimental and early-stage at this point. Further iterations will respond to the ways in which the public takes to this version, amongst other research and thinking – a responsive approach of which we highly approve at TH, of course!

It’s going to be fascinating to watch the proposition develop.


Here’s the final of our three posts looking at the potential value of user-generated content to the UK, taken from our research for Ofcom; we’ve looked at economic and social and political value, so now let’s take a look at its value in the arts and culture sectors.

Cultural value is always subjective, and nowhere more so than in the realm of UGC. For every tech Utopian espousing the creative/artistic/cultural importance of UGC there’s a naysayer. Andrew Keen is one the most prominent of these; he is, among other things, the author of The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the rest of today’s user-generated media are killing our culture and economy, a controversial jeremiad against user-generated culture (whose title rather gives away its position). We mention this here only to qualify any remarks we make about the value of UGC in the wider creative culture, that is to say, there are other angles on this. So instead of “taking sides”, instead we’ll look at some of the contributions UGC can make to roles and processes with the cultural industries. We’ll leave to one side whether the creative output is good or not.

Talent spotting

In 2012 a new orchestra performed at the Proms, the annual summer-long festival of classical music in London, widely held to be the world’s greatest classical music festival. They were the Aldeburgh World Orchestra, a 120-piece band conducted by the acclaimed Mark Elder. They played a notably difficult set of modern pieces by Stravinsky, Britten and Mahler as well as a new commission by Charlotte Bray. It was, by any standards, a remarkable concert, but what made it rather more so was that the orchestra comprised players from over 30 countries who had only come together for the first time just weeks before the Prom.

The project was run by Aldeburgh Music’s Britten-Pears young artist programme, who, over the course of 3 years auditioned musicians almost entirely through YouTube submissions. We are somewhere past skateboarding cats at this point. The whole project was undoubtedly a complex and expensive one, with both corporate and public sector partners, including the British Council. And when it came to some territories, traditional auditioning methods (that is, tapes) were resorted to; China was the most notable in this regard, home as it is to some of the most promising young classical players in the world – but without YouTube.

YouTube had in fact already been demonstrated as a classical music recruitment tool by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra project in 2011, but the Aldeburgh World Orchestra’s appearance at the Proms, at the heart of the high culture world, was a remarkable example of the power of UGC in talent spotting. It might be an outlier, but across the arts and media, adroit talent scouts are scouring blogs, fan fiction sites, and video- and audio-sharing services to source a new generation of artists and creatives.

Skills development

Skills development is the flip side of talent spotting – it’s how the talent gets developed in the first place. We’ve covered skills exchange and personal development at some length in the Drivers section, so won’t go over that territory again other than to reiterate our core observation here. Communities of interest around craft skills and creativity are providing an unprecedented level of access to information and experience for students in any creative pursuit. At the same time they supply a platform for demonstrating what a student has learned and a back channel for (often rather robust) feedback. It should hardly need saying that a hugely increased talent pool of creative practitioners is of inestimable value to the cultural industries, and to the very quality of creative practice itself.

Audience engagement

If the consumer-producer contract is changing as rapidly and as profoundly as this paper suggests, then so is the relationship between the cultural institution and its audiences. This applies as much to the commercial venue as it does to a funded one.

This has not necessarily come easily to cultural incumbents. For many institutions and companies, “digital” until very recently has been merely one wing of marketing; for some it remains that way. In this context it’s often hard to make a case for the encouragement of UGC. For instance, very few live arts venues host user reviews of their work. It’s not hard to see why; as one senior member of an opera company put it to us, “You try sitting down with a Diva and explaining why someone’s slagging her off on your site.”

Yet even caustic user reviews can drive sales of creative work. Amazon is the exemplar here. There’s no sense that the ecommerce company vets their user reviews editorially; public opinion is on display warts and all (just take a look at the user reviews of Andrew Keen’s book cited above). In traditional marketing terms this would be nonsensical; why list a product with negative reviews? What’s happening here, however, is a very different marketing paradigm, one in which we trust Amazon (whatever we think of it in other ways) as an honest broker. That it’s proved a successful strategy should hardly need pointing out. More orthodox cultural organisations have rather different operating models to Amazon, of course, but there is a great deal to be learned from the retail behemoth.

Beyond the user review/comment/post, cultural institutions are using the encouragement audio-visual UGC to build relationships with their audience, although once we’re into this realm the degree of guardianship can become onerous. Take the world of amateur film-making. Both the BBC and Channel 4 have, at different points, been involved in the showcasing of amateur shorts, the former notably with the BBC Film Network. Tellingly, the Channel 4 initiative lasted less than a year and the BBC’s has now been mothballed, that is, no submissions have been possible since 2012. The suspicion remains that these can be useful recruitment and talent spotting tools (see above) but are high-cost ways of engaging with the audience.

Yet other cultural organisations have taken arguably more radical approaches. The English National Opera’s highly ambitious Mini Operas project created a series of collaborative pieces on the basis of submission of written scripts, music (via SoundCloud) and video (via Vimeo) bringing together hopefuls in a series of different disciplines, and rewarding them with a year of mentoring. Of course, this kind of audience engagement programme takes money, and is certainly easier to justify within a publically-funded environment. Indeed, institutions such as the ENO receive finding partly on the basis of innovation in audience development. But Mini Operas points to new approaches even for this most conventional of art forms.

A final word: on participation vs consumption

We opened this section of cultural value by observing that any judgments in this area are highly subjective. So let’s end with a brief, highly subjective claim. Mass consumption of others’ creative work is a relatively new paradigm in the realm of creativity. Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in the 15th century is widely cited as the beginning of the mass media, but it’s what historian Paul Starr terms “The Rising of Technological Networks” in the mid 19th Century which provided the tipping point; the subsequent inventions of radio, phonography and television only served to deepen the degree to which massive audiences could be reached and entertained.

A curious thing happened in the years immediately after WWII, at least in the West: a public with more spare time on its hands than at any time in human history found itself with the technological means to consume thousands of hours of others’ creative endeavours year in, year out. Let’s be clear about this: this is unprecedented. When our grandparents (perhaps great-grandparent) claimed, We had to make our own entertainment, they weren’t lying.

We would argue that the new UGC paradigm is in many ways a return to a time of making our own entertainment. Of course, it is on an unimaginably different scale, with entirely new opportunities to learn, collaborate, communicate, promote. Is this a world of unbridled brilliance? Hardly. But here’s the thing. When UGC detractors make their case they always hold up the cultural greats and argue that rather than writing a post on Blogger or sticking a snap on Flickr, we’d all be better off watching Kubrick or Mad Men or reading Nabokov or listening to Miles Davis or… you get the picture. And yet: is that what we’ve been doing for the last 50 years, really?

In truth, we would argue that lives are immeasurably enriched by participation over passive consumption. Indeed, that practice in any discipline deepens our very appreciation of it as a consumer. And in this, we feel, lies the true cultural value UGC.


We’re working towards our second draft on our report to Ofcom, and have done a lot of thinking about the “value” of UGC to the UK. Of course, value is both subjective and variously defined, so for our purposes, we’ve divided it into economic, social/political and cultural value, with “cultural” meant in the sense of the so-called “cultural industries”. We’ll look at each area in three separate posts. This first looks at economic value, and essentially looks at some of the potential economic opportunities UGC offers us.

There is no question that the advent of UGC and its rapid spread in the last five years has led to the creation of new businesses and jobs in the UK. The Centre for London counted 3,200 “digital economy” companies with over 48,000 employees in the Tech City area of East London in June 2012, a significant number of whom are creating services or technology for some part of the UGC value chain, including Unruly Media, Soundcloud,, We Are Social, Editd, Conversocial, Apps For Good and Makie Lab.

Of course some of these new companies and jobs have displaced “old economy” jobs at incumbent firms whose business models have been adversely affected by digital disruption, part of the process of creative destruction if you like, although it is very difficult to quantify this.

Below we discuss the main areas of UGC activity that derive economic value and identify some of the beneficiaries.


This is almost certainly the largest area of financial impact in UGC activity. The truth about the “long tail” is that to build a truly successful long tail company you need to own if not all of it then at the very least a good chunk of it. This is of course obvious in the case of the major content distributors: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, Spotify… but it goes for UGC aggregators, too. There are thousands of bespoke UGC-hosting services, many of them highly innovative. And in aggregate those companies create significant economic value, but the tendency on the internet of one or two dominant players to emerge applies here.

The big hitters in the area are almost all US companies, of course: YouTube/Google, Foursquare, Vimeo, Facebook, Pinterest, twitter, tumblr and most of the major blogging platforms (WordPress, Typepad and so on). A significant exception here is SoundCloud, a German company headquartered in Berlin. It’s fair to say that while there is some great innovation happening in UGC aggregation in the UK (see our case study on MixCloud), no single UK UGC aggregator has yet emerged. However, the major players, including YouTube and SoundCloud recognise the UK as a major market (and for US companies a potential launchpad into Europe) and therefore maintain significant sales and marketing teams in the UK.

Furthermore, the London-headquartered famously sold for nearly $300 million to CBS in 2007 and remains based in London with over 50 employees and an annual turnover of £8 million. Although not a pure UGC play company, its core recommendations service is driven by the background “scrobbling” of music plays by users, it is home to a vibrant community and also allows the uploading of content by independent music makers. Nonetheless it’s worth remarking that Last’s sale and subsequent big expansion happened over six years ago, the service arguably remains a niche one, and it remains, no pun intended, the last significant UK player to emerge in the area.

Third party services

All UGC services by definition need to build an ecosystem – of technologies and users – to be meaningful. Furthermore, they tend to work best when they sit “inside” a larger ecosystem. Even an utterly dominant force like a Facebook or a twitter succeeds precisely because it is embedded everywhere (think of effectively ubiquitous Facebook “like” or “tweet this” buttons). The spread of these ecosystems has created a rich seam for third party services piggy-backing on the giants.

The UK poster child in this area was TweetDeck, originally a desktop-based client that later spawned mobile and tablet apps. Arguably, for many users, TweetDeck was the thing which first “made sense” of the twittersphere, or at any rate made it more navigable, and certainly more useful, with a multi-column functionality that allowed users to tweet from multiple accounts and sort the twitter “stream” into themes and groups. Additionally it allowed updating of Facebook statuses, thereby conjoining two massive elements of the social media ecosystem.

TweetDeck was founded by UK-based developer, Iain Dodsworth, in 2008. Initially a tool known only by the twitter hardcore, it was bought by twitter itself for a reputed £25 million in 2011. While this remains an edge case for UK developers, it’s hardly an outlier internationally, with the infamous sale of Instagram to Facebook for $1 billion unquestionably the most extreme example of a titan buying up a piggy-backer. Furthermore, even the most innovative large companies can become sclerotic at times, or at least “miss a trick”.

Finally, it’s worth highlighting those services that join up other services in some part of the UGC ecosystem. Bandcamp Scrobbler for instance, does “exactly what it says on the tin”, enabling users to “scrobble” plays from Bandcamp to their profile, significantly allowing user-generated or amateur music-makers to appear among their professional counterparts. This is, admittedly, just a question of smart development around published APIs, but it can be hugely valuable for both users and UGC practitioners. It can also drive development within the “host” service, too; both Spotify and Mixcloud only developed scrobbling functionality after third party developers had done so (and after a lot of lobbying on their message boards – as discussed elsewhere here).

There is, then, a huge economic opportunity for third party development across the UGC spectrum

Filtering, recommendation, navigation

We observe elsewhere in this paper that one of the negative consequences of the spread of UGC is a serious ramping up of “noise”. But there’s a real opportunity in here, too. Once again, as with the professional content arena, services which offer meaningful and reliable recommendation services around UGC, especially those which offer a degree of serendipity – hence ‘filtering out the noise’ – could prove to be really successful businesses. The most successful UGC aggregators of course offer targetted recommendations already, but these tend to use an existing array of methods based on a combination of algorithms, community/user base and some paid-for promotion (think YouTube or Vimeo).

It’s often noted that the UK has an arguably world-leading position in gate-keeping in the creative industries, through strong traditions in various kinds of cultural and political in a variety of media, especially print, radio and television. UGC has allowed new gatekeepers to come to the fore – most obviously with the advent the blog and later twitter – but it’s also created the need for yet more gate-keeping, albeit of a radically new kind. The harnessing of the UK’s vital critical tradition with the explosion of UGC activity surely offers a huge creative and financial opportunity.

Innovation and new business models

We discussed emerging business models at some length in the previous section, so won’t rehearse those arguments and observations here except to say there is no question that the advent of UGC is driving innovation in existing businesses, perhaps especially in the traditional content industries. Indeed, it may be that this innovation happens as businesses face massive disruption, even existential threat. In these extreme (but not necessarily rare) cases, innovation around UGC and its attendant business models may prove essential.


So here’s a final few thoughts in our series of posts about some of the motivations for people creating UGC. And this time, it’s (literally) personal. At least in parts.

Career building
Now I admit this is where we get to push right up to the boundary between user-generated content and plain old content. One of our interviewees, who’s thought longer and harder than most about UGC, suggested that the point at which an online creator can, thanks to income derived from their creative work, “give up their day job”, then they’re no longer making UGC practitioner in the purest sense. They may well be making something different to traditional content, but it’s not UGC. Moreover, it doesn’t matter how circuitously that income stream comes about. A blogger who takes no advertising on their site, but who engages in lucrative paid for engagements off the back of their blog is not a UGC producer.

I broadly agree with this, but have one slight problem with it. It’s one of narrative, causation even. Let’s take a successful blogger who’s turned their thought leadership into a full-time career; was their writing up to the point of “going pro” UGC? Did it stop being UGC the moment they, well, quit the day job? In the case of the the successful blogger-turned-maven this is probably neither-here-nor-there, I grant you. But what of someone who’s aiming to build a potential career? At this point things become a tad trickier.

Let me speak personally here. I myself am, one way or another, involved in an awful lot of activity that may well be termed UGC, and have grappled endlessly with this issue as a result. I make music and sound art under two guises, Abyssal Labs and Boom Logistics; I blog on digital media matters here at Turner Hopkins on the Creative Industries KTN blog; I blog about music and the arts more generally on DGMFS and of course I tweet. Oh, and along with Sarah, I keep a tumblr. The music projects do have the potential to make money, as they are both based on paid-for downloads. However, I make all the music available to stream for free. I have no illusions about paying the bills with the downloads income, but I do see the making music available online as part of a wider process of being involved in music semi-professionally (I’ll address whether this is a career below). Blogging here and on CIKTN on the other hand, is definitely part of my “real” career as a consultant – that is, a career which does pay the bills. Likewise the tweeting, though interestingly, in that space, I have chosen not to delineate between my “life” and “work”, so the @simonphopkins feed is an at times bewildering mix of links to stories about the media, technology, opera and extreme metal. As for DGMFS, well that’s well and truly under the “no cash here” banner.

The question Sarah and I have often asked is: would our careers as consultants be harmed if we didn’t blog, if we didn’t tweet? We may never know the answer as we’re unlikely to stop anytime soon, but the answer is: very possibly not. But, I would argue that it’s essential for us to do these things to understand how all “this stuff” works. Call it research, if you want, but a highly involved kind of research. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs properly if we weren’t involved in this way, so in my mind at least there’s no question that, at the very least, blogging on Turner Hopkins and tweeting on related matters is part of my work, so let’s for now say that it’s not real UGC. But what about that other stuff: the music and and DGMFS? It barely makes money at all and certainly not enough to cover my time, if I were to measure my time in purely financial terms (which I don’t of course). So it’s classic UGC.

So why do I feel so uncomfortable with the distinction? Mostly, I think, because it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t fit with my experience of what it is to be doing this. To me it all feels part of a wider career; I’m lucky that one part of that career creates an income stream, but still, it’s all part of the same thing.

I think what this points to is a new conception of just what a “career” is – and this isn’t the nub of the research we’re doing for Ofcom it is at the very least a theme we’ll return to over and over. As more and more of us work in the knowledge industries, so more and more of us inevitably develop portfolio careers (and yes, that sentence does contain at least two ugly phrases, but there you go) – careers that encompass many aspects and will almost certainly blur the boundaries between our “work” and “lives”. A career (which in any case, with the exception of the “professions”, is almost always something we create retrospectively) begins to look like the some of things we do seriously in the world, some of which, if we’re lucky, will earn us a living. In this regard, UGC is arguably a vital part of career development, regardless of how much incomes it generates directly.

And if that wasn’t abstruse enough, let’s talk about:

Communication, or being part of the conversation
Throughout this research and thinking, we’ve been very aware of eliding “social media” and “UGC”; it’s one of the reasons we’ve spent so long on definitions. When it comes to thinking about UGC as part of the wider trend towards more widely practiced personal communication then we really run this danger. In any case, I feel we’ve covered a lot of this under previous headings.

Nonetheless, it should be said noted that while much of what often hideously termed “the public conversation” is carried in what can be considered UGC. Sometimes this goes on in such short-form ways as to qualify only as the lightest touch UGC. As I write I’m watch a s**t storm blow up on twitter about The Sun’s highly offensive Reeva Steenkamp/Oscar Pistorius cover, for instance. But the debate can be carried out more deeply or rather with engagement, and frequently is. It will be interesting to see how the aforementioned Sun uproar will develop into more considered blog posts over this weekend.

It’s worth noting, sticking with this case for a moment, that professional writers – The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade for instance – have already responded to the broohaha. Non-pros, right at this minute, will mostly be at work (notwithstanding my comments about careers in the knowledge industries above!) As a result, we can see that a more considered, long form user-generated response to any news situation may necessarily take longer to build than the professional one, with professional journalism now allied as much to the website as it is the next print run. Nonetheless, speed of response isn’t everything and it’s essential to view a lot of UGC as an active part of the overarching democratic process.

And of course sometimes, the “conversation” isn’t verbal at all. Today’s other breaking news is of a spectacular and unprecedented meteorite shower in the Urals. It would have been a story in its own right, but the footage of various meteorites burning their way through the skies in an almost biblical fashion have of course been caught on smart phones and dash-cams and consequently the story has become a truly visual one – and a massively shared experience. As I write  – just a few hours after the shower –  one YouTube compliation of clips has already amassed 1.5 million views and nearly 4000 comments. That’s a different kind of conversation…

I was going to take a look at tools in the post as well, but this strikes me this is long enough, and I think tools need their own place in this discussion, so check back in for that. I’ll also be writing imminently about value – what it is and how we go about measuring it.


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.

boardIts been a tad quiet round here, I know – but we’ve had our heads down on the UGC work we’re doing for Ofcom, and very interesting it’s turning out to be.

On Tuesday we held the first of 2 workshops with internal stakeholders, bringing together a dozen or so people from various departments. We’d initially intended to carve up the session into 4 or 5 discussions, but it became quickly apparent that this was a very smart group, with a lot to say, so in truth we really only got into 2 of our topics in any depth .

Which is fine – not least as the first of these is all around definition(s). In our research so far – both in our literature review and in our interviews – the definition of UGC which keeps coming up is the one that kicks off the OECD’s 2007 report Participative Web: User-Generated-Content:
“i) content made publicly available over the Internet, ii) which reflects a certain amount of creative effort, and iii) which is created outside of professional routines and practices.”

Here’s the thing about that definition, though. For a start, that report itself lays down this caveat: “There is no widely accepted definition of UCC, and measuring its social, cultural and economic impacts are in the early stages.” And, more importantly, it’s nigh-on 6 years old; it hardly needs to be said that things have moved on since then. Just as Clay Shirky used I Can Has Cheezburger and Ushahidi to illustrate the two extreme poles of value in mass online activity in 2011’s Cognitive Surplus, we might take the Arab Spring and 50 Shades fan fiction to illustrate the impact of UGC over the last two years. But the point remains: things have moved on, and fast.

So a definition of the area under consideration is a pressing one for us, and here’s how we tried to get the group thinking about one. We’ve been thinking all along that rather than think of UGC as a single type of activity, we should consider it a continuum. However, as we’ve been going along we’ve come to think that several continua are possible, but for the purposes of this session we stuck with just two:

  • The continuum of engagement – from a foursquare check-in to creating and releasing an album on bandcamp
  • The continuum of professionalism – from completely un-remunerated to the bordering-on-pro

Now you might already feel some objections surfacing, but bear with me.

The first thing we had the group do was a quick brain dump of examples of UGC: platforms, brands, overarching activity types and so on. We then got the group to start arranging these along the first continuum – an axis of engagement from barely engaged at all to pretty much fully engaged. And from the get-go, this proved tricky, throwing up as many new questions as it answered (a recurring theme of this project so far, as I’ve observed previously).

  • Surely some platforms/brands can stretch along almost the whole spectrum? After all, serious photographers and holiday snappers alike might use Flickr or even Instagram. Think similarly for YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud and so on.
  • Do we naturally tend to think of some forms – especially literary ones – as inherently more “engaged” than others?
  • Is engagement something which is even measurable?
  • Is curation by definition less engaged than “pure” creation? But then, is a mash-up an act of creation or curation?

You get the picture, this was never going to be easy. Noneletheless, after some spirited discussion we settled down on a consensus which looked something like this:

continuum of engagement

Next up, we got the team to rearrange the map’s elements along our second continuum, that of professionalism. Now again, we instantly ended up in tricky water, and especially around the terminology. It goes without saying that terms like “professional” and “amateur” are loaded. Turn them into isms and you exacerbate this. “Professionalism” generally denotes seriousness, skill, quality; “amateurism”, for most, is an insult. Now we’ll return to the arguments around this later – it’s surely going to be one of the key areas for us to ponder – but for the purposes of this exercise, we defined the term somewhat literally: this was an axis from making no money at all right though to pretty much making a career of it.

Notwithstanding the fact that, as with the previous mapping exercise, lots of these elements could – and do – stretch right across the spectrum (fully “pro” bands are now using bandcamp, for instance), we eventually agreed that things were looking like this:

continuum of professionalism

This struck us as fascinating. In the first mapping exercise, the majority of the content was moving towards “highly engaged”; in the second we all agreed that most of this activity was nonetheless a more-or-less amateur (as in not-paid) pursuit.

So who are all these people quite so highly engaged in non-money making activities, and more to the point: why?

That was the second part of our discussion on Tuesday and in our next post we’ll be attempting to answer that question looking at some of the social, political, financial and personal drivers of UGC.