Twas at a marketing dinner meeting with a client last week, and at one point during a debate about user-generated content, a particularly perky member of the gathering effervescently enthused:
"Never before in the history of media have users been so important in the creation of content!"'
Not wanting to be rude, or lose the client, I held my tongue (with a forceps!), but this is what was running through my head:
As a term, User-Generated Content is more than a mere buzzword; it's become the messiah of media, a panacea for all our problems. Users will save our businesses! They will design our products, write our ads, sing our jingles and develop the movies we will fight to place our products within!
The difference with content today IS NOT the people creating it; the difference is the wealth and breadth of the platforms they now have available to distribute it.
Let's think about this for a second. We'll use The Beatles as an example.
Before they were the world's best-selling and most influential pop artists, they were four lads from Liverpool, playing on the back of flatbed trucks, at outdoor block parties, at the local coffee house...anywhere they could to be seen and get their songs heard. The Cavern Club was their YouTube; the local church basement talent show their American Idol. Buzz builds, they're seen by Brian Epstein, he signs them to a management contract and the rest is history. Suddenly, swarms of other "users" pop up all over the world, trying to follow in their footsteps. It's the way of showbiz.
The same story goes for virtually any artist of any type:
Before they were them,
they were one of us.
- Andy Warhol was a graphic designer from Pittsburgh (glamorous, huh?).
- Stephen King was a high school English teacher living in a trailer in Maine, writing short stories for pulp-fiction men's mags to make ends meet.
- Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were two geeky kids tinkering around in a garage.
- Guy Laliberte, the genius behind Cirque du Soleil, was a street performer, walking on stilts, eating fire and playing the accordion(!!!).
- Every superstar athlete was the adorable five-year-old tyke in the uniform two sizes too big.
I could go on forever.
There's a chasm we all cross on our way from "amateur" to "professional." Granted, these days the lines have blurred somewhat (this blog being a prime example), but while the ways and means we use to MAKE that transition have become more technically advanced and readily available, the fact remains that those who actually "use" them have remained the same. They are you, and me, and that kid down the street who will one day sell out arenas across the country.
So to my bubbly client, let me say that in the history of content creation, it has ALWAYS been generated by users. The Surprise factor in all this is when one of us actually crosses the chasm. Society's superstars are just users on steroids (amongst other substances...).
What'll be REALLY different, and downright scary, is when content is generated by something OTHER than users (like machines, rendering us irrelevant). Thankfully, even the most advanced high-tech art (see the brilliant work of Joshua Davis, for example), needs one of us.