Lentis/User-Generated Content in the Internet Age
User-generated content, or UGC, is not a new concept (becoming mainstream in 2005), and neither is the Internet Age (beginning in the 1990’s). But the collision of the two is becoming more and more pervasive within existing industries, and communities are quickly growing to support the movements.
What is User-Generated Content
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a forum of countries committed to democracy and the market economy, has published a document  outlining three criteria for a work to qualify as user-generated content:
- Published - The content must be accessible in some fashion, such as posted on a publicly accessible website. However, the work could also be published in a more private forum accessible to a select group of people.
- Creative - The work must exhibit some sort of creativity, meaning it cannot just be sharing someone else's work. The user must either create the content from scratch or add value to existing work.
- Non-professional - The creation of the content cannot be professionally motivated. Some examples of non-professional motivations include: to share with others, to achieve some level of fame, or for the user to express themselves. A caveat to this criteria is that if financial compensation is awarded to the creator after the fact, it will still qualify as user-generated content since this was not the original motivating factor.
With these criteria in mind, various innovative forms of user-generated content in the entertainment and manufacturing industries can be explored at the social interface of technology.
UGC in Entertainment
User-generated content has grown to unprecedented heights in recent years. Sites like Youtube and SoundCloud have allowed users to distribute their content in ways that were impossible 10 years ago, and these types of content-focused sites have revolutionized content creation communities.
Video Game Industry
Increased use of digital distribution has led to an increase in user-generated content in the video game industry through the creation of mods. Users have used modding tools to create variations on popular games or even create new games within the original. This can be seen in the case of Defense of the Ancients a popular mod for Blizzard's Warcraft 3, which redefined the rules of a traditional real-time-strategy game to the point where developers began realizing the viability in developing games of the type, leading to the creation of the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) sub-genre to real-time-strategy games. Mods can even be a defining feature of a game, as with ArmA II, a three-year-old game that skyrocketed the meager player base to over 1.4 million users because of the mod DayZ. The mod's popularity inspired the creation of a spinoff mod, DayZ Bounty, which adds a pay-to-play and pay-for-performance aspect to the survival mod. This does not resonate with the DayZ and ArmA II developers who believe that "commercially exploiting their[DayZ Bounty Devs] small additions to DayZ undermines the work done by the original team." This case is also inappropriate on the count of UGC by OECD standards, due to its lack of any novel concept to the original work.
Other developers simply don't provide tools to create this content because they fear what it could produce, as with DICE, developers for the popular Battlefield series, who choose not to release the tools due to the threat of players hacking . There are also those who argue that publishers and developers do not release modding tools to control and monetize content creation beyond the release of the game, creating and controlling the content market for their games . Whatever the reasoning behind not supporting modding tools, they exist to enrich the player's experience, but the threat of abuse and challenge to the content market cause some developers to avoid them.
Mixtapes have long been created for friends and significant others to share a favorite set of songs, or a group of songs pertaining to a certain theme. Originally recorded on cassette tapes, CDs took over as the primary mixtape media with the cassette tape's demise, and the name stuck. And though the individual songs are the property of the artist and rights holders, the thoughtful compilation and friendly motivation behind their creation satisfy the first two OECD criteria. Contemporary mixtapes, however, have adopted a digital format, and music lovers are developing various website communities surrounding this new mixtape media. Websites like 8tracks, Mixcloud, Playlist, Opentape, Grooveshark, and MixTape.me  are all committed to providing tools for mixtape creators, as well as mixtape listeners. By sharing mixtapes on the internet, an existing form of user-generated content is reborn on a new medium.
What does this mean for businesses looking to make a profit, like Apple's iTunes store? According to Apple policy, any song purchased on iTunes can be shared with up to five computers , but with 8tracks' new Mac Uploader, 8tracks users can upload their purchased music directly from iTunes and anyone in the world can listen to their digital mixtape. This does not appear to be hurting iTunes sales (see figure at right), and these free music sharing websites have in turn spurred a whole new community of musicians looking to employ a "digital strategy" in publicizing their music. For example, the techno/hip-hop duo Timeflies have found tremendous success through digital marketing by posting what they call "Timeflies Tuesday" videos on YouTube each Tuesday, hosting a Facebook fan page, updating a Twitter profile, and offering free downloads for some of their tracks on SoundCloud. Initially creating new songs simply to share with their friends, Timeflies' free online marketing strategy has been a huge success. In July, they released a mixtape that fans could download at no cost, and, as of December 2012, the mixtape has racked up almost 2.4 million YouTube views . Most recently, Timeflies released an EP on iTunes, One Night, reaching the top of the charts in a matter of hours .
Though it began as a simple way to share music among friends, the mixtape concept is growing at a rapid rate by means of the internet and sparking the advent of many new music-focused communities. While it remains to be seen how the digital mixtape movement will impact the recording industry, it is sure that new artists are finding innovative ways to market themselves though user-generated content avenues, and with great promise.
UGC in Manufacturing
An analogue of the prevalence of UGC in software, the manufacturing industry is also undergoing a shift due to UGC. Through the use of automated tools and services, members of the maker subculture can share design files for physical objects which can be manufactured at home or ordered online.
The increasing abundance of home 3D printing has fostered online communities, such as MakerBot Industries' Thingiverse. On this sharing forum, users can download, revise, or create 3D models for their own use and for the use of the community. Everything is freely shared, and communication between participants is encouraged to create better revisions of the models. Thingiverse is open to anyone, and users don't even need their own printer to collaborate as the models are designed using software.
A related part of the maker community focuses on the manufacturing of printed circuit boards, or PCBs. These hardware components have long been made using 'home-brew' techniques, and makers quickly found a haven on the Internet to share circuit designs. Services like BatchPCB recognized this culture and created a solution to simplify the manufacturing process even more. By offering professional fabrication services, BatchPCB entices users to freely share their board designs for anyone to get a copy. They even capitalize on rewarding the creative merit of users that contribute by offering royalties to the user that designed the board.
Concerns of the Manufacturing Industry
In both of these cases, there is the potential for business to decrease for companies already in the manufacturing industry. In the case of 3D printing, there are businesses dedicated to manufacturing replacement parts when the original company no longer supports the product, as commonly happens with car parts. The threat to these companies is not unrealistic, as the public has already seen 3D printed cars and a medium on which to share them.
In the case of PCBs, what might have started as a do-it-yourself project to clone a popular piece of gear can easily turn into a business of making counterfeit boards, especially when the counterfeiter can use higher quality parts than the mass-produced original. These close PCBs add little to no creative merit aside from slight improvements and steal profit from the original creators.
In addition to the obvious misuses of these UGC tools, such as conterfeit PCBs and other proprietary hardware, lawmakers fear that these tools will be used to bypass existing laws and regulations. The most publicized cause for concern is the Wiki Weapon, which is a project focused on providing design files for anyone to 3D print weapons. While a full 3D printed gun is still out of the reach of home 3D printers, community members fear that lawmakers will take advantage of this issue in order to regulate or ban home 3D printing altogether.
UGC as a Social Movement
User-generated content is becoming increasingly pervasive in everyday life through various industries; it has the potential to revitalize dying products and forge new paths within its existing content space. However, as with all movements, opponents exist who expose its flaws. In some cases, these opponents might threaten the legality of the work to the point where user-generation content ceases to exist because of the danger it may pose to engrained social constructs. While this reaction might seem overdramatic, communities in support of various forms of user-generated content must keep in mind copyright, security, and other pertinent legal issues in order to grow the movement, gain public acceptance, and ultimately win public appreciation.
- OECD. Participative Web and User-Created Content: Web 2.0, Wikis and Social Networking Edition complete. OCDE Information Sciences and Technologies (October 2007). http://www.oecd.org/document/40/0,3343,en_2649_34223_3
- DayZ. Retrieved from http://dayzmod.com
- Lahti, Evan (2012). DayZ Bounty wants to pay you real, actual money for killing zombies and fellow players. Retrieved from http://www.pcgamer.com/2012/11/06/dayz-bounty-wants-to-pay-you-real-actual-money-for-killing-zombies-and-fellow-players/
- Wilde, Tyler (2012). DayZ Bounty "undermines" the original mod, creators will be asked to cease. Retrieved from http://www.pcgamer.com/2012/11/07/dayz-bounty-cease-and-desist/
- Rose, Mike (2012). Modding tools for Battlefield 3? It's a scary business, says DICE. Retrieved from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/176142/Modding_tools_for_Battlefield_3_Its_a_scary_business_says_DICE.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+GamasutraNews+(Gamasutra+News)#.UMqQHm_7JVo
- Keyes, Rob (2012). Here's Why 'Battlefield 3' Doesn't Support Mods. Retrieved from http://gamerant.com/battlefield-3-no-modding-tools/
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- Timeflies soars to #1 on iTunes. (n.d.).The Ionian. Retrieved from http://www.ioniannews.com/obituaries/article_50c83d5c-3f34-11e2-abbc-0019bb30f31a.html
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