Back in the early days of the Internet only technological giants and the technical elite were able to put up a website and make people aware of it. When things like search engines relied on you submitting your website to them it was obvious that the majority of the web would not be available to you unless someone in the know pointed you in the right direction. As with any technology this started to change very rapidly as it became more mainstream and this caused a major shift in the direction many sites took.
Enter the wonderful world of user generated content. In essence the idea outlines a publicly available system whereby the content of the site isn’t driven by the webmasters and contributors, but by the users of the site. Whilst this initially started off with text based sites like message boards and mailing lists it as the capacity of the Internet grew so did the range of applications that these user focused sites could provide. Sites like Flickr and Youtube began popping up all over the place and long established websites, like Amazon, began augmenting their sites with user reviews and so on. No longer did the websites have to rely entirely on their own staff to generate data for the website, the world at large would do it for them.
It’s an interesting idea for a website to undertake, basically relying on the assumption of if they build it, they will come. There’s got to be something attractive about the website initially to draw the crowds in and then it has to be provocative enough to get people to share something with everyone else. Message boards do this well since they are usually dedicated for a purpose and are more like a social club then just a plain website. Sites dedicated to just sharing content with each other have the tougher task of enticing people in and the ones who are really successful are either the first to market or ones that provide value-add services on top of what their competitors offer.
Although it’s typically seen as the lazy way of building a website there’s still quite a bit of work involved in providing a web framework for people to thrive in. Granted it’s a lot less technical and most of the work is around brand management and marketing (which is probably why they’ve proved so successful, they’re starting from the ground up as marketing ploys) but since the content is driven by the users webmasters will often find the direction that site takes driven by them as well. I guess the cost of not having to provide content for the site is submitting control of the site to the crowd.
With so many user based services already established these days anyone trying to enter this market really has to provide something new and innovative in order to gain any traction. This is a great thing for the Internet services industry as it promotes innovation rather than stagnation. Granted there’s a lot of services out there are just mash-ups of several online services (which can do well in their own right) but the majority of new user-content based services are trying to offer a slight spin on the current concept often capturing their own niche market.
Now I just have to work out how to mash up something like FaceMyTubeDigg……. 😉