All the buzz these days seems to be about websites that let users generate the content (while the site collects most or all of the revenue). From Wiki’s to MySpace, and Digg (and their millions of clones), all the cool kids are letting the users dictate most if not all of the content on the site.
Though lately these stars have been falling from grace. For example the recent Digg controversy has raised questions about if it’s possible to have a system where users can’t game the system.
- MySpace has been subject to virtually infinite criticism from viral marketing, to being a haven for pedophiles because people don’t know how to create content safely.
- Facebook has been in trouble over privacy issues recently, after being considered the “private myspace” for so long.
- Wikipedia has constantly been hammered with criticisms of bias (NPOV), vandalism, concerns about accuracy and copyright infringement by it’s users to the point of lawsuits among the laundry list of issues.
YouTube’s business plan has been subject to constant question and often doubt. It may also be subject to a new form of viral marketing further eroding trust in user generated content. Perhaps not just the trust of YouTube investors, but for sure some users.
So the question I think of are: Will the web continue to move towards this model of user generated content? Or will we go back towards the web being a more read-only medium with occasional points of interaction (forums, article comments, blogs)? Can a business model be based on someone else providing all the content? Can investors trust a company whose actual content is created by it’s customers (try explaining that as a business model to someone 10-20 years ago)?
Of course this leads to the question: is this “Bubble 2.0”?
First of all, there is more to the “2.0” movement than just user generated content. It’s about usability, and flexibility more than who generates the content. For example the impact AJAX has had on making web applications like Gmail easier to use. And getting rid of the clutter on so many sites, to be replaced with easier to read text. Sure “Web 2.0” is getting over hyped with silly names, frustrating reflective logo’s, and goofy highlighting all over the page, but there is an advantage to all this XHTML, and DOM scripting. More usable and flexible websites.
I personally don’t believe the MySpace or YouTube model will survive on their own, it’s just not practical. They depend 100% on users to generate the content that attracts users. The same attracting is what draws spammers and just regular delinquents who abuse the system for profit, or simply to be a pest aka “Troll”. They may survive as part of something (MySpace is now part of News Corp.), but as a stand alone operation? I’m not to confident. People get tired of things. Video is fancy now, but eventually it will be just another GIF. Advertising will further help us become blind to the content, just like it did to GIF and Flash that came before.
YouTube today, YouGIF tomorrow.
Does that mean “Bubble 2.0” is confirmed? Hardly. There are many useful applications around with a more stable and reliable model, such as Flickr, WordPress, Technorati, Bloglines, JotSpot, LinkedIn and of course Google who seem to have some sort of a balance, by being more service driven than content driven (you go there to do something, rather than see something), or in the cases of Flickr, WordPress, and Technorati, they have done a good job keeping spam and other abusers out of the system, while fostering an open community using things like API’s to further growth. Flickr and WordPress have “Pro” features for paying customers. Technorati doesn’t (that I’m aware of) but uses advertising to cover it’s cost. It’s main problem is spam, and competition from the likes of Google. Though Google doesn’t seem to have figured out how to handle blog searching yet, either just like a regular website, or though a special blog search interface. LinkedIn has a social networking aspect but also bundles in useful things such as job /people finding tools, which lets face it: aren’t a fad.
Who will survive? Those that can correctly manage and balance user generated content. It’s that simple. The days where there is no balance can’t last. While the days of totalitarian websites that ruled the web are gone, the days of anarchy can not last. There is a balance, and likely an profit for the one who can find it, and use it effectively to allow users the freedoms they desire without the problems facing todays websites.