Thursday, April 26, 2007

Participative web and user generated content

Last week the OECD published a report on the participative web and user-created content (UCC). The report was prepared by Sacha Wunsch-Vincent and Graham Vickery of the OECD’s Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry as part of the Working Party on the Information Economy work on Digital Content. Below I produce a digest of the summary in the report.

The concept of the .participative web. is based on an Internet increasingly influenced by intelligent web services that empower the user to contribute to developing, rating, collaborating on and distributing Internet content and customising Internet applications. As the Internet is more embedded in people’s lives “users”draw on new Internet applications to express themselves through user-created content. (UCC).

There is no widely accepted definition of UCC, and measuring its social, cultural and economic impacts are in the early stages. In this study UCC is defined as: 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”.

Most user-created content activity is undertaken without the expectation of remuneration or profit.Motivating factors include connecting with peers, achieving a certain level of fame, notoriety or prestige, and self-expression. Defining an economic value chain for UCC as in the other OECD digital content studies is thus more difficult.

In the UCC value chain, content is directly created and posted for or on UCC platforms using devices (e.g. digital cameras), software (video editing tools), UCC platforms and an Internet access provider. There are many active creators and a large supply of content that can engage viewers, although of potentially lower or more diverse quality. Users are also inspired by, and build on, existing works as in the traditional media chain. Users select what does and does not work, for example, through recommending and rating, possibly leading to recognition of creators who would not be selected by traditional media publishers.

Different UCC types (e.g., blogs, video content) have different although similar approaches to monetising UCC. There are five basic models: i) voluntary contributions, ii) charging viewers for services - pay-per-item or subscription models, including bundling with existing subscriptions, iii) advertising-based models, iv) licensing of content and technology to third parties, and v) selling goods and services to the community (.monetising the audience via online sales.).These models can also remunerate creators, either by sharing revenues or by direct payments from other users.

Economic impact
User-created content is already an important economic phenomenon despite its originally non-commercial context. The spread of UCC and the amount of attention devoted to it by users appears to be a significant disruptive force for how content is created and consumed and for traditional content suppliers.

The shift to Internet-based media is only beginning to affect content publishers and broadcasters. At the outset, UCC may have been seen as competition as: i) users may create and watch UCC at the expense of traditional media, reducing advertising revenues, ii) users become more selective in their media consumption (especially younger age groups), iii) some UCC platforms host unauthorised content from media publishers. However, some traditional media organisations have shifted from creating on-line content to creating the facilities and frameworks for UCC creators to publish. They have also been making their websites and services more interactive through user comment and ratings and content diffusion. TV
companies are also licensing content and extending on-air programs and brands to UCC platforms.

Social impact
The cultural impacts of this social phenomenon are also far-reaching. "Long tail" economics allows a substantial increase in availability and a more diverse array of cultural content to find niche audiences. UCC can also be seen as an open platform enriching political and societal debates, diversity of opinion, free flow of information and freedom of expression. Transparency and some .watchdog. functions may be enhanced by decentralised approaches to content creation. Citizen journalism, for instance, allows users to correct, influence or create news, potentially on similar terms as newspapers or other large entities. Furthermore, blogs, social networking sites and virtual worlds can be platforms for engaging electors, exchanging political views, provoking debate and sharing information on societal and political questions.

Challenges related to inclusion, cultural fragmentation, content quality and security and privacy have been raised. A greater divide between digitally literate users and others may occur and cultural fragmentation may take place with greater individualisation of the cultural environment. Other challenges relate to information accuracy and quality (including inappropriate or illegal content) where everybody can contribute without detailed checks and balances. Other issues relate to privacy, safety on the Internet and possibly adverse impacts of intensive Internet use.

Opportunities and challenges
The rapid rise of UCC is raising new questions for users, business and policy. Policy issues are
grouped under six headings: i) enhancing R&D, innovation and technology, ii) developing a competitive, non-discriminatory framework environment, iii) enhancing the infrastructure, iv) shaping business and regulatory environments, v) governments as producers and users of content, and vi) better measurement.

Apart from standard issues such as ensuring wide-spread broadband access and innovation, new questions emerge around whether and how governments should support UCC. The maintenance of procompetitive markets is particularly important with increased commercial activity and strong network effects and potential for lock-in.

In the regulatory environment important questions relate to intellectual property rights and UCC: how to define .fair use. and other copyright exceptions, what are the effects of copyright on new sources of creativity, and how does IPR shape the coexistence of market and non-market creation and distribution of content. In addition, there are questions concerning the copyright liability of UCC platforms hosting potentially unauthorised content and the impacts of digital rights management.

Other issues include: i) how to preserve freedom of expression made possible by UCC, ii) information and content quality/accuracy and tools to resolve these, iii) adult, inappropriate, and illegal content and self-regulatory (e.g. community standards) or technical solutions (e.g. filtering software), iv) safety on the .anonymous. Internet, v) dealing with new issues surrounding privacy and identity theft, vi) monitoring the impacts of intensive Internet use, vii) network security and spam, and viii) regulatory questions in dealing with virtual worlds (taxation, competition etc.). Finally, new statistics and indicators are urgently needed to inform policy.

Blog Posting Number: 735

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