Jonathan Sanderson over at The Daily Grind recently wrote about the phrase “User Generated Content” and how irksome he finds it. Let me start with my own linguistic unpacking for the sake of completeness.
User = person who uses the service (as this phrase arose from the Internet, let’s say “website” for completeness), as opposed to the person who provides the service
Generated = made. Doesn’t say how it’s made, why it’s made, or how long it took.
Content = stuff. I can’t go around saying “content (by which I mean film, music, text, poetry, sculptures whittled out of matches, mashups,….)”. So I say “content” because “stuff” sounds unprofessional and I’m trying to impress people.
“User Generated Content” = stuff made and contributed by people who use your website
I don’t see anything perjorative, diminutive or otherwise negative about the phrase. If the phrase “community crafted brilliance” or “things wot participants done” enters common parlance instead (and as you’ll have probably guessed, I’m rooting for “TWPD”), I’ll have no problem adopting them. But till then, I don’t see the problem. This may seem laborious, but the original post did say that “every single word is wrong”[his italics] in the phrase “User Generated Content” – to which I say, “don’t be silly”.
Ok, so there are problems. We are through the looking glass on web 2.0, people (never thought I’d get to say that). There are websites, let’s call them Facebook, that are all UGC. Calling someone a contributor as opposed to a user in this case is a moot point. What, as opposed to all the Facebook users that don’t generate content? Except those “content providers” aren’t managing the sophisticated servers, databases and frontend which enable them to “use” Facebook. I’ll grudgingly admit that “user” is meaningless, with two caveats: firstly, I don’t think it follows that “user” implies passivitity, and I don’t agree that “contributor” or “participant” is any less ambiguous or meaningless. I contributed a comment to a YouTube video yesterday. UGC is dead, long live UGC!
The problem is not with the semantics, it’s with the process. It’s with who’s making stuff, who’s consuming stuff, and, as the writer highlights, who’s paying who for the stuff that’s being created and consumed. Sometimes that’s not a problem at all! Sometimes it is, but not for the content creator. The permutations are fascinating, but driven by the process and not the language. You can call them prosumers, contributors, or three-toed frogs but the language is evolving to describe what’s happening, not driving the process. So why not focus on the process instead of the (from my perspective, value-neutral if slightly outdated) terminology?