Monday, June 25, 2007

The Limitations of "Free" Content

So much of what you read about businesses and sites in the brave new world of Web 2.0/social media, etc., is about how great it is to get the faceless (or even the Facebooked) millions to create all your content for free. Here in this corner, though, it is still considered to be true that "you get what you pay for."

I was blog-surfing this morning and came across a small example -- a very small one -- of the drawbacks of purely user-generated content: in this case, the lack of simple proofreading, which brings down the perceived level of quality of the writing. That may not sound like any kind of big deal, but the point is it's one of those elements that gives your readers wings -- inducing them to fly away from your site.

The overall point here is that user-generated content requires an editorial layer, to make sure your featured material has a reasonably consistent level of quality.

I wrote the author in question, in this case in the blog of the Social Media Club, which otherwise seems to be a pretty smart commentator on the scene. The post was a live-blogged report from last Friday at the Supernova conference in San Francisco, where it is claimed a set of movers and shakers joined "a provocative new program to debate the future of the connected world."

I'm going to save* (see the comments) myself some time by pasting in here the related comment I made to them. To wit:

As a perfect illustration of this quote of Andrew Keen's in the piece:
>> “it is the job of mainstream media to find raw talent and polish it up” might want to go back and do a copy edit of your live-blogged post. As of this writing, strange, misshapen artifacts lurk within, such as, "ologarchy," "acknolwedges," and "deomcratization."

Obviously just slips of the finger and still recognizable words, but just a couple of those have the power to distract a reader enough to lure them into taking off. It causes the reader to subconsciously question the intelligence of the author, blowing the equivalent of the theatrical "willing suspension of disbelief." (Not that I'm entertaining such judgmental thoughts, mind you -- since why else would I take the time to write you about it?)

Here's the main point: user-generated content is not free, because you've got to have editorial oversight, and that still means humans who are hopefully(!) being paid a living wage to make the user's stuff Ready For Primetime.

This is a significant but underreported issue with building social media based sites.

(That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)