The one day ‘Digital Communities’ conference in the Watershed in June was the first time I heard the term ‘user generated content’, and since then the phrase is everywhere. [i]
In my opinion it’s just a clumsy/fancy way of saying ‘homemade videos’. [ii] To be fair it’s not just that though, as the shift in how amateur moving image work is now perceived is primarily down to 2 key factors:
One – The means of exhibition of this type of work has been completely reversed and revolutionised by sites such as YouTube and MySpace, etc, which has awoken a curiosity in the web public to see what home video makers are making.
Two – With the rise of such sites, home video makers have begun to produce work which fits the form of those platforms, thus giving birth to new genres in the process.
Contrary to popular believe I don’t believe the shift from ‘home video’ to ‘user-generated content’ is not down to the advances in technological hardware such as camera phones, etc, as they have been with us for years now. The shift is due to technological software that can give exposure to the products of those hardware technologies.
So where does Community Media sit within this new media landscape? That is something to be explored.
This is how I saw the moving image hierarchy landscape 2 years ago.
Based on a subjective scale of ambition, perceived professionalism and budgets, home videos at the very bottom. Admittedly with regards those same criteria not much has probably changed today, but there is now doubt that every other ‘industry’ on this chart are now bending to see what is happening at the bottom, and in many cases trying to be more like the things happening at the bottom. In the same way that in the mid 90’s the commercial companies began to populate and eventually ‘take over the internet’ [iii] Now in the 00’s, the mass media organisations are positioning to have a presence on the so-called Web 2.0, and maybe eventually take it over again, but they may be too late. Rupert Murdoch recently bought MySpace but the price was overshadowed by Google, itself a dotcom, buying YouTube for a record amount. Who is David and who is Goliath is no longer so clear. [iv]
Community Media educational activity has as its USP not only engaging non-media professionals in production, but also its participative and facilitation approach. The question I am interested in then is, ‘what is valued more by participants: making work or working with others?’
No doubt that part of what makes us human is the social interaction with others, but it has been long said that the internet have changed these dynamics forever. If a school, youth club or individual can make work in an afternoon and instantly show it to the world, will they still be inclined to employ a production company to do assist them in that process? And if I’m asking that question today, what is likely to be the reality in 5 – 10 years time? Will community media companies become the second hand bookshops of the future? (Still in the shadow of the mass media battered Waterstones, with the online Amazon taking the major share of the lead).
Unless educationalists within the community media sector can actively and convincingly evidence the value of participative/facilitative approaches, or unless it can re-position itself to ride the new Web 2.0 wave, it may become victim to the relentless pace of media technologies. [v]
[i] On the subject of the phrase ‘user-generated content’, I need to remember to trace who originally coined the term.
[ii] As also acknowledged by Ana Kronschnabl (Plug-In Cinema / Fluffy Logic)
[iii] Here I’m talking as much about companies such as Sainsbury’s, Argos and Tescos,
and Mothercare, and not just the media companies.
[iv] Also Al Gore has partnered with BSkyB to launch the UK version of its user-generated tv channel Current TV, which launched its US parent a year ago. In publishing, http://www.lulu.com allows you to upload your own manuscripts and print & sell them one at a time, taking the frustrations and risks away from mainstream publishing, and bringing it closer to DIY community publishing, allowing you to make a profit at the same time.
[v] This article may be overly dramatic and pessimistic, but I think still a valid discussion point.