This is Part 2 in a multi-post series on the topics of Participatory Media and Consumer Generated Content.
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Consumer Generated Content. The term itself is a topic of debate. It is also called "consumer generated media", "user generated media", "participatory media" and a more specific form of it is known as "citizen journalism". The debate usually centers around the part of the term that describes the "stuff" generated and shared. The word I have the most issue with is consumer.
"Consumer" usually describes a "role" played by a person in the context of an economic framework. Within the narrower context of this discussion, a consumer is one who particpates in an exchange to receive a piece of "content". In the phenomenon known as "User or Consumer Generated Content" there are usually no economics involved. Since financial transactions are so little a part of what's going on, the use of the term "consumer" seems completely inappropriate to me.
This really takes us into the thick of it. This is where we uncover the big beef. Technology is disintermediating old processes and the need for corporte participation. By extension, it's disintermediating money from many of the exchanges that take place between people. If money isn't changing hands, who the hell are you calling consumer?
An open letter to corporations and commericial interests: You are, unfortunatelty, going to have to find a way back into the game before you can start calling names (like consumer). My friends and I are having a great time online and we don't recall inviting you. More and more, it's looking like we aren't going to be needing you either. Check back in with us when you've got something good.
As a "digitally active" person, one who blogs and spends a lot of time interacting within digital communities, I must say that this is the area of my life where I feel least like a consumer. (I can't go anywhere in Manhattan without turning a stack of bills into a pile of receipts.) This isn't to say that there isn't a level of exposure to advertising and the presence of corporations online, but they don't control the content, distribution or dialog there and they are easier to ignore and shut out here than anywhere else.
The term "Consumer Generated Content" is also being popularized by people selling strategic advice about partipatory media to confused marketers that are feeling left out. I have begun referring to this as offering drowning lessons for the sinking. (No one has figured out anything I would call swimming yet.)
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Let's return to the term "content" or whatever we are going to decide to call the "stuff". People have been creating and sharing the kinds of content that's now referred to as consumer generated for a long, long time.
As a child during the Iran Hostage Crisis (1979-1981) I remember seeing "Hey Iran!" photocopied flyers everywhere. This is the bumper sticker version from that period.
Land O Lakes "Boob Peak" Cards
There is a very old and infamous "crafts project" that involves making a card from a Land O Lakes box. The box the Native-American woman is holding up in the image is converted into a flap that is lifted to reveal her breasts. (The "breasts" are actually made from her knees using the image from the back of the box.)
I chose these pre-internet examples because the are very similar, in some ways, to some of the things being described as "consumer generated content". The content of participtory media often relates to popular culture and larger issues of shared experience. Popular "viral" content is often humorous and/or involves risque and sexual themes.
Let's take it a step further. Couldn't homemade birthday cards be considered "consumer generated"?
There's an important characteristic that makes something relevant to our discussions here. The content must take the form of digital media. It needs to have been created or captured in a way that makes it exchangeable digitally. It might be a song, but it's not a tape or CD. It's a file format.
An amature street performer's act or a band's performance IS content, in a strict sense. It's communication and an exchage of meaning, but no one talks about these things in the context of "consumer generated". They don't, that is, until those things become exchanged artifacts in the person-to-person, digital distribution network of individuals and their connected devices.
Given the points I've made I think "Participatory Media" is probably the most apt term to describe what we are talking about. The use of the term consumer is not only inappropriate it masks very serious problems that the worlds of media and advertising face. People have been creating non-professional content and engaging in its non-monetized exchange forever, but Its existence didn't have the scale and distribution to have an impact on corporate structures. Enabled by technology, it does now.
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On Participatory Media and User Generated Content. A multi-post series.
Part 1. Talking to Ourselves
It's what people do!
Part 2. What Are We Talking About?
Defining the terms and context.
Part 3. Its Gotten Personal
The points of connection are now directly to, and between, individuals.