Think twice before giving away your UGC

An arguement against willingly giving away your personal content to other websites that profit from it.

Introduction

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, UGC stands for User Generated Content. It is the term widely used in the Internet industry to represent the content generated by the users of websites.

Some common examples include:

  • A user comments on a blog entry, news item, or forum thread.
  • A user uploads some multimedia to a website, for example a photograph on Flickr or a video to YouTube.
  • A user submits a status update, location, or link to a social network like Twitter or Facebook.

Why is UGC so important?

For many websites, UGC is their main product. They use UGC to attract in more users, via search engines or via links to the content being shared. The more users they get, the more revenue they can make from running advertisements right along side the UGC.

"For many websites, UGC is their main product"

All content is important for generating traffic, but UGC is better because for the business running the website, UGC is effectively free.

What's in it for me?

As a user, before we submit our content to a website, we have to asks ourselves, what's in it for me? In an Internet where people are continually adding content to websites via their smart phones, their tablets, and their computers: it is important that they realize that they are adding their UGC to the "content wealth" of that website before they hit on that post button.

"Many websites encourage people to add their UGC via what is termed game mechanics"

Many websites encourage people to add their UGC via what is termed game mechanics (or gamification), which rewards users with ego/status boosts or unlocks additional features. Some examples:

  • The popular technology news website Hacker News only allows you to down vote other user's comments after you have been awarded 500 points. Points are achieved by having your comments and link submissions up voted by other users.
  • Stack Overflow, a technology website that allows technology professionals to post questions and have them answered by their peers, also awards points based upon up votes from other users. In addition to this, special badges are added to user profiles under some circumstances that identify the user as having contributed particularly helpful content.
  • Social networks like Twitter and Facebook go out of their way to make their websites a popularity contest, by showing others how many friends or followers you have. These followers are attracted by the content you provide (unless you are famous).

Don't click on that comment button

"all designed to entice you into providing more UGC, and frankly it works."

It is all designed to entice you into providing more UGC, and frankly it works. For most of us, the psychological imperatives are just too strong. The first step in getting out of a trap however is first acknowledging its existence.

My advice: keep the content you hold dearest on your own website or blog, running on your own platform, otherwise you are giving away your best online assets far too cheaply.

John Collins

I have been writing about web technology and software development since 2001. I am the developer of the Alpha Framework for PHP, and the five.today personal productivity app. I love open source, technology, and economics.