Long before the term social networking came to mean something you do online, long before the emergence of brands like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Shelfari, LinkedIn and so on, long before user-generated content, most of the content you'd find on the Web was created by content providers. And the content providers did things the old-fashioned way: They built Web sites.
And they filled their Web sites with whatever they had lying around, or they paid generously (or not) to come up with new content. A writer would write. A graphic artist would turn digital shwoops into logos and designs, a photographer would shoot images, and in a way that's not so different from laying out a magazine, they would put content together and publish it. On the Web. In the form of Web pages.
But it didn't take a genius to see that all the labor that went in to putting that content together was expensive. And at the time no one could really see how to make money on the Web -- other than to start a business and sell it to a bigger fish. And for a big fish -- a big company like NBC or The New York Times -- there was value in putting high-quality, polished -- if expensive -- content on the Web, and that was to extend the reach of their brand. So some of the best content available on early Web sites was paid for by the marketing arm of the old guard of media companies. And that's still true today.
I worked for one of the biggest of the old guard -- Disney -- around the turn of the millennium, and one sad fact was becoming apparent at that time: Building content took a lot of work, and it was really expensive. We were a long way from the point where ad revenue would support the cost of our pages.
It was easy to see that UGC, user-generated content, was the way to go. But because our site, ZoogDisney.com, was targeted at children, there were numerous reasons we could not allow our users to input their personal information, one of which was the recently passed COPPA law. So we started to fish around for ways to make the site dynamic, to make it change from day to day, without having to do the work of producing content ourselves. So instead of considering user-generated, we started to consider user-sensitive content.
User-sensitive content is content you create without knowing
it, simply by surfing the Web. For instance, if Google publishes its list of
the top 50 search terms, that is user sensitive content. Another example would
be an interactive map that shows user hot spots. A collection of site users in,
User-Sensitive Dynamic Content. USeDyC. Nice that it rings kind of dirty, eh?
One of the finest examples of USeDyC I've ever seen is in the highly popular iPhone application Ocarina. The core functionality of Ocarina is to turn your iPhone into a musical instrument. You blow into the main port while fingering the touch screen to form different notes. But your use of the tool is tracked in a very USeDyC way. An interactive map shows where Ocarina is being used throughout the world. Not only can you see where they are, you can also hear what they're playing.
Now, before you go shouting "Big Brother!" about USeDyC, please consider that this is a form of personal information gathering that allows far greater privacy to the user than any of the other current social networking sites, which ask you outright for everything from your name and email address, to your personal photos, your sexual preference and who your friends are.
We never did arrive at the perfect use of USeDyC at Zoog, but it's a concept that I've carried with me because I believe so strongly in the value of it. I still feel that it holds the greatest value for those creating content for kids, but that's not the only outlet. As budgets get tighter and producers need to create more Web content with fewer resources, USeDyC will have its date with destiny.