Friday, January 26, 2007

Walls That Aren't and Never Weren't

In a recent post John Battelle talks about a NYT article on social networking in which (according to John... and me) the Times gets the whole idea of user generated content wrong, wrong, wrong. He quotes the part of the article that says:

User-generated content is basically anything someone puts on the Web that is not created for overtly commercial purposes; it is often in response to something professionally created, or is derivative of it. So, it could be a blog, a message board, a homemade video on YouTube, or a customer’s book review on

And then makes the point that,

there are so many examples of great conversational media [John's term for user created content] that is both commercially driven and entirely independent of "professional media" (in our industry alone, there's Om, there's Matt, there's Mike, there...and, and, and....), that making such a sweeping statement seems either ignorant or simply wishful thinking. Harumph.

I don't think John goes far enough. Here's the short version of why I think that:

There ain't no such thing as somebody who ain't a user. Or, to put it in the positive: we're all users, and all content is user generated content. Or to put it in John's lingo: it's all part of the conversation.

The mainstream media seems to forget sometimes that its not "the originator" of what it reports on. That if a tree falls in the woods and there's film at 11... the tree falling is the "thing" in the news. The news isn't the news. The reporters are "users," too.

And so are movie directors and bestselling novelists and product design folks and advertising agency owners.

My 7-year-old son, Dan, just wrote a short book about dragons. It's about five pages long. It has drawings and text, all of which he made up himself. It includes information about how to look for signs of dragons, types of dragons, what they eat, a dragon potion that will make you fly, and plants that grow near where the dragons live. I've also got a store-bought book about dragons that I picked up a few years back. It's neat, has lots of cool pictures and even some stuff tucked into pockets and what-not.

Which book do you think is more valuable to me?

The idea, in our culture, that the value and worth of a piece of creativity, writing, content, etc. is inherently linked to either a monetary valuation or, similarly, to audience size or some kind of "official" authority ranking is, at times, almost offensive. Yes, in the abstract, I know that I am probably going to want to read a best-selling novel 99 times out 100 as opposed to one written by some random dude in a basement in Jersey. Unless that dude is my brother. Or my friend, Jake. Or... or... or... And, at some point, my brother and/or Jake are going to be bestselling novelists, so there, too.

Reporters, directors and published authors are just people. The words are the same. A 16-year-old can write poetry and post it on an open writing site or her blog... and it has just as much "right" to be beautiful as the words of a 54-year-old professor publishing in a magazine of the arts.

The wall was never there. Blogs and other cheap, easy tools just make it more obvious.

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