Warning: I’m donning ye olde cranky pants for this post.
The culprit for my discontent?
An increasing dismissal of audience contributions (i.e., user-generated content) to commercial entertainment as unfit for inclusion in professional entertainment experiences. The most common argument I hear against including UGC in any entertainment property fail is, “UGC is awful,” which reduces the value of UGC to a single vector: the subjective metric of “quality.”
At best, this single litmus test of value confuses UGC with other forms of participation (e.g., collaborative storytelling). At worst, this narrow view summarily dismisses UGC and the other benefits its offers.
I’ve already explored why collaborative storytelling is completely different from participatory storytelling and collaborative worldbuilding, so this short post is going to focus on the issue of the quality of UGC.
Here’s the single take-away: if you’re inviting audiences to participate with the sole expectation that you’ll get professional-level, high-quality content, then you are completely misunderstanding the larger reasons and logic behind participatory entertainment (for the record, that is not the same as saying that all UGC is non-professional or poor quality).
The bigger value inherent in audience participation is the different kind of connection this kind of participation encourages. Importantly, the demographic subset of consumers most likely to create UGC based on your commercial entertainment property are (wait for it)…also the most passionate about that property.
As was mentioned recently at a Transmedia L.A. meetup by the guest speaker, “your competitor in entertainment is porn.” In other words, fans of your entertainment property have chosen to spend their finite money and time buying and consuming your media. Instead of going out to dinner. Instead of sleeping. Instead of playing with their kids. Instead of having sex.
So before you summarily dismiss UGC as having no business in your entertainment business, I would suggest you turn the situation around and ask yourself why you’re ignoring your biggest fans. Why you aren’t actively finding ways for them to connect with you. Why you can’t see the value in inviting them to share a story, build a world, and have a conversation with you.
Now if your answer is, “because I don’t want to,” then great. That’s an honest answer – a good answer – and I have no issues with that at all. The one objection I can’t and won’t accept is, “UGC sucks,” because it misses the true value audience participation offers.