The vision of social media as a vast, harmonious collective that both generates and consumes “user-generated content” is mostly a straw man set up by Web 2.0 critics so they can demolish it (yes, I’m looking at you, Nick Carr), but there’s no question that social media is built on the idea that there’s plenty of talent out there that traditional media isn’t letting you see.

But what if people don’t want to see some unknown singer or musician, no matter how talented they are? What if they really just want to see “celebrities,” regardless of whether they’re talented or not?

That’s the somewhat disturbing implication (to me at least) of ManiaTV’s decision to forego the “user-generated content” and go back to the site’s original model, which was distributing video that featured recognizable names and faces, including Canadian-born Tom Green (who later left the site to go solo from his living room, and recently signed a TV distribution deal).

According to Mania, the site’s user-generated content didn’t really drive much traffic. What people have really been coming to see, CEO Peter Hoskins says, are the “celebrities” — and that’s what advertisers wanted to be associated with as well (he likened user-generated content to “dumpster-diving for gold.”)

“People liked good quality entertainment and advertisers liked quality branded entertainment. Advertisers wanted to distance themselves as far as they possibly could from the user-generated content.”

This is one of the knocks against YouTube and similar sites, that advertisers won’t want to have their message appear alongside a clip of some kid hurting himself on a skateboard. The argument in favour has always been that such sites get so much traffic that advertisers would effectively have to put their ads there or risk missing a key demographic.

So was it just that ManiaTV’s content wasn’t any good, or are people not really that interested in user-generated content? There’s no question that plenty of content on YouTube gets viewed by millions of people, but perhaps they are the exception. What I find depressing is that people would prefer to watch “celebrities” like Tom Green and Dave Navarro instead of some more talented unknown.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

One Response to “Maybe people don’t really want UGC”
  1. If UGC is posed only as “creative” work – your point is definitely worth making.

    Of course, there is more to the “wisdom of crowds thing” or the “wikinomics thing” than just a bunch of backyard wrasslers seeking Specialness as described in Hal Niedzviecki’s last book.

    That sounds like supply without demand. I think that’s what a lot of the long tail is, at least in digital content. Unsuccessful artists who now have a cool web 2.0 excuse for wasting their time can talk about that whole tail thing :)

    However, where the individual’s contribution amounts to valuable *information* that can be shared and tapped into by others, then it becomes powerful.

    It’s out there. We’ll find it. :)

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