Too much UGC can be a bad thing

Steve Outing, a long-time journalist and staffer with the Poynter Institute, has written a column about his venture into social news or “crowdsourced” local content — through a company called Enthusiast Group — and how it has since shut down. Steve makes some worthwhile points about why he thinks his attempt to blend professional content and “user-generated” content failed, and in a nutshell it appears to boil down to this: too much of the UGC just wasn’t good enough.

“In hindsight, I think we tried to rely too heavily on user submitted content. Even though a lot of it was really great, the overall experience was weak when compared to, say, reading a climbing or a mountain biking magazine filled with quality professional content throughout.”

And Steve says that he just didn’t have enough staff to generate the professional-level content that would make the site worthwhile, or sort through the user-generated stuff to get at the good stuff (“curating,” people like to call it now).

“We believed that having a core level of professional content –- from our site editors -– would be enough to attract a loyal following even if the user-submitted content wasn’t enough on its own. But I think we didn’t have nearly enough of that. If I had any money left to throw at the business, I’d hire more well-known athletes and adventurers, so that the core was a larger pool of professional content.”

Steve says he’s not giving up on UGC, but he thinks it’s bad to rely on it to carry too much of the freight for a content-related business.

“I’m not saying that user-submitted content isn’t worthwhile, let me be clear about that. I am saying that I think you can’t rely too much on it. And you need to filter out and highlight the best user content, while downplaying the visibility of the mediocre stuff.”

Steve’s venture isn’t the only UGC-based one to shut down, of course. Dan Gillmor’s Bayosphere was a valiant effort that failed (I wrote about it here) and was later merged with Backfence, which then also failed. Jeremy Wagstaff of Loose Wire says that Steve’s experience reinforces the fact that there will always be a place for professional journalists. I don’t know why, but that makes me feel all warm inside 🙂

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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