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Webgrrls Wisdom » User-Generated Content Moves from Side Show to Center Stage

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User-Generated Content Moves from Side Show to Center Stage

written by Kristin Vincent
Kristin Vincent
Topics: E-commerce, Technology, Usability
Veiw all posts written by

I’m constantly scanning the web for innovations and trends, and whenever something catches my eye, I try to mention it in this blog. Recently I’ve noticed an emerging trend about the sites that have caught my eye regarding user-generated content online: User-generated content has moved from being supplementary information to being the main attraction of the site. Sites have moved from using customers’ content as an aid while buying products to now making the customers’ content the actual product for sale on the site.

A look back: User-generated content helps users make decisions on e-commerce sites

First we started out with user-generated content helping users decide which product to buy. We’re all used to the 5-star product ratings that are derived from the community, and none of us would think about buying a new entertainment system without first going online to read the latest customer reviews.

Sites like ebay allowed customers to use their platform and create their own content and storefronts. Their customers could use the same platform to rate the sellers and let potential future buyers know what to expect.

Even this use of user-generated content has evolved. We have now come to expect e-commerce sites to parse the customer data for us in new ways, like how Amazon allows us to search reviews or vote on which positive and negative reviews are helpful.

Star Ratings from Amazon

A little more recently: User-generated content is the focus of social shopping sites

In October of last year, I wrote a post about how social networks and online shopping have collided to create new sites dedicated to “social shopping”.

The draw here is that users can come to a central repository to find customer opinions that cut across brands or product types. For example, thisnext.com allows me to find products that other users have tagged as a “delight”, which returns everything from interactive wallpaper to shoe wheels.

Interactive Wallpaper product on thisnext.com

Now: User-generated content is for sale on e-commerce sites

In the ebay model, customers use the company’s platform to create their own storefronts and sell their own stuff. But in this new model, sites allow customers to use their platform to create products that the company now owns and sells.
One example is the company Big Universe I blogged about last week, which allows users to author beautiful children’s picture books and sell them on the site. Users get a cut of the sales and can link from their personal sites to the books they authored, but they don’t own the source files.

Pictures of good and bad examples of photos to send to threadless.comAnother example is Threadless T-Shirts, which is a forum where users can post and vote for designs for t-shirts. If the community likes your design and it’s made into a shirt, you get a cut (as of now, $500 per reprint). Customers even make the ads for the individual products. You can submit images of you sporting a particular design, and, if your photo gets posted, they’ll give you $1.50 off your next purchase. They even guide you as to what types of shots they’d like you to take of yourself and send in.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing these companies in any way. I just think it’s an interesting commentary on the public that we love to make and share things, and we’ll gladly do it for little or nothing if sites will provide us with an easy-to-use interface. A would-be Caldecott Medal winner for Children’s Books could be buried in a user-friendly self-publishing site because it was quicker and simpler than wading through the publishing process. Or a talented photographer could be spending time shooting t-shirt ads for a dollar fifty a pop because it’s fun and an easy way to get published.

Now that I’ve stepped back and have thought about this new trend, I’m going to think twice before I spend much creative juices contributing to another company’s site. If I’m going to create, I hope I own the finished product and reap any rewards (or failures) that come as a result.

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