UGC FTW!

(That’s “User-generated content for the win!”, or “it’s good to let people make stuff”.)

flickr picture with lots of user-generated SL content that it's hard to imagine the world owners ever getting around to making themselves

This is another in a series of posts in which I take some stuff that I wrote sometime in the past as a comment to someone else’s weblog or something, and post it here, so as to expose it to more of my readers, and to get easy content for the weblog and add to my worldwide fame without doing much additional work.

The following little rant was originally posted as a comment to this digado posting, which started out as a discussion of whether browser-based virtual worlds were going to take over, was dragged (by me) into the issue of whether “browser based” is actually a property of virtual worlds at all, and eventually ended up on the question of whether it’s important (for the success of the world) that a virtual world allow ordinary users to make stuff. I strongly believe that it is, but in the course of the discussion (and of a very similar discussion that took place around the same time inside my company’s firewall) I realized that my favorite reason for believing that (the first one given below) is in practice not early as important as another reason (the second one below).

Discussion and comment and the general spreading of my worldwide fame is most welcome. And now, the actual content.

I think that user-generated content is very important for a successful virtual world that wants to be a general-purpose virtual world rather than just a MMORPG like WoW or whatever. And it’s important for two reasons:

First and I admit somewhat idealistically, I think that everyone wants to create, and will create if we make it easy enough and foster a culture that encourages creation, and that everyone will be richer and happier as a result. It doesn’t have to be the creation of the shapes of virtual objects (”3D phtotoshopping”); it can be that, but it can also be textures, or music, or design specifications for an object that someone else will actually build, or room layouts in a building, or text and writing or all kinds, or sound effects, or the mechanism of a quest game, or a set of jokes, or a new way to organize a committee, or a script to power a funny hat, or… But in any case empowering people to be creative in these ways in the VWs means providing User Generated Content.

Second, and much more practically, user generated content is important because without it the owners of the platform are a bottleneck for every single stupid thing that anyone needs built. Someone wants to open a store to sell either real or virtual goods, and they want the store to have a distinctive look rather than being just Generic Store #3, they have to file a petition with the platform owners and hope someone gets to it. There’s a craze in RL Korea for skirts with huge flower-shaped ribbons, by the time the VW owners notice (unless they’re in Korea themselves) and provide the corresponding virtual content, the craze will have been over for a week. A corporation wants a conference room structured around the basic principles of their new Seven-Sigma Continuous Improvement Business Innovation for Stakeholder Success Philosophy, they aren’t going to want to queue up behind the people who are badgering the platform owners for custom houses done the Dark Elvish style.

UGC frees the economy. We know that the way an economy produces the right goods and services is by way of a price system and a free market (modulo market failures, externalities, rights violations, and so on). We know that central planning of the means of production doesn’t work in the real world. Why should we expect it to work in the virtual worlds? Why would Linden Lab be any better at predicting what ought to be designed and created for its residents than the Supreme Soviet turned out to be for theirs? UGC puts the decision-making power out in the user community, where imho it belongs.

And note that this isn’t just about the people who want to create stuff. Even if my idealistic idea is wrong, and some people really are born to be passive consumers who only want to buy, never create, UGC is still the right way to make sure that the stuff that they want to buy is available. A vibrant economy will do a pretty good job of making that happen; a bunch of people sitting in a room at Linden Lab trying to decide what objects to add to the world next will do a very bad job of it.

End rant. For now. :)

End of actual content. Oh, and props to Ahuva, who was I think the one who most clearly brought out the “it’s good for non-builders, too, ’cause they can tell their builder friends what they want” idea in the internal discussion.

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12 Responses

  1. Nuuu! Not Soviet references *here* too?!

    Further to your first point : besides the fostering of creativity, user generated content is, I think, a strong mechanism for building social interaction in a virtual world. Certainly it is in ours. User content provides a strong nucleating force for person-to-person contacts, and for those among entire groups, too. That we can ‘make our own stuff’ encourages a level of social interplay that the Lindens would be hard-pressed to stimulate in other ways, at least without making SL a bona fide “game” with structured objectives of some sort.

  2. You’re completely right!

    Take away scarcity and take away coercion, and what you get is people making stuff and showing off, and helping each other. And a leavening of assholes, but a lot fewer than old rules of human behavior would predict.

    That’s how people want to behave, and how they will, given half a chance.

    Digital worlds are just showing (some) people that that behavior’s nothing to be afraid of…

    –Soph Stenvaag

  3. Yeah, Coyote, we need a “USSR” equivalent of Godwin’s Law. :) Your point’s a good one; that’s a nice third reason to love UGC.

    Soph, that’s exactly my first argument! But I’ve gradually come around to at least entertaining the possibility that “how people want to behave” might actually be too broad, and there might really be people who want to be consumers rather than creators; or at least that there are lots of people who believe that, and who one might not want to take the time to convince otherwise.

    The thing I like about adding the second argument is that it can be used to show even those people, who sincerely believe that many people only want to consume, that UGC content is still good, even for the consumers.

  4. I think user generated content is hugely important for people that are labeled ‘consumers’. In the real world people generate content at an astounding rate, just talking, writing, singing, cooking, playing, working, gesticulating, dancing. As you say, “textures, or music, or design specifications for an object that someone else will actually build, or room layouts in a building, or text and writing or all kinds, or sound effects, or the mechanism of a quest game, or a set of jokes, or a new way to organize a committee, or a script to power a funny hat, or” are all content creation- everything in a virtual world is content, not just polished end products created by, ‘producers’ for waiting ‘consumers’. Even though SL/OpenSim is ahead of many alternatives, creating needs to be even easier for a richer interactions and a more imersive environment- “it’s good for non-builders, too, ’cause they can tell their builder friends what they want” is a great example, but take that a step further, “it’s good for non-builders to tell other non-builders what they mean/are thinking about/are interested in/….”

    Ok, rambling a bit I suspect, but user generated content is essential.

  5. Thanks much, I agree completely!

    One thing that slightly worries me is that SL will slip in the direction of giving professional content creators more power to do fancy stuff using expensive external tools and then importing the results, and neglect making it easier for casual users to create neat stuff inworld, without any professional-level investment in tools.

    We should watch out for this and nip it in the bud if it begins to happen. :)

  6. The other problem with using external tools and importing the results is that you lose the ability to collaborate on what’s being built, which is one of the advantages virtual worlds should give you. Would be nice to be able to create more content in world (gestures, textures, etc.) not less.

  7. Wouldn’t you know it, looks like it is possible to create more content collaboratively in a virtual world,

    http://cory.github.com/blog/2009/03/31/1831.html

    Nice

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