“User Generated Content”

I’m in Brussels at the Media & Learning conference, partly as a former MEDEA Award finalist, but also because I rather enjoy this sort of opportunity to contextualise and to think. I don’t do many conferences, and this one’s slightly (oddly?) outside my remit, so it’s a useful experience.

This afternoon I was talking about SciCast and exploring some of the lessons we’ve learned from it over the years, but one of the things that stuck out was my fellow presenters in the session referring to ‘user-generated content’. I may have reacted slightly badly to the phrase, and a couple of people picked up on Deborah Arnold’s use of my substitute, so I figure it’s worth rehashing the argument.

Frankly, I thought Mark Pilgrim had dealt with this more than four years ago:

“user-generated content”: a new form of online scam in which you make all the content, and we keep all the money.


In the geek media circles I sometimes inhabit the term seems long dead, but at this conference I’m shocked to find it’s still routine parlance. Here’s why I don’t use the phrase in relation to SciCast: every single word is wrong.

User: people who make media published by my project aren’t users, they’re partners, contributors, guests, … ‘user’ has a sneering connotation of low-life disregard, but contributors are the lifeblood of the project. They’re the crucial actors, not me. They’re the centre of it, not me. They’re the active participants: they’re not meekly passive “users”. Ugh.

Generated: You think the ‘users’ simply ‘generate’ stuff? They press a button and media pops out? No – they slave over their work, pouring heart and soul into it, making it an expression of themselves and their values. I sweat blood over my writing and my films, and my contributors do too. They certainly don’t ‘generate’ it.

Content: what the hell is ‘content’? These ‘users’ aren’t ‘generating’ ‘content’: they’re real people, putting serious effort into proper films, writing, photography, artwork, music.

Every single aspect of ‘user generated content’ belittles the central contribution we’re asking our contributors to make.

The danger goes beyond linguistic niceties: if we allow the phrase to become familiar, we might start believing it. We might start assuming that one ‘user’ is interchangeable with another, that one piece of ‘content’ can be swapped for five alternatives, that if we want more, we simply wait for it to be ‘generated.’

Our audiences and partners deserve more respect than that. They’re putting the effort in, and the least we can do is thank them for it, recognise their dedication, and make them feel valued.

I don’t much like “contributed media” either, but at least it’s not rude to the people who matter most.

[edit: Martin Austwick takes me to task, though from my reading we actually agree that it’s attitude that’s important rather than semantics. For the record, the thing I thought I’d be picked up on was referring to ‘my contributors’ – the audience don’t belong to me, if anything the platform I provide belongs to them.]

Scottish Ensemble video

I’ve only just realised that I didn’t mention this: I shot and edited this film for the Scottish Ensemble, who’ve also used a bunch of clips as the background for their shiny new website.

It was another of those KBS shoots, which I’ll use as a convenient excuse for the dodgy colour balancing in places. However, I’m pretty happy with the end result.

Shot mostly two-camera on Panasonic HMC151 and GF1, the latter pre-hack (for those who know about such things) and sporting the darling little 20mm ƒ/1.7 and a hulking brute of a Sigma 10-20 ƒ/4–5.6 via a Nikon adaptor. Audio during the performance sections was recorded by somebody who actually knew what they were doing, on a Zoom H4n.


Eurogamer have a lovely article looking back at one of my all-time favourite games, Homeworld. A remarkable piece of work.

I thought I’d written about it before here, but the only reference to ‘homeworld’ I could find is this piece about Battlestar Galactica series 3, which is also worth reading. Did I really write like that? What happened to that Jonathan?

Perhaps not all progress is positive, and maybe I should try to find that person again.


My company, StoryCog, is looking for a new member of staff. Specifically, to take over the day-to-day running of SciCast.

You’ll find details here, including a link to the full job description. That PDF has been going the rounds of the sci comms world this week, and seems to be causing some amusement. Examples:

“Read it for a giggle. Then forward it to your HR department as a model.”
“Having read and captured over 200 science communication job descriptions yours is the most refreshing.”
“A model of BRILLIANCE and appropriate refs to gaffer tape”

… and at least one other comment which I’ll refrain from sharing just for now. Perhaps later.

Deathly Pressure

Speaking of film-making, here’s a little something Flossie and I shot while we were in America a few months ago. It’s not very good, but it’s ours.

Shot with a Panasonic GF1 stills camera (unhacked), with 20mm ƒ/1.7 & 17-45 ƒ/3.5–5.6 OIS lenses. Graded with… er… the 3-way colour corrector in Final Cut Pro. A couple of layers of it in places, though. So that’s like secondaries, right?

Shooting with Arri Alexa

When the camera sees more than my light meter does, it’s time to acknowledge that the game has truly changed.

(from ProVideo Coalition | Cinematography.)

Fascinating article, as much for how the shoot was done as for the footage.

Alexa (or RED, for that matter) are way out of my league, but at least they give me something to dream about while I’m waiting for the Panasonic AF100 and hoping it’s cheaper than the reported $6000. There’s always a fancier camera…