User-generated content versus community-generated content

I think there is definite triangle emerging in my mind when I try to notice differences in quality and time-to-market and cost for user-generated content and community-generated content.

To me, user-generated content is the type of content you find in forums and mailing lists. It is likely to show up on a search for information and troubleshooting. User-generated content varies widely in quality and may be outdated quickly. Usually readers of user-generated content understand “Caveat Lector” – Reader Beware.

Community-generated content has a different quality bar, in my mind. While a community may be defined with a mailing list as its only communication, more likely the community is not using the mailing list itself to offer how-tos or detailed troubleshooting. Instead, a community, since it is defined with a common goal, may have content creation as one of the means to achieving that goal.

So which is faster? User- or Community- content?

I believe that individual users are faster at posting informal, conversational responses to specific questions. But a community may have a more thought-out approach to the big picture of what needs to be created, content-wise. I am not just talking about written content, although of course FLOSS Manuals is one of the communities I’ve had direct experience with. I’m also thinking of WordPress.tv, where the site was “seeded” with twenty or so professionally-created video tutorials, but then the community members’ contributions were also accepted. While it may take a while to create that content, and it might not have a professional voice-over, it is good enough to help another community member learn a particular WordPress technique.

Good enough content

Both types of content often offer “good enough” answers to questions or advice about a best way to proceed with a particular solution. Good enough is judged by the reader. I don’t think that I’m calling one type of content more professional than another. Rather, the usefulness of the content vetted by a community is the criteria for judging its quality.

What do you think? Is there a distinction to be drawn between user-generated content and community-generated content?

5 Comments

  • February 25, 2009 - 4:43 am | Permalink

    I think there is still a model to be developed here.

    Yes, there is a distinction between professional content and user-generated but as long as the distinction is clear to the person consuming the information then, as you say, I think the consumer wins everytime.

    Where this breaks down is, for example, where the information is being provided for quite a small audience. Motivating a small number to participate in such a model may not be possible, the wisdom of the crowd doesn’t really apply when the numbers are low.

  • February 25, 2009 - 4:50 am | Permalink

    Also (sorry, should pause before submitting comments!) there is the ‘validated by a professional’ versus ‘ad-hoc by random person’ mindset as well.

    I’m accountable for the information I produce for the company I work for, but not for anything I post on my blog. Note that I’m not saying that what I’d write would be any more or less correct than someone else but the important fact is accountability.

  • February 25, 2009 - 5:50 pm | Permalink

    This is really interesting timing and a really interesting topic!

    I’m working as a tech writer on a wiki. Our official product documentation is developed and hosted on the wiki. (A Confluence site at http://confluence.atlassian.com/.) Up to now, only company employees (plus a very few selected others) have update-access to the documentation. The general public can create comments on the documentation but not update the pages.

    But now we’re in the process of opening up the documentation to updates by the wider community. This is a very interesting process, because of the IP considerations and because someone needs to review all updates. Hmm, I wonder who that might be ;) So we’ll soon be conducting a pilot to see how it goes.

    We’re not quite ready yet — still tying up a few loose ends. I’m guessing I’ll probably feel the urge to blog about it when it happens ;)

    Great post, Anne. And great timing too. I love seeing these commonalities in the techwritosphere.

  • February 25, 2009 - 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to you both for your input! I guess I’m trying to formulate a thesis that goes something like this: if you build community behind any common goal, then the content that the community creates is aligned with that goal, whether your common goal and community is “I work here and I’m responsible” or “I am a member of this community who believes in furthering the cause.”

    I guess I’m trying to insert “whuffie” (Cory Doctorow’s invention and Tara Hunt has a book out about it), social capital, or psychic income (from Groundswell) into both a non-paid environment and a paid environment, in order to get higher quality content.

    Thanks for helping me think this through! Does this description line up with your experiences? I really appreciate you sharing them.

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