Monday, November 30, 2009

Power of User Generated Content

Wikipedia, to me, is the power of user-generated content and contribution. It is for the users, by the users.

Do you remember Wikipedia when it first started ? I still remember writing and editing articles back in 2005, when almost anyone could create/edit a page. The content grew, exponentially, not surprising given the increased internet reach and the number of people using/contributing. A simple example would be a retired journalist (wonder if they really have retirement though!). He/she would have learnt, experienced and researched 100s of topics that many of us have probably not even heard about. That knowledge should not die with him/her - Wikipedia is probably one of the easiest ways to ensure that.

Another favorite example of mine is Openstreetmap. I have referred to it before in one of my posts. It is an initiative to create a world-wide editable map, and ofcourse its free. The logic behind it is simple - I know where my house is better than any map in the world. I know my area and my favorite places better than anyone else. So why not use that knowledge to create a map or correct a wrong map ? Any user can upload GPS tracks, edit them and what's more, changes can be updated instantly, i.e. if I know my street name has changed, I can correct it. The animated .gif shows how the network has grown over the last few years (If blogger messes with .gif, check Geofabrik).

To support the Openstreetmap initiative, many government sources have also donated data. Today, I can even see RA puram in Openstreetmap and I am just waiting for the OSM community to kick in, in India too. In fact, depending on the interest of the user, even information about pavements, biker paths, handicapped-friendly areas etc. are marked. In spite of all this, there is a pre-established convention to keep the maps consistent as they grow.

Another example along the same lines is the Google mapmaker and I really like the tag line - Become a citizen cartographer and help map your world !

When you map the world, you can also create 3D models using Google Sketchup....after all the world is 3D ! You would be amazed at how many wonderful 3D models have been created this way. Here is a sample.

Well, this idea has been there for quite a while...remember the annoying window that always pops up asking if you want to send an error report ? Well, that's user contribution helping a software provider fix the bugs, only there you do not get any credit for patiently sending in those bug reports but just the satisfaction that they finally managed to fix at least half the bugs !

Then there is another level, where software providers release a beta version, like Google wave and ask users for suggestions. Obviously you get neither royalty nor credit for doing so but its a time-killer and you give yourself a pat on the back for doing your good deed for the day !

I think this idea of harnessing user-generated content for the sake of the community is exactly the direction we should be going in. I also think it will continue to grow, because people need recognition and praise and when there is a podium to showcase talent, they will start exploring the talents that they never knew they had and for once, money is not the only motivation ! For example, Google claims that it would replace any source of photo-textured 3D models by the user-provided data as long as its more accurate. This could be the chance that small start-up companies or hard working individuals had been waiting for; a place to showcase what they are capable of and by doing it in an app that has such a wide reach, is definitely alluring !

Not only is the user-generated content used for free applications but also by commercial businesses - be it map updates for navigation devices, or real-time traffic updates. In these cases though, there is a further stringent step of validating the user-provided content since the customer who paid for the product/service is not going to tolerate mistakes made by some person he/she doesn't know or care about.

Well, we all know about the global village and now we all seem to be heading towards a global team where its not just bad news that is traveling fast ! There is one thing though - doesn't one always know too much about one's own team members ?!

Update as on 1 Dec 2009

Google does what it does best - understanding and using user-generated content with yet another way - model your own town competition !

Copyright for pictures
1. Geofabrik
2. Openstreetmap
3. Google Sketchup
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