BeebCamp: Does UGC add anything?

Kevin and I are at BeebCamp today (written yesterday!), a BarCamp gathering at the BBC, out in White City. There are a lot of BBC people here and a few “interesting outsiders”, and a bunch of interesting sessions already on the white boards for the day. The first session that I’m at is being run by Charlie Beckett and is about whether the copious amounts of user generated content (UGC) actually adds anything to existing journalistic content.

First problem wih UGC, is how do you filter it when there’s so much of it? Marvellous for the public to be involved, but that also can be seen as threatening journalism, but having said that it’s marvellous, does it add anything editorially? During the snow, 60k people sent in their pictures, which is nice but why not just stick it on Flickr or YouTube? What made it different to be on the BBC? The nation decided that the BBC was going to be their snow story platform. But what was done with it? Snow isn’t terribly controversial, but what would you do with UGC from Gaza? What systems are in place? Editorially, why does this matter? How does it change things? What are the transaction costs? How does the tech and design enable this to happen, and characterise what you end up getting? Does it add anything?

BBC thinks it ads something, as an organisation has the view since July atacs on London, UGC adds something, almost an industry in its own rights. Moved away from thinking of it as editorial in its own right, but instead see it as supporting. Maybe it’s time took a step back, there’s enough of it, we can just say “comment/content from the audience”, all different applications are useful, but not sure systems in BBC think that way.

Who gets the value? The fact that someone can have their say is valuable to them, regardless of the value to the BBC.

Third party, the larger group of people who don’t contribute, and aren’t the BBC, does it add value?

Demographics, 30 – 45, sneior managers, so quoting UGC is representative, it’s an error, it can alienate peope, beucase they feel that everyone who has their say isn’t “my kind of people'”. Study from Uni of Cardiff, focused on news.

This area moves quickly so is that study now out of date? Input that you get depends on platform, subject.

Which part of the public engages? Anyone actual act upon the issue of which demographic contributes? People engage in trying to get different people to contribute, language services, different parts of the world. Maybe not as joined up as it could be at the BBC.

But everyone in the BBC who runs a social media service thinks about this.

But is universality good?

What are you trying to achieve? Mass participation? Or trying to uncover information about a story? Much focuses on mass participation. Lots of focus on how to we structure, evaluate it? There’s a lot of opportunities missed, there’s a lot of content out there, call the Internet. If you’re covering a specific story, going on blogs you can find amazing content. During Hurrican Katrina, found someone podcasting as they were evacuating, and got them on air. That’s not mass participation, but it’s valuable. Is it mass partipication or are you looking for new news sources? Crowdsourcing.

That’s an important point. I don’t think we understand how to deal with smaller communities that re very high value, relationship between journalist and sources, 20k is unweildy, 30-40 si manageable. What are we using these communities for. UGC used to be called the ‘phone in’. Fallacy on radio, the more calls you gett the better the programme, important not to fall into that trap. How does UGC help you produce something that matters.

turn that question on its head. What does the BBC add to UGC. Lot more freedom for people on the internet than on, can only provide a type of UGC experience for uses, which is often limited and frustrated. What are we achieving by inviting people to post?

BBC often loved, treasured, invested in, because people thought that the BBC would “do something”. What can the BBC do to serve other people.

Katrina example, shining a light on someone’s content that they’re making themselves. If you provide a forum where the value is totally equal, how do you give that person something? How do you find that content?

What about the fiction that the BBC produces? How can the characters and stories be given back to the audience to do things with?

How is the BBC supporting other people’s communities? How can the BBC give their own content back to the audience, who arguably paid for it in the first place.

Not just about how many pictures of snow were sent in, but how many were used?

But should the BBC do anything with all these things? BBC pursues this UGC because it wants exclusivity.

Is it not our job to take that vast amount of UGC to filter out the good stuff and give it back? Look at what we would determine to be a good picture, becaues there’s a lot of stuff that should be filtered out.

Problem with UCG is the vloume, varies in quality, so some sort of tech solution to surface the best stuff. LA Times tried to do tag clouds of comment words, never had a way to sufficiently automatic it. Would get 20k comments on a given topic, make keyword cloud that gave people a sense of what was going on.

Two tensions in BBC, one is BBC as publisher, one is BBC as enabler. Publisher says “‘why publish 60k photos of snow”, and the enabler side says “because it’s a learning experience”.

Challenge is, when we take in 60k photos, and only publish 100, lots of people go away feeling disappointed.

Weather is a good example – why couldn’t they use it in the way that BBC Berkshire did with the floods, create a story about it.

Still struck by opportunity to marry pubisher/enabler. If we show what we know, we may change what people send to us. If we’re sick of sorting through 60k photos, opening up that mechanism may affect what people wanted to share. Might get better, by opening up what we know, it will affect what people think is new and interesting for us to see, more eyeballs on the problem, and more interesting solutions.

Burden of verification not there with snow. Other stories where that’s a real issue, can’t forget about.

Publishing it, we make an editorial statement about it. Different to hosting photos.

Need dialogue. If this is a process around which you might create something, has to have dialogue and that material is discussed, it raises the bar because people understand why a picture isn’t used.

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