Much has been made about the iPad as a consumptive, rather than creative, device. Some, including law professor Tim Wu at a recent New America event, have voiced concern that it heralds the end of a golden era of user-generated content. But to truly understand the importance and impact of user-generated content – including on the traditional media that Clay Shirky has recently argued are fatally too complex to survive – we must have better measurement of the phenomenon. Without reliable data and sensible comparative metrics, it is impossible to say if we have even experienced a golden age of open creative possibility.
For example, nearly two years ago in response to Shirky, Nick Carr bristled at the idea that the Web was the necessary component for creative production, participation and sharing. According to Carr, the people he knew back before the Web were also creating – writing, photographing, drawing, constructing and volunteering. This is undoubtedly true, but because technology did not enable the inexpensive recording, archiving, sharing and finding of this creativity, it went largely unnoticed. Of course, cheaper technology almost certainly does enable more creative production, but how much is hard to say.
When Shirky notes that an amateur video of two children has garnered more views than American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and the Superbowl combined, it is comparing apples and oranges. A minute video hardly competes with the Superbowl for eyeballs; certainly the Internet has opened opportunities to competitors to the Superbowl, but let’s compare those. The problem is, we don’t currently have the categories and metrics necessary to make sense of the rise (and potential fall) of creation. Some people are trying to create quantify the impact of blogs on the news cycle, but in regards to other media types, we seem to be ignoring the problem and living off anecdotes. So, how can we move ahead with better metrics for user-generated content and what should those metrics be?