UCC can provide citizens, consumers and students with information and knowledge. Educational
UCC content tends to be collaborative and encourage sharing and joint production of information, ideas,
opinions and knowledge, for example building on participative web technologies to improve the quality
and extend the reach of education. Discussion fora and product reviews can lead to more informed user and
consumer decisions (e.g. fora on health-related questions, book reviews).
The cultural impacts of this social phenomenon are also far-reaching. "Long tail" economics allows a
substantial increase in availability and a more diverse array of cultural content to find niche
audiences. UCC can also be seen as an open platform enriching political and societal debates, diversity of
opinion, free flow of information and freedom of expression. Transparency and some “watchdog”
functions may be enhanced by decentralised approaches to content creation. Citizen journalism, for
instance, allows users to correct, influence or create news, potentially on similar terms as newspapers or
other large entities. Furthermore, blogs, social networking sites and virtual worlds can be platforms for
engaging electors, exchanging political views, provoking debate and sharing information on societal and
Challenges related to inclusion, cultural fragmentation, content quality and security and privacy have
been raised. A greater divide between digitally literate users and others may occur and cultural
fragmentation may take place with greater individualisation of the cultural environment. Other challenges
relate to information accuracy and quality (including inappropriate or illegal content) where everybody can
contribute without detailed checks and balances. Other issues relate to privacy, safety on the Internet and
possibly adverse impacts of intensive Internet use.
Opportunities and challenges for users, business and policy
The rapid rise of UCC is raising new questions for users, business and policy. Policy issues are
grouped under six headings: i) enhancing R&D, innovation and technology, ii) developing a competitive,
non-discriminatory framework environment, iii) enhancing the infrastructure, iv) shaping business and
regulatory environments, v) governments as producers and users of content, and vi) better measurement.
Apart from standard issues such as ensuring wide-spread broadband access and innovation, new
questions emerge around whether and how governments should support UCC. The maintenance of pro-
competitive markets is particularly important with increased commercial activity and strong network
effects and potential for lock-in. UCC is also putting existing regulatory arrangements and the separation
between broadcasting and telecommunications regulations to a test. With the emergence of increasingly
advertising-based business models and unsolicited e-mail and marketing messages, rules on advertising
will play a particular role in the UCC environment (e.g. product placements, advertising to children).
In the regulatory environment important questions relate to intellectual property rights and UCC: how
to define “fair use” and other copyright exceptions, what are the effects of copyright on new sources of
creativity, and how does IPR shape the coexistence of market and non-market creation and distribution of
content. In addition, there are questions concerning the copyright liability of UCC platforms hosting
potentially unauthorised content and the impacts of digital rights management.
Other issues include: i) how to preserve freedom of expression made possible by UCC, ii) information
and content quality/accuracy and tools to resolve these, iii) adult, inappropriate, and illegal content and
self-regulatory (e.g. community standards) or technical solutions (e.g. filtering software), iv) safety on the
“anonymous” Internet, v) dealing with new issues surrounding privacy and identity theft, vi) monitoring
the impacts of intensive Internet use, vii) network security and spam, and viii) regulatory questions in
dealing with virtual worlds (taxation, competition etc.). Finally, new statistics and indicators are urgently
needed to inform policy.
PARTICIPATIVE WEB: USER-CREATED CONTENT (UCC)
Wide creative participation in developing digital content, driven by rapidly diffusing broadband
access and new software tools, is a new feature of society and the economy. Initial work on the
participative web was developed for the Information Technology Outlook 2006,
and sudden awareness of
the growth and potential impacts of user-created content was one of the main outcomes of the international
conference on The Future Digital Economy: Digital Content Creation, Distribution and Access organised
by the OECD and the government of Italy in January 2006.
As the Digital Content Conference progressed, participants increasingly observed that the Internet is
embedded in people’s lives and that with the rise of a more “participative web” an inflection point for its
impact on governance and civic life has been reached (OECD, 2006a, b). New user habits where “users”
draw on new Internet-based applications to express themselves through “user-created content” and take a
more active and collaborative role in content “creation and consumption” were central topics. More active
users, consumers and user-centred innovation were seen to have increasing economic impacts. These new
forms of user creation and distribution are spurring new business models, presenting challenges for access
to content, and are starting to bypass, intersect with, and create new opportunities for established media
and other industries.
As an extension of existing OECD work, this study explores the rise, development and actual and
potential impacts of user-created content (UCC) in greater detail, and draws out implications for policy.
Questions addressed include: What is user-created content? What are its key drivers, its scope and the
different forms it takes? What are new value chains and business models? What are the extent and form of
its social, cultural and economic impacts? What are associated challenges? Is there a government role and,
if there is, what form could it take?
The analysis is structured in six main parts. The first part defines UCC. The second and third parts
identify the key drivers of UCC and provide a broad overview of various UCC types and related
distribution platforms. The fourth part analyses associated “value” chains and new business models while
the fifth part examines social and economic impacts of UCC. The final part analyses opportunities and
challenges for users, businesses and government.
Certain questions are raised by this paper which are answered only in part, mainly because
developments are very recent and general trends, developments and policy are not clear as yet.
While the development of open source software is often included in discussion of the participative
web, this topic is excluded from the scope of this study. In terms of impact, such large-scale collaborative
efforts may merit further attention.
DEFINING AND MEASURING THE PARTICIPATIVE WEB AND
The use of the Internet is characterised by increased participation and interaction of Internet users who
use it to communicate and express themselves. The most prominent concept to describe this evolution
which uses the Internet’s inherent capabilities more extensively is called “participative web”. It represents
an Internet increasingly influenced by intelligent web services based on new technologies empowering the
user to be an increasing contributor to developing, rating, collaborating and distributing Internet content
and developing and customising Internet applications (O’Reilly, 2002, 2005; MIC, 2006; OECD, 2006b).
These new web tools are said to enable commercial and non-commercial service providers to better harness
the “collective intelligence” of Internet users, using information and knowledge embedded in the Web in
the form of data, metadata, user participation and creating links between these. One characteristic of the
participative web is also the communication between users and between different separate software
applications via open web standards and web interfaces.
The rise of user-created content (UCC) (French: “contenu auto-créé”) or the so-called “rise of the
amateur creators” is one of the main features of the so-called participative web.
This comprises various
forms of media and creative works (written, audio, visual, and combined) created by Internet and
technology users. Despite frequent references to this topic by media and experts, no commonly agreed
definition of user-created content exists.
Also referred to as “user-generated” content, sources such as
Wikipedia refer to it as “on-line content that is produced by users [i.e. non-media professionals (i.e.
“ordinary people”)] as opposed to traditional media producers such as broadcasters and production
A central aspect is also that users recommend and rate content.
To have a more solid understanding of UCC, it is useful to agree on the characteristics of user-created
content (i.e. an indication of what is UCC and what is not). Three central characteristics are proposed.
UCC, however, is hard to define and based on criteria which are likely to evolve in time. As such these
characteristics lay the ground only for identifying a possible spectrum of UCC.
• Publication requirement: While theoretically UCC could be made by a user and never actually
be published online or elsewhere, we focus here on the work that is published in some context, be
it on a publicly accessible website or on a page on a social networking site only accessible to a
select group of people (i.e. fellow university students). This is a useful way to exclude email,
bilateral instant messages and the like.
• Creative effort: This implies that a certain amount of creative effort was put into creating the
work or adapting existing works to construct a new one; i.e. users must add their own value to the
work. The creative effort behind UCC often also has a collaborative element to it, as is the case
with websites which users can edit collaboratively. For example, merely copying a portion of a
television show and posting it to an online video website (an activity frequently seen on the UCC
sites) would not be considered UCC. If a user uploads his/her photographs, however, expresses
his/her thoughts in a blog, or creates a new music video this could be considered UCC. Yet the
minimum amount of creative effort is hard to define and depends on the context.
• Creation outside of professional routines and practises: User-created content is generally
created outside of professional routines and practices. It often does not have an institutional or a
commercial market context. In the extreme, UCC may be produced by non-professionals without
the expectation of profit or remuneration. Motivating factors include: connecting with peers,
achieving a certain level of fame, notoriety, or prestige, and the desire to express oneself.
Although conceptually useful, the last characteristic is getting harder to maintain. While in the
beginning UCC was a grassroots movement, there is now a trend towards the monetisation of UCC from
the user-side (see section on economic impacts). Increasingly established media and Internet players are
acquiring UCC platforms to derive revenues. At times users are being remunerated for their content and
some users develop to be professionals after an initial phase of non-commercial activity. It is also
important to remember that some works are created by professionals but in their spare time
(e.g. professional video editors creating a film at home). The mere term UCC may thus be inadequate as
content creators are much more than just “users”. Still, the creation of content outside of a professional
routine and organisation is a useful concept to separate it from content produced by commercial entities.
Measuring UCC is not straightforward. Several factors complicate such measurement: the
decentralised nature of UCC production, the fact that the same UCC content is sometimes accessible on a
variety of sites (problem of double-counting), the fact that not all registered users of UCC platforms are
actually active users (inactive accounts), the problem of users setting up multiple accounts at the same site
(problem counting unique users) and the sometimes difficult distinction between user-created and other
content (such as the uploading of clips from copyrighted television shows). The first two factors may lead
UCC platforms to overstate the figures about their active unique users.
Currently also little official data from National Statistical Offices (NSO) are obtainable concerning
the number of users creating content, the amount of such content that exists, the number of users accessing
such content and the patterns that are emerging from such creation. NSOs have only started to include such
questions in surveys (e.g. the European Union, Japan, Korea, Canada). It may take some time before
official national data is available for all OECD countries in an internationally comparable way.
Existing data however show that broadband Internet users produce and share content at a high rate
and do not merely consume it. All data sources point to large intergenerational differences in web media
usage and to considerable gender differences.
Data available from national statistical surveys and the OECD show that the typical online behaviour
of Internet users consists of the following activities: mainly search, consulting general interest and portals,
using Internet tools and Web services such as email, e-commerce, using sites from software manufacturers,
consulting classifieds and participating in auctions, using broadcast media, and financial services (OECD,
2004a; OECD, 2005a).
When data is available on content creation, however, this is shown to be a very popular activity
among young age groups. As shown for the European Union in Figure 1, posting messages to chat rooms,
newsgroups or forums, using peer-to-peer file sharing sites and creating a webpage – the closest yet
sometimes imperfect statistical proxies on offer for UCC - are already very popular among Internet users.
In countries such as Finland, Norway, Iceland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Hungary and Poland, in 2005
around one third of all Internet users aged 16-74 were engaged in these activities. One-fifth of all Internet
users in some OECD countries report having created a webpage. Younger age groups are more active
Internet content creators. In countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Germany,
Poland and Luxembourg (in increasing order), in 2005 between 60 and 70% of Internet users aged 16-24
have posted messages to chat rooms, newsgroups or forums. One-fourth but sometimes half of all Internet
users in some OECD countries in that age group have created a webpage. In France, about 37% of
teenagers have created a blog.
In 2005, 13% of Europeans were “regularly contributing to blogs” and
another 12% were “downloading podcasts at least once a month” (European Commission, 2006).
Figure 1. User-created content in the EU as a % of the number of Internet users, 2005
Age Group: 16-24 years
EU 25 average
Post messages to chat rooms, newsgroups or forums
Use peer-to-peer file sharing
Create a webpage
Age Group: 16-74 years
EU 25 average
Post messages to chat rooms, newsgroups or forums
Use peer-to-peer file sharing
Create a webpage
Source: OECD based on Eurostat.
According to Table 1, 35% of all US broadband users have posted content to the Internet. For
broadband users under the age of 30, 51% have placed content on the Internet, 25% have their own blogs,
and 41% have posted content online they created themselves. 57% of teenagers in the US have created
content on the Internet as of late 2004 (Lenhart, 2005). More than half (55%) of all of online American
youths ages 12-17 use online social networking sites (Lenhart and Madden, 2007). In general, girls seem
over proportionally active users of social networking sites for communication, chat and other forms of
socialising and exchange, but less so when it comes to just viewing content, for example, on online video
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