Who Makes UGC?

A while ago (2006 to be precise) I was told by a consultant that there was an emerging rule of thumb that suggests that if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will “interact” with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it. It's a meme that emerges not just in conversation, but strongly in statistics from YouTube, which in just 18 months grew fast on that 1% user base. Surveys since then (read but no link) suggest that between 5% and 15% of people create and upload video.

The numbers are revealing: each day there are 100 million downloads and 65,000 uploads – which as Antony Mayfield (at http://open.typepad.com/open) points out, was 1,538 downloads per upload – and 20m unique users per month a couple of years ago. That put the “creator to consumer” ratio at just 0.5%, but was early days then; not everyone had discovered YouTube …

Consider, too, some statistics from that other community content generation projects: Wikipedia: 50% of all Wikipedia article edits are done by 0.7% of users, and more than 70% of all articles have been written by just 1.8% of all users, according to the Church of the Customer blog (http://customerevangelists.typepad.com/blog/).

Earlier metrics garnered from community sites suggested that about 80% of content was produced by 20% of the users. Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo points out that much the same applies at Yahoo: in Yahoo Groups, the discussion lists, “1% of the user population might start a group; 10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author content, whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress; 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups,” he noted on his blog (www.elatable.com/blog/?p=5) in February 2007.

The trouble, as in real life, is finding the builders.

We're all (those of us in the UGC world) essentially competing for a fraction of the 1% of traffic out there This adds to the importance of reaching early adopters and technologically savvy users early in Moviestorms life. (Active bloggers seem to play around with products and experiments a little more than the average user.)

We have to tap in to the 1% of our builders effectively to create content 89% of our users want,

While not quite a “natural law” this order-of-magnitude relationship is found across many sites that solicit user contribution. Even for Wikipedia (the gold standard of the genre) half of all edits are made by just 2.5% of all users. And note that in this context user means “logged in user”, not accounting for the millions of lurkers directed to Wikipedia via search engine traffic for instance.

It is also important to look at the desire of people in general to express themselves through creation and customization. Examples abound, from the popularity of karaoke,cell phone faceplates and ring tones, to the 1.4 million active weblogs. People want to be perceived as creative by customizing their surroundings, to have their moments on the stage. In many cases, it seems that users are just waiting for access to the right tools.

The Sims. I like this one as an example, not least as I once investigated it to some depth. And with the explosive growth of Spore recently, we should look back to see where it comes from The Sims was the first mass-market game to heavily utilize player created content. The Sims allows the player to control the lives of a number of virtual Sims who go about their day attempting to find happiness. Part of their happiness comes from the possessions their homes are filled with, so purchasing items like better chairs and stereo equipment is a focal point of the game.

Will Wright and Electronic Arts understood that users would be able to supply more content to each other than the developers could create, so they released the tools to create content before the product was shipped and now claim that over 80% of the content in use was created by the players. Beyond customization, players have also built stories around screen shots captured in The Sims. Over 77,000 of these albums are posted and traded actively among player. The most popular album I last looked at been downloaded over 300,000 times!

Second Life. Ah, second life, where numbers as well as people tend to be imaginary. Second Life, an online world built by its users that launched in May of 2003, gave users in built- tools. These tools enable creation collaboratively in real-time instead of using separate programs. This allows users to create iteratively and interactively, while sharing the act of creation with other users. This encourages teams to work together on larger scale projects and creates the strong interpersonal bonds that are critical to online world success.

Production occurs inworld, so there is no separate submission or pre-approval process to inhibit creation. Due to the in-world tools and lack of a submission process, Second Life’s users have been able to create an amazing amount of content.  At the end of October 2003, users had created over 250,000 objects, over 75,000 objects with scripted behaviors, and over 300,000 pieces of clothing. Well over 95% of the objects in Second Life are user created, and users have responded positively to the idea of creating the world that they live in.

Users also run classes and events to ensure that new residents understand how to create and customize within Second Life. 25% of Second Life users are in-world more than 30 hours per week, and many of those hours are spent interacting and educating newcomers.

There is also a high degree of participation in creating the world and the economy.

•    42% of Second Life users create objects from scratch using the built-in modeling system
•    More than 44% have successfully sold an object to another user.
•    77% have bought one or more objects from other users
•    90% have modified their avatar.
•    The average user spends more than one hour per week just on their avatar’s appearance.

So where does this take us with UGC in general? So, what can we learn?

Social software sites don’t require 100% active participation to generate great value.
We don’t need to convert 100% of the audience into “active”
participants to have a thriving product that benefits tens of millions
of users. This simple fact is woefully misunderstood by many investors
and many analysts when they bemoan low conversion rates. They do not
see that the long tail also has a very long gearing on it, in favour of
the sites that have loyal creative communities.

Give them tools, help them reveal their loyalty. Leverage their creativity. That should work.