The Social Web: Its User-Generated, But Is It Really User-Controlled?

User-generated content! These are a sequence of terms we hear repeatedly when discussing the .

The core distinguishing character of the to more linear electronic resource such as TV, Radio, Print and even Web 1.0, is the degree of involvement the user plays in generating and sharing content than ever before. This is why we love it! But do they actually control their content?

It might be user-generated, but is it really user controlled?

Let’s say our organisation decides to use social technologies in their marketing activities or build a social network where our customers, consumers and stakeholders can share and interact. Where a dialogue and conversation can evolve. Where we as a company we can engage with the community within which we coexist. Sounds great!

But as a user or participant in this community, can I really choose how that content is displayed? To whom it is shared? and What the very nature of that content is? Or does someone else control this, for what ever purpose, or aim or objective they have?

This is very much dependent on the nature of the properties of an electronic resource – the technical, structural and experiential properties. And these properties are contingent on who designs, builds and develops it!

Not the user who might use it. Despite the user being the most important node for network sustainability. After all they do create the content.

Properties of Electronic Resources

Electronic resources such as the social web comprise technical properties (hardwired, mechanical elements) that enable structural properties of a resource, such as how interactive it is how vividness etc. This in turn influences the experiential properties – user perceptions and experiences such as ease of use and utility.

For example, if I design the functionality of a system or network in a certain way (the technical properties), I can influence the degree of control a user has over what they can do with the system or information in the system. This is known as a structural property called ‘pacing’.

Pacing can varying in degree from being controlled by the designer/marketer. We call this externally paced. With more control being given to the user, thus is considered more of an internally paced system.

For many broadcast delivery systems such as television, these are external pacing where the transfer speed and the information sequence is controlled by the advertiser and network- with minimal influence by the receiver of the information (audience).

Turn on your television, select a channel—how much control do you have over the order in which you receive the information and the speed at which you receive it? Compare this to watching a rental video or a DVD. With print media, have a larger degree of freedom of choice of the order and time allocated to the information, which is why print media are regarded as more internally paced than broadcast media.

User Control and The Web – Who is Pulling the Strings?

Although the concept of information/media control has been around since the 1960′s the development of computer and network-based communication technologies like the Internet and Web has increased its relevance.

With resources like database technology upon which Google and Amazon are based, users have a larger degree of control over the order in which they access information and the amount of time they take to process it.

The social web on the other hand, has an increased capability to enable both external and internal pacing with a common example being the difference between ‘user generation & customization’ (internally paced) and ‘system mediation and personalisation’ (externally paced).

Let’s look at Myspace and Facebook. Myspace is designed to enable more user customisation, not just in content display and sharing, but also in design and functionality, with a lesser degree of system mediation. Facebook in comparison, adheres to more terms and conditions of the use of their network, limiting user control in functionality and design, but enabling it in content generation and sharing.

If I don’t like either of these offerings and their control over my content, I can create my own … a blog through WordPress, a wiki through PBWorks, a social network through Ning and define my own ideas of who controls both the system and it’s content … or as is technically possible through these systems.

So I suppose the closing questions of this blog post are:

  • As a participant/user I need to consider who inherently has control over the content I generate? The designer, system developer, the management or marketer … they can add, remove, publicise or ban my content at the click of a button.
  • As a designer, developer, management or marketer … how much external and internal control does my community expect or want from the system, and how much am I prepared to give?

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caseinsights (8 years ago)

The Social Web: It’s User-Generated, But is it User-Controlled?

This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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