Thursday, May 21, 2009

Where does user-generated content fit in?

Here's an example of how free content, paid-for content, and user-generated content can work together to create something really useful.

I love camping. I mean proper camping with a tent. Suppose I decide that I want to go on a camping holiday in the USA. Unless someone has given me a hot tip, I would probably start with a Google search: "what is a great place to go tent camping in USA in the summer". I would search around and find some general travel advice sites. Let's say I decide to go camping in Colorado.

I will likely then buy a guidebook to Colorado both to plan where to go and to take with me as a reference when I go. But where should I pitch my tent? The guidebook has some recommendations for good campsites and I decide to book one since the guidebook warns me it is very popular in summer. But which site at the campsite should I reserve? What better than to find someone who has stayed at this campsite and can recommend a site that has (for instance) a great view, is flat and not too far away from the playground for my kids. Even better if someone has posted some photo's of the choice sites so I can see before I reserve. Great. I can't wait to go.

A traditional publisher view of this scenario might be "there's no way I can include that much detail in my guidebook, if I had information on the best sites in every campsite the book would be a thousand pages". And they would be right. But there's another way of looking at this.

This is no an either/or scenario. User-generated content does not kill off the publisher. It is simply that in my search for somewhere memorable to camp, different information sources help me with different parts of the puzzle.

For my question: "where to camp in USA in summer?" a Google search and a general travel advice site was useful

For my question: "where to go in Colorado?" a guidebook was best for me

For my question: "which site is best to choose at this campsite?" the personal experience of a fellow camper was helpful

What if I created a publishing environment that provides some free information on initial holiday planning, the opportunity to buy a guidebook, and a section where people can share experiences and photo's? There's a good chance I would choose to buy a guidebook that was part of such a system. If all the information was cross-referenced and inter-linked, it would be even more compelling.

My guess is that there are many, many scenarios similar to this. For each one there is an opportunity to blend free, paid-for and user-generated content into something really useful for customers.

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