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From the archives: everything you need to know about user-generated content

You wander downstairs, bleary-eyed, and grab the morning paper. The front page is blank.  So is page two, and page three, and every other page. The paperboy’s delivered 70 bits of blank paper and a biro, but when you call the newsagent to complain, he says you should be happy. “It’s newspaper 2.0!” he’ll cry. “Behold the power of user-generated content!”

In the old days websites published stuff and we looked at it. If we clicked on the adverts the sites would make money – which was fair enough, because the sites created the content in the first place. With user-generated content, though, you and I provide the content for free and the site owners still keep the money. In 2005, photo sharing site Flickr.com was sold for $30 million (£17 million). Flickr users got nowt.

User generated content is mainly a web phenomenon, but it’s spreading. Tabloids regularly ask “do you have any news stories? Decent photos? Can you spare half an hour on Friday to empty the bins in our office?” and TV stations want you to send in your videos. Even restaurants are getting in on the act. Some places already encourage you to pick your own ingredients and cook them at your table, and it’s just a matter of time before you get the opportunity to do the dishes afterwards.

All grandparents tell the grandkids that “in our day, we made our own entertainment” – but we’ll be the first grandparents who are actually telling the truth.

[Originally published in Official Windows Vista magazine.]