Spiral, Brisbane © Gary Hayes  2006 It has been quite a few days since my last post and was expecting to have a great deal to write about but there seems to be a bit of a lull in some of the end of 2005 developments. The exponential rise in mobile rich media, broadband TV and web 2.0 has stalled slightly. I thought for the moment though while we wait for the next wave that it would be worth looking at how user generated content and particularly the common ground between the old models and the new, is progressing.

When I started at the BBC in the mid 90s the concept of major broadcasters taking ‘real life’ stories and making them available for the nation was already tried and tested. In the digital domain this initial analogue idea expanded dramatically across genre and media types as can be seen in BBC Create. I worked for the first 3 years across the corridor from the community programmes unit so was privy to the weird clash of the start of BBC internet and the first form of ‘people casting’. Video Nation which began in 1993 was indeed the UK’s equivalent of community television (an already established US cable paradigm) and from the 10 000 tapes that were submitted, over 1300 shorts were broadcast on national TV, BBC2 – sometimes picking up audiences of 9 million! This was a complicated operation in those days as ‘the people’ were invited into the BBC studios to help edit their ‘story’. Obviously we have come a long way since those days with the advent of easy to use editing tools and upload engines over bigger and better broadband.

So what is the future of that strange area where broadcasters and people come together? Is this a transition zone where user generated content spreads like wildfire over the internet and a few embers drift into the fading light of traditional broadcasting? Or are we seeing a model that will continue indefinitely? A final more important question is why are broadcasters helping ‘the people’ make better films and stories?

The advent of models such as Current TV is showing that UGC is gaining respectability and like many professionally aggregated UGC portals there are areas that help ‘the people’ tell better stories. It was a surprise to see Robert Redford no less, as part of a section on the site acting as a mentor for instance. Channel 4 in the UK with its recently launched 4 Docs also includes the obligatory ‘how to’ sections – guides on how to tell stories. Without Mr. Redford to provide advice they take a more ‘chirpy cockney’ approach with short indexed videos and PDF’s that would make any self respecting film school lecturer hold their heads in disbelief.

What’s your film about? How do you decide? There are no manuals on this one. But there is one good piece of advice. Documentaries work best when the filmmaker is passionate about the subject. So do yourself a favour. Choose a subject you care about. The best way to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t is to watch lots of documentaries. Thinking about what kinds of documentaries get on television can help when deciding what ideas do and don’t work.

The BBC of course have been providing tips to make better films for over a decade and their latest ‘filming skills‘ area has changed little – but I wonder cynically if this is just a last ditch way to try to keep hold of an otherwise decreasing audience. Promise them a platform and some story telling education and they will come. SBS and ABC the two Australian public service broadcasters are gearing up to do the same over the coming months.

Of course there will always be a mass market for vanity publishing and we are now inundated with hundreds of places for ‘people’ to display their wares/stories. The list below is the tip of the iceberg displaying a sort of “get them to upload and their hearts and minds will follow” mentality…

Google video upload “Whether you produce hundreds of titles a year or just a few, you can give your videos the recognition and visibility they deserve by promoting them on Google – for free.”

AOL Members Videos – “Are you longing to be in the limelight? Create your own movie today and be featured right here. But first, be sure to practice your autograph.”

Bonita News “Use the form below to send us your original video. Clips can be short clips of important or funny things that have happened in your life, or can even be from your locally produced short film, etc…”

BBC News – “We have already received thousands of images from around the world and we’d like you to send us yours. If an event is unfolding before your eyes and you capture it on a camera or mobile phone, either as a photograph or video, then please send it to BBC News.”

CNET – “Give your own video the distribution it deserves; showcase it for the millions of users on CNET Download.com!”

ABC TV Australia – “Every Monday from February 2006 we want your place in our face. Make us a four-minute film about your life, your town, your friends, your hobbies and what you care about and we’ll show it to the nation on ABC2 and ABC online.”

Lawrence.Com “We are, however, interested in seeing your home videos depicting wholesome, traditional sex acts. Ha ha, only kiding — actually we could care less what style of sexuality you’re into — so please send us nothing approximating porn. Thanks in advance.”

CNN – “We’ll ask a new question each week, then post some of your responses here and on CNN TV. Some of the videos, photos and audio submitted may be selected for use in CNN.com‘s Hurricane Katrina special report”

CraveOnline – “Ever get one of those emails with a video clip that made you roll around your office floor in stitches? Yeah, we want those! But it’s gotta be good, it’s gotta be funny, and it’s gotta be something that people crave to see.”

60 second story – “60 second stories are works of fiction 1 minute and 1 second or less in duration told in low-bandwith video clips. They’re easy and fun to make, and make the web one story richer.”

DTV, Participatory Culture – “The Democracy internet TV platform is a free and open way to watch, share, and broadcast video on the internet.”

Get Democracy – Related to DTV above. “Download and watch all the best internet TV shows and videos in one powerful application. New channels arrive daily in the built-in Channel Guide.”

PBS POV – “we want you to send us your thoughts – in the form of P.O.V.’s Talking Back Video Letters.”

This is how to do it – “Hello, welcome to the “Submit Videos” page. Our site depends on you, the Internet community, and the “How-To” videos that you provide. ”

Perhaps the last one suggests what this is all really about – “our site depends on you”! This list could have been four times as long but life is short, but it shows that the scarecity of a few TV channels a decade ago asking for some ‘blooper’ VHS’s is now palling into insignificance. The thousands of vlogs and hundreds of aggregated vlogs sites. The hundreds of semi-professional film submission sites such as iFilm, TriggerStreet, AtomFilms etc: Then finally the swathe of flickr like sites for video such as youtube.com, fireant, vimeo.com, MeFeedia. (The last one MeFeedia are already aggregating nearly 5500 vlogs!) – makes the volume of video stories growing around the world totally overpowering.

Hull Diaries © BBCThe other development in UCG of course is direct-to-tv publishing. Uploading to a central video on deman based DSL or Cable network at high quality (DV vs compress wmv or quicktime). The BBC again led this in 2001 when I was involved in the Kingston Interactive Hull Broadband TV service. The UGC element of this was indeed a variation on Video Nation but the short documentaries (unlike the re-broadcast of earlier BBC2 output) were on-demand of course. Here is a link to the existing PC service and a link to the community value of Hull Diaries to the region. The modern day (yes 5 years later) equivalent is the early IPTV platforms springing up around the world. I have mentioned Akimbo before and of course the fact that on its EPG we have some of the worlds leading TV broadcasters mixed in with some of the worlds most celebrated vloggers – such as Steve Garfield who calls his works ‘blogumentaries’. This like the current anarchy on Google video will be the norm until some filtering and personalization kicks in.

The traditional broadcasters are simply beginning to drown in humanities need to self-publish and share. Text was manageable and confined to the net, audio began to clog up many iTunes users hard drives and become Radio 2.0, video is a different story. It has been referred to as a swarm by some commentators I liken it more to a hurricane which although off-shore, the depression is turning quickly into a tropical storm. I have already referred to the accenture estimate that “more content will be created over the next two years than in the entire history of mankind (almost all of it digital)” – I suspect traditional media will be blown apart by the volume and force of the ‘people publishing’ hurricane about to hit land. Without talking about the quality, genre or inventiveness of this content, these winds of change will permanently alter the nature of our human story.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006