Users of these resources are now emerging not simply as consumers, but as creators also, contributing what they have made to the pool of resources for others to use via a range of social networking applications. And, unlike the first generation of digital content on the web, there is little we can do to control, corral, or even copyright it. The first generation digital content was developed by professionals; those who know about things like layout, design, typography, and quality assurance. User-generated content (or UGC), on the other hand, is created by anyone who has access to the media, tools, and applications required to develop it—most of which are freely available on the web. Design is determined by templates, metadata schemas are replaced by tag clouds, and quality assurance is overtaken by popularity and user comment. The sheer volume of UGC appearing on the web and the culture of participation and the creativity it is generating is, in turn, impacting mass media corporations and global audiences.
One only has to look at the number of blogs and wikis that are growing every day on the web, the videos being uploaded to YouTube, photos to Flickr, slideshows to Slideshare, and podcasts to Pod-o-Matic, to understand where this content is coming from and what forms it is taking. Some of this, of course, may be of little use or value to anyone else. Some of it entertains us, and some informs us, but among it all is a significant amount of content that has value educationally, and increasingly, content from these sorts of sites is being used to inform and illustrate assignment work in our schools and universities—and in many cases, is the assignment work!
Several large organisations, rather than try to stem the tide, are actually planning to encourage it, as indicated by this recent press release about a forthcoming repository of science content:
Google is said to be preparing to launch a massive repository of science data at research.google.com. The project, known internally as “Palimpsest” will become a home for terabytes of open-source scientific datasets built on the data visualization technology from Trendalyzer. According to a Wired report, the storage will be free to all scientists, access to the data will be free for all and the new site will have YouTube-style annotating and commenting features. Two planned datasets are 120 terabytes of data from the Hubble Space Telescope, and images from the Archimedes Palimpsest.
Some issues to consider: