What constitutes UGC (user generated content)? The photos and films they send in, of course, but I would argue that the comments they leave after reading articles, or the complaints they post on forums, are part of UGC too.

Let me explain: I discovered ‘the commentators’ whilst doing a language essay in my final year of undergrad. I happened upon an article discussing a misplaced apostrophe on a sign (although I could be wrong – the tone of the comments seemed to denote the world had ended, so I may have misunderstood the general gist…).

Anyway, this poor misplaced apostrophe apparently signaled the decline of society itself, the good deed of the sign-maker generally ignored. And, for the record, although many of them professed to be better educated than the supposed “lout” that had made this sign, none of them seemed to have any background in lingusitics or the finer points of grammar to back up their comments. It made me cross – frankly, the commentators seemed to show about as much ignorance as the poor sign make had shown ignorance of where an apostrophe was meant to be placed. 

However, it did provide me with some entertainment (this may be a bad thing… but I’m not terribly sure I care.) So, since discovering this little gem of ranting, I have kept an eye on the commentators (I later developed a truly awful addiction to the Daily Mail comments – any article which deals with Britain’s general decline into a quagmire of loose morals, bad spelling, bad education, bad “scroungers” or – more recently – ‘Waity Katie’, gets the sorts of comments which make the addiction worthwhile). And it seems I’m not the only one.

 In August, an article was published in the Guardian magazine about the site Speak Your Branes, whose creator had got shamefully addicted (ha, not the only one!) to the BBC’s Have Your Say website.

The creator, Matt Southall, cherry-picks the best (or maybe that should be the worst?) of the comments, then publishes them on his own site where he can generally mock the view expressed. Southall seems to believe the core comedic value to these snippets of middle England comes from the idea these commentators appear to believe “BBC=State=Gordon Brown” -i.e. they think someone cares. Frankly, unless it’s highly offensive, I don’t think too many people really do. Apart from those that comment on Southall’s website. They care, but perhaps not in the way the original commentators wanted. In fact, I would put money on this.

And so, the comments have gone full circle and become commented on. Thus, I would argue, they have become part of UGC, although perhaps not in a conventional sense. They are most definitely involved in the discussion between the media and the general public and, now, because of sites like Speak Your Branes, the discussion is going further, with the public questioning the public.

But, herein lies my concern with UGC as a whole. Those that use sites like Have Your Say or Speak Your Branes seem to hold slightly more extreme views than your average Joe Bloggs on the street. Perhaps this is simply due to people only speaking up when they truly care about something, which is fair enough, but I don’t feel that you could take these ideas and views and say “this is Britain today”. It’s not representitive (at least, I hope it’s not). And this raises the further question: if commentating is one of the easiest way to become a contributer on a website (which I believe it is) and they seem to be gathering their pool of contributers from an apparent minority, then how representative can any of UGC be?

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