Tag Archives: user-generated content

Comedy Network website wants your help to suck more

Comedy Central videos all look like this

Comedy Central videos all look like this

TheComedyNetwork.ca has launched a new user-generated-content vehicle called Upload Yours to get random people to upload their own videos (kicking it off with Debra DiGiovanni, who CP says is from a show called “Video on Trail”).

Hey, you know what would make a really funny video? Having someone from Canada try to watch a clip from the Daily Show and his reaction at seeing the image above.

Someone should do that.

Newspaper letter credibility scores one at the Star

Last month, the Toronto Star made an interesting decision concerning so-called “user-generated content”: It decided it would no longer be publishing anonymous or pseudonymous web comments on its letters-to-the-editor page. Such “reverse publishing” is being used by a lot of newspapers who want to appear all hip and cool and stuff, and are desperate to increase traffic to their horrible websites.

The main argument, which was also expressed by many people inside the Star’s newsroom (they even circulated a petition about it), is that printing these comments alongside letters to the editor essentially creates a double standard: Letters to the editor must be signed and verified if submitted by email or mail, but don’t have to be if they’re posted in an online forum.

It’s a valid argument, but it ignores the big secret about letters to the editor: The verification process for “real” letters isn’t much of a verification process at all.

Many newspapers, especially smaller ones, don’t even check that the person whose name appears at the bottom of the letter is in fact the person who wrote it. They just copy and paste from their email inbox and assume that if there’s a full name that doesn’t read “Anita Bath”, it’s probably legitimate.

Larger newspapers, like the Star, require readers to send their phone number, and an editor or secretary calls them up and verifies their name and whether they wrote the letter. There’s no exchange of ID, no looking names up in a database, just a phone call. It works mainly because very few people are going to go through that kind of trouble just to get a fake letter into the newspaper.

Still, I think the change is a good one, if only because seeing online handles like “geeko79”, “No McCain fries for John McCain” and “Fagstein” attached to grammatically-incorrect texts in a supposedly respectable newspaper looks ridiculous.

The policy change doesn’t affect the website; people will still be able to post with silly pseudonyms there, though that’s not what public editor Kathy English would have decided:

I would prefer the Star demand real names of those who comment online. I’ve been told that’s a near-impossible expectation in the online environment. I don’t buy that.

Of course, online faces the same problem. Restrict it to verified names, and you cut off most discussion and spent lots of time verifying IDs. The more moderation controls you have, the less commentary you have and the less active the forum becomes.

(via J-Source)

Cyberpresse redesigned

Cyberpresse today went live with a redesign of its entire site, ditching the old coloured box motif in favour of a grey, white and red OMGWEB2.0 deal that seems to be in vogue with media sites recently.

The first thing you notice, as you do with all these new news websites, is that it goes on forever. You see, some web marketing genius decreed that users no longer care about vertical scrolling (which is true) and some web designer at an important media outlet decided this meant the homepage should be infinitely long vertically. And now everyone is mindlessly copying each other with these layouts that have no structure and look absolutely haphazard as far as placement of stories on the homepage:

Cyberpresse homepage goes on and on and on and on and on...

Cyberpresse homepage goes on and on and on and on and on...

Still with me? Good. Since the page is so freaking long, I had to shrink it down considerably, so let’s take a zoomed-in look here:

Top of the Cyberpresse homepage

Top of the Cyberpresse homepage

It’s a very boring, unoriginal layout. Some account-specific links at the top, then a horizontal bar for links to individual sections. Oh wait, it’s actually two horizontal bars. One is for sections, the other is for “websites” that Cyberpresse owns for sections special enough to get their own domain. If you’re not familiar with that system, you’ll probably get confused here and have to read the entire thing a couple of times to figure out which link is the best one to click on. Below that are main stories on the left, a search box on the right and some editor’s picks. Looks OK so far.

Middle part of Cyberpresse homepage

Middle part of Cyberpresse homepage

Here’s the meat below. It goes on like this for about four or five screens worth, and they’re all basically the same. Can you tell the logic behind what goes in which columns?

If you answered anything coherent to that question, then you’re wrong. The first column has sections like news and business, except for fluff sections like home, auto, environment, movies that are in the second column, except for arts, technology and lifestyles which are back in the first column.

Oh, and they have names like “Automobile” and “Maison” even though their names are “Mon Volant” and “Mon Toit” elsewhere. Whatever, consistency is for losers.

The third column at least has some consistency. It’s where all the interactive stuff goes. The polls, the “most emailed stories,” the user-generated content, etc. In fact, you’re encouraged to submit your own content (click on “Soumettre une nouvelle,” a page I can’t link to directly), which requires you fill out a form and agree to an 800-word terms of service (which I also can’t link to directly) with gems like these:

  • Lorsque vous soumettez Votre contenu à Cyberpresse, vous concédez à Cyberpresse une licence mondiale illimitée, irrévocable, non exclusive, perpétuelle et à titre gratuit : i) d’utilisation, de reproduction, de stockage, d’adaptation, de traduction, de modification, de création d’œuvres dérivés, de transmission, de distribution, d’exécution publique ou de mise à la disposition du public de Votre contenu à quelque fin; et ii) de concession en sous licence à des tiers du droit illimité d’exercer l’un ou l’autre des droits précités. Outre la concession de la licence susmentionnée, par les présentes, vous i) convenez de renoncer à l’ensemble des droits moraux dans Votre contenu en faveur de Cyberpresse; ii) reconnaissez et convenez que Cyberpresse ne saurait être tenue responsable de quelque perte, endommagement ou corruption de Votre Contenu; et iii) reconnaissez et convenez que Votre Contenu sera considéré comme non confidentiel.
  • Vous devez être âgés de 14 ans ou plus afin de pouvoir soumettre Votre Contenu à Cyberpresse.
  • Les Règles de Contributions des Utilisateurs peuvent être modifiées en tout temps par Cyberpresse à son entière discrétion.
  • Vous vous engagez à coopérer avec nous dans la contestation de toute réclamation.

Well, when you put it that way…

One thing the website emphasizes is its Dossiers, in which stories on a single topic are packaged together, like the U.S. presidential election. Organizing stories by topic instead of more broadly by section is something you’d think media web types would have concluded long ago was boneheadedly obvious, but the news sites are only now really picking up on that. And there are plenty of important, recent topics that don’t have their own pages yet and really should.

Cyberpresse’s launch article also mentions a more powerful (i.e. less crappy) search engine that better finds what you’re looking for. I typed in “Patrick Lagacé” and was pleasantly surprised to see a photo, biography and even email link. Except nowhere do I find a link to his blog. I tried again with “Patrick Lagacé blogue” and the response was “Aucun résultat.” Bravo.

Putting in other search terms for important stories of the past few weeks, I become even less impressed with the search engine.

The blogs also got a redesign. The authors’ pictures are moved to the side, leaving a big space for “le blogue de X”in stylized letters. (Though it seems poor Sophie Cousineau and Nelson Dumais got left behind.) These designs range from the obvious clichés to the we-don’t-know-who-this-is-or-what-she-writes-about generic.

Finally, there’s the RSS page, which has lots more feeds for specific topics. This is good, though the wording on many of these feeds is strange and confusing (what does “ctrl::dossiers cbp” mean?). I managed to decode a few of them which have been added to my Google Reader.

And now, the really bad intro videos

Patrick Lagacé gives us a tour of Cyberpresse

Patrick Lagacé gives us a tour of Cyberpresse

Oh, and I just noticed there’s a video tour of the new website (honestly folks, if you have to give a video demonstration of how your website works so people understand it, then you didn’t design it properly in the first place). I say “just noticed” because the article announcing the new website has no link to the videos nor does it even mention them.

The videos star some tech dude or blogger I’ve never heard of. His intro video is unintentionally hilarious, as he invites people to see another video “en cliquant ici” (clicking on the video per his instruction does nothing), and then sits there and does nothing but stare at the computer screen for a minute and a half while we make up our minds.

Lagacé does his best blogger imitation on camera

Lagacé does his best blogger imitation on camera

In fact, it goes on for so long that he twice looks off camera wondering if he can stop yet:

Lagacé telepathically pleads with the director for permission to leave

Lagacé telepathically pleads with the director for permission to leave

The content of the video is basically him repeating the same thing that was in the introductory article, although he strokes his ego by using himself as a search example. Even though he got the same result I did (i.e. a picture of himself but no link to his blog), he pretends that it works.

Other than all that the site is great. I mean, it’s got gradients and JavaScript-controlled content tabs, so how could it not be?


UPDATE: Michel Dumais has a positive review of the new Cyberpresse. Steph looks at it from a Web 2.0 perspective.

CBC’s awful hockey theme contest

40 years ago, when composer Dolores Claman was given the task of coming up with a theme to a hockey broadcast, she envisioned the music you’d associate with Roman gladiators wearing skates (assuming you could imagine such a thing in the first place). The theme she came up with became synonymous with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada for 40 years, and has become this country’s unofficial second national anthem.

Then, in June, all that changed when CTV announced it had acquired the rights to the theme from its original composer, who was still involved in contractual disputes with CBC over the terms of its license.

The CBC, left with its pants around its ankles, dusted off Plan B: Run a contest to find its replacement.

A contest to replace the most epic song in Canadian history. No problem.

The CBC’s Anthem Challenge, which has been promoted endlessly in order to drive up interest, has been surprisingly successful at doing so. Thousands of submissions each take a legitimate shot at being the theme’s successor, mostly by trying to copy it with slightly different notes.

Some come close to what you’d expect the winner to sound like, but are still missing that punch that truly gets you ready for a hockey game. They might sound more appropriate for a Megaman level than a hockey show.

Others miss the beat entirely, spanning the range of genres from cheesy ’80s sitcom themes, elevator music, electronic music, pop songs, even cheesier pop songs with lame lyrics, Randy Bachman, and other types of music entirely inappropriate for a hockey show theme.

Some include annoying personal introductions, others repeat the same chords over and over, or include sounds of people cheering.

Considering all these people got paid exactly $0 for the submissions, they’re not bad.

But these were the most popular ones. Imagine the ones that sucked.

The big question I have here is: Is this the kind of thing that should be trusted to Joe Schmo next door? Claman was a professional, not some person they picked off the street. Why should we think that amateurs would do a better job this time, clinging to the faint hope that maybe they might be the one lucky one out of thousands to win the $100,000 grand prize and get all the fame and glory that comes from not having the right to play your own song because you’ve signed away the copyright?

It’s perhaps partly to prove this point that a member of Something Awful posted “Hockey Scores,” a collection of random annoying sounds designed to sound as bad as possible, and encouraged others to vote for it. Because Something Awful is so powerful, the song rocketed to the top, where it sits as the most popular, most viewed and most commented entry.

That has garnered the attention of mainstream media, its blogs and even the CBC itself, which points out that the number of votes is not the only factor it must use according to the rules in determining the semifinalists that will be presented to the nation in October (though it will likely be the determining factor in choosing finalists from those semifinalists, and then the winner from the finalists).

But little of that coverage is mentioning the larger issue: When rich media organizations “crowdsource”  something that’s going to make them a lot of money, expecting people to work for free, they’re just begging to get a bunch of crap.

Something Awful just helped the process along a bit.

The contest continues to accept entries until Aug. 31. Semifinalists will be aired and voted on by the public in the beginning of October.

UPDATE (Aug. 9): The Globe has a piece on the contest, which of course includes not a single link to all the entries it talks about, nor the contest itself.

CTV, TQS move to sucker-generated content

CTV has launched a new website to collect sucker-generated content, err, I mean “citizen journalism” called my.ctvnews.ca. Because their professional journalists are doing their jobs with the insight of a 15-year-old recounting gossip, it’s expected that this new citizen-generated content will provide free material for CTV to make advertising money off of.

People are encouraged to submit their own content to the website, and some have (there’s even a video from that helicopter crash last month).

But beware, doing so means you agree to their terms of service, which include:

  • By submitting your Content, for good and valuable consideration, the sufficiency and receipt of which you hereby acknowledge, you hereby grant to CTV Television Inc. and its affiliates and agents and each of their assigns and successors (collectively, “CTV”), a world-wide, perpetual, royalty-free, irrevocable and non-exclusive right and license to televise, broadcast, transmit, exploit, use, edit, reproduce, syndicate, license, print, sublicense, communicate, publicly display and perform, distribute and create compilations and derivative works from, such Content, or any portion thereof, in any manner, media or technology, including, but not limited to all forms of television, display screens, wireless and online technology, now known or later developed, without payment or any other compensation to you or any third party. (That’s all one sentence, by the way, and it means that CTV could develop the next hit comedy series based on an idea or video you submitted, and they wouldn’t have to pay you a dime or even ask your permission. They could also sell your content to others and not have to give you a cut)
  • You warrant that all “moral rights” in such materials have been waived. (This means they’re not obliged to credit you or keep the substance of your work intact)
  • If your photo or video is accepted, CTV will endeavour (but is not obliged) to publish your name alongside it.
  • In turn you’d have to accept an entirely different terms of service, which include:
    • You agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless each of CTVglobemedia, its affiliates and licensors and each of their respective officers, directors, employees and agents, including all third parties mentioned on a CTVglobemedia Site, from and against any and all claims, actions or demands, including without limitation reasonable legal and accounting fees (That means if anyone sues CTV about something related to something you’ve submitted, you agree to pay their lawyers)
    • UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHALL ANY DISCLOSURE OF ANY IDEA AND/OR SUGGESTION OR RELATED MATERIAL TO CTVglobemedia BE SUBJECT TO ANY OBLIGATION OF CONFIDENTIALITY OR EXPECTATION OF COMPENSATION. (So if you have evidence that the prime minister is stealing cash and eating babies, they can broadcast your identity to the world.)
    • Oh, and they can change those terms without notice.
    • And if they violate what little rights you have left in this agreement, you agree not to sue. Instead, you sit with an arbitrator … in Toronto. At your own expense, of course.

And though the site advises people to “stay safe” and “don’t endanger yourself,” of the five videos listed on the page, three were of fires and two were of tornadoes. The implication clearly is that the closer you get to a disaster in progress, the more likely your video is going to be accepted and you’ll be famous.

But hey, all this is a small price to pay in exchange for … uhh … nothing.

At TQS, the image is much clearer. They’re literally replacing professional journalists with suckers willing to work for free. This hasn’t escaped the eye of some local Web 2.0 enthusiasts like Michel Dumais and Mario Asselin, who point out that this isn’t a magic bullet and citizens cannot replace professionals.

The big problem is that big media is putting up a giant, blank canvas with their Web 2.0 projects. There’s no guidance (beyond tip sheets for how to shoot acceptable video), no communication or feedback, and terms of use policies that are downright insulting, if not outright illegal. Everyone is doing this (including the people I work for), because they don’t have to spend any money on it, and they look at Web 2.0 and think they can do that too.

I looked at the issue in March, where Evan Prodromou made the point that successful Web 2.0 sites are about communities, and provide services that help them. They don’t see users as things to exploit.

But exploitation will continue so long as some people are motivated solely by that “look, I’m on the news!” and skip over terms of service that demand everything short of a first-born child with nothing in return.

I don’t want that motivation to disappear entirely (if it did, professional journalists wouldn’t be able to do their jobs anymore), but there should be some happy medium where news organizations don’t rely exclusively on amateurs willing to produce crap for free.

At what point will users rise up and demand rights in exchange for their free content?

Don’t pay contributors (but don’t treat them like crap either)

In today’s Business Observer section, I have an article about whether or not companies setting up user-generated websites should consider paying those users for their content.

Revver tried it (paying users $1 million in its first year), but the overwhelming reach of YouTube has greatly limited their success. People who post videos to Revver have to also post them to YouTube or find someone else doing it for them.

And, of course, there’s Capazoo, whose business model involved having its users “tip” each other and getting a cut of that pie. This week, they appear to have died a horrible, horrible death, though it seems to have been more about bad management than a bad business idea.

I spoke to Evan Prodromou, who wrote an essay last July about the problems inherent with paying wiki contributors. The arguments hold true for video-sharing sites, blogs and just about anything where users are expected to work to give your site value.

His conclusion is that “it just doesn’t make a lot of sense” that websites pay for users, because payment makes it seem like work. Instead, they should focus on building communities, where work is valued in a non-monetary sense, and more importantly where the contributions provide value to the users themselves. YouTube allows you to share videos and give them a global reach. Same with Flickr on the photo side. These are user-generated websites, but they’re seen primarily as free services to users.

Many clueless latecomers to the user content game (and especially many media organizations) have been trying to push user participation to the point where they’re beating us over the head with it. Newspapers cut and paste uninteresting, anonymous comments from their message boards. TV weather presenters introduce photos of snow (and dogs in snow) taken by viewers. They all plead with you to share your news tips so they can get the exclusive (and not credit you for it) — provided that news tip doesn’t require too much investigation, of course.

When you try to share your family photos or stories about grandma, shocked that such dreck actually gets published/broadcast, you’re met with 1,000-word user agreements that state IN ALL CAPS that you give up all rights to your content including moral rights and (effectively) copyright, and they can do whatever they want with it without asking you or paying you a dime, even if it has nothing to do with the reason you submitted it. Oh yeah, and it also gives them the right to seize your home, take your dog and copy everything from your hard drive. Didn’t you read that part?

The result is that we get a lot of fluff, but very little useful information. Uninformed opinion, but little news. In other words, a whole lot of junk.

As a freelancer, I’m tempted to say that paying people is the answer. Forget this user-generated crap and get real journalists, photographers, videographers and writers to give you quality news and information. But that plea would fall on deaf ears of money-crunching media executives who see Web 2.0 as a magic ticket to free labour.

One of the lessons that should probably be taken away from this is that in order to get good content from your users, you have to respect them and at least not seem to be evil. They have to feel like they’re doing something valuable that’s worth their time (paid or not). Right now, getting your picture in the paper or on TV is still a pretty big reward for those seeking their 15 minutes. But if nobody reads that paper or watches that TV station because they don’t have quality content, will that continue?

As the article mentions, there are some coming out on the pro-payment bandwagon. Jason Calacanis says that top contributors (that 1-2% who represent the majority of content) are providing much more value to these websites than they’re taking back, and it makes sense to pay them if only to keep them loyal.

Even Wikimedia (which runs Wikipedia and related sites) is paying contributors for the first time with its Philip Greenspun Illustration Project. It’s an exceptional case, with money donated for a very specific purpose. But it represents a step toward paying users for their work.

Prodromou himself agrees that some work should probably be paid for. Administrative work, editing and other non-sexy contributions probably wouldn’t get done otherwise. It makes sense to have a small staff of employees to concentrate on that work. At the same time, web projects must be careful about not instilling a sense of resentment among its non-paid users. It’s a fine line to travel.

But what do you think? Does paying users cheapen what they contribute? Should only extreme superusers get paid for what they do? Or should the economy be allowed to give a monetary value to even the smallest contribution, even though for most people payment would be orders of magnitude less than what we would consider a minimum wage?

(Side note: This article sets a new record for the delay between filing and publication. I completed the article in November, and it sat on the shelf while the Business Observer section was being planned. Since it wasn’t particularly timely, it stayed there until just this week.)

Is “unedited” a good thing now?

CNN’s new social news site iReport.com bills itself as “Unedited. Unfiltered. News.”

Is this a good thing? Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive since I’m a copy editor and I take my job very seriously. But I’d think that journalism in general is (at least in part) about filtering and editing to take out the junk.

Of course, filtering and editing requires human intervention, and that means hiring employees who cost money. Sucker-generated content is free, and also hip. So it’s worth it to take in the pounds and pounds of dreck with the occasional half-decent video.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe “Sleds on a Hill” really is the future of journalism.

Your guide to media coverage of the 1998 ice storm anniversary

The floodgates opened this morning on ice storm anniversary stories. Every major local media outlet has something, and many have a lot.

Part of that is because there isn’t much news on the 5th of January. Part is because they’ve had 10 years (with constant electricity) to prepare. And part is because it had such a profound impact on everyone’s lives for two weeks to a month.

This is perhaps the first big project among local media relying on reader-generated content. It’s easy to see why: Everyone remembers the ice storm. The supply of stories is practically infinite.

The problem is that everyone’s story sounds about the same. We were without power. The roads were hard to drive. We had to leave our home and move in with a family member who had power. We communicated with our neighbours for the first time ever. We helped people in need. We were happy to see electricians from the U.S. who came to help. There was a lot of snow and ice.

That’s the problem with user-generated content. It can produce some stunning gems, but most of it is boring filler not worth our time to read.

The archives are fun to look at (particularly the audio/video from the CBC and the PDF pages from The Gazette), to see how different the media and the world was just 10 years ago (67 cents/litre for gas was considered gouging).

Here’s what I’ve found so far (some links via mtlweblog), recommended reading highlighted in bold:

Continue reading

Everyone wants your ice storm stories

It seems every media outlet in town is looking for personal stories about the 1998 ice storm, 10 years later:

The usual exclusive rights contracts apply to anything you give them, including the right to re-sell your photos and stories for profit, strip your name from them or do anything else they damn well please without needing your permission first.

Frankly I think there should be a bidding war for good stories.

Staff reductions at The Gazette

The Gazette

The news hit the fan today thanks to a CP story about a Gazette memo which indicates the company wants to reduce the size of its editorial staff to save money.

Publisher Alan Allnutt said in a memo to employees that management is doing all it can to avoid layoffs (which it’s required to do under its union agreement), and is offering another round of buyouts for those who want to leave voluntarily. (The formula offers a lump sum payment based on how long an employee has worked for the paper: 4.5 weeks per year of service, which works out to a year’s pay if you’ve been there 11.5 years).

Still, most people are looking at this story with disappointment, especially considering recent job cuts at TQS and Global, as well as a general feeling of a decline in quality at mainstream publications due to budget cuts.

It also puts into perspective moves like this:

The Gazette: “Send us your news”

First appearing last week, this new page on the paper’s website encourages visitors to “share your news” by submitting text, audio, photos or video in the hope that such an action will either get a story written about a subject or that your submission will be posted online.

Just about every major media outlet is doing this (see CNN’s iReport for another example, or the Ottawa Citizen version), because it preys on people’s desire to get their 15 minutes of fame, it sounds all Web 2.0-ish and pleases their marketing departments who can say they “get it”, and of course it helps the bottom line because these amateur reporters aren’t paid a cent for their work.

I’ll be looking into some of these issues of “user-generated content” for upcoming articles in this same newspaper (can you feel the irony?), so stay tuned.

In the meantime, what do you think of all this? Should newsrooms be squeezed even further? Are journalists not working hard enough? Are TV, radio and newspaper news departments destined for extinction? Is free, user-generated news the future? Feel free to comment below.

UPDATE (Nov. 4): Deborah Jones of J-Source has some thoughts on the CanWest situation in general.

UR abdicating ur responsibilities

The Sudbury Star (an Osprey Quebecor paper) is launching a new user-generated web portal, lamely called “UR Sudbury“. As they describe it, it’s a “supernova” of journalism, taking advantage of “citizen media” to expand the newspapers’ coverage and bring the community together.

But to media critics, it sounds like the Star is telling the community to “do it yourself.

It’s another example of what happens when media managers read about “Web 2.0” from marketing books and fail to get what it’s all about. They miss that whole part about building a community and get right to the part about “crowdsourcing” and how that’s going to save them money.

But crowdsourcing journalism abandons the very strengths mainstream media have: fairness, reliability, fact-checking, sound news judgment and professionalism. It’s not so much a problem with community event listings or stories about grandma’s 100th birthday, but once it starts moving into the area of real news — even local news — then it’s attaching the paper’s name to anonymous postings on a web forum.

Right now, UR Sudbury isn’t a “supernova” or a revolution. It’s a badly-designed Craigslist.