Monday, October 29, 2007

Starting a fire on the village green

Citizen Dave and I met on Friday. I'm speaking at the Digital Identity Forum he organises on November 20-21. He recorded our conversation for a podcast which will be made available in December.

But in the mean time, he's brought some wisdom to the discussion about a replacement for the clumsy them-and-us implicit in the term User Generated Content.

In responding to this post, discussing a suggested new term 'indigenous content', he wrote: "I rather like "Indigenous Content" and will use it from now on. But is there a corollary: is the content produced by publishers, record labels and so on now "Imperialist Content" or perhaps "Colonialist Content"?

My concern was, that by giving the content that is provided by the community a different name from that produced by publishers, we were embedding walls which set us apart from that community, preventing us from being PART of that community.

Dave's "Imperialist Content" makes the point very forcefully. We have to end the master-and-servant relationship that content providers default to with their communities (more often, audiences).

On Friday we discussed a couple of metaphors I'd like to share.

Once content providers (effectively) delivered newsletters to a series of individuals living in a block of apartments. We delivered information, they consumed it. They didn't feedback. They couldn't talk to each other.

Now we are in the business of gathering people around a campfire on the village green. Bearing in mind the imperialist metaphor, we need to enlist the help of those villagers to make sure we place that bonfire in the right place and that it's of the kind they'll be attracted to. If they think we're an invading army setting up camp... don't expect them to join us any time soon.

If and when everyone gathers around that fire, the last thing we should do is stand up and hold forth with a monologue... The moment we default to that we have to kick ourselves. Shut up and sit down, let someone else have a go!

Our place is to provide the location and get the fire going. Then it is simply to sit down with everyone else and add fuel to that fire - just as they are all welcome to.

And we should make available some kindling, matches, and a place nearby, when some around the fire want to start their own.

It's important those around the fire enjoy it and get value from it - and feel they will want to keep it going. Because on our own, we're going to struggle to keep it fed. But together, we'll work out how to keep it going in tough times, organise ourselves to gather fuel for it and work out what we all want to use it for.

Should we cook with it? Cook what? How will we grow/catch the food? Should we build a shelter over it to keep the rain off? What is expected of those who want to feel its warmth?

Our fire is just the start. Letting those sitting around it shape how it grows and what it is used for - that's the rub(bing of two sticks...)


  1. All you have to do is to treat everything as if you're a user.

    For instance, if you work on a website with other team members, why not use the actual website to message each other, rather than private company emails (Unless it's highly sensitive perhaps)

    That way you'll understand how good or bad the actual system is for communicating.

    IBM came to the Linux Open Source world and got involved as users, and it's been worth a huge sum of money to them. They took their time, obeyed the usual rules for users, and did the boring jobs to earn the right to do more...

    The advantage big business have is that they can be better resourced to contribute more than the average user (Not necessarily better contributions).

  2. Oh, and I believe fires are now prohibited from village greens due to the health and safety risk.


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?