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[ugc3] Eli Noam – intro

I’m at Columbia U’s conference/seminar on “UGC 3.0” (user-generated content). It’s a mix of academics and businesspeople, which I find appealing. (I don’t find the phrase or slant of “ugc” appealing, however. It often focuses on the stuff rather than on the social participation.) There are about 60 100 people here, sitting in a long conference room. [NOTE: Live blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing stuff. Not doing sepll checking.]

My guess/prediction is that throughout the day, the businesspeople will express enthusiasm for UGC while the academics will tend to splash cold data on it.

Eli Noam begins by wondering if UGC’s importance is going to persist. He points to the fading of other grassroots technologiess that started out with a lot of hype and promise: ham radio, CB radio, homebrew microcomputers. This happens (he says) because as the network size increases and fixed costs drop, and average benefit increase (due to Metcalfe’s law). The point is how you get to the self-sustaining cross-over point when you start at 0. You can regulate the price down, or have a business subsidize it, or you can use a community approach that increases the benefit and lowers the cost. [I’m not capturing his increasingly complex diagram. Sorry.] This tends to make commercialization profitability. So we cycle from community to complementary companies, then competition and then “oligopoly that in the next generation brings back community.”

So where will fiber take this spiral, he asks. First, it will widen choices. Long-tail content. UGC. Richer experience. Historically, the price per bit delivered to the consumer has dropped logarithmically (books to Net), and the richness of the experience (bits per second) has increased logarithmically. Media have gotten more visual because of this. But creating interactive, immersive content requires lots of capital for programmers, equipment, etc. [Yet it also incidentally creates lower-end user possibilities, e.g., machima.] That means, says Eli, that this gives large media companies the edge.

How does UGC fit into this? Mashups. But is it possible to create works of art collaboratively, he asks. [It’s certainly possible to create folk art.] Eli points out that schools of art have been somewhat collaborative; people at least influence one another. But art generally seems to need a hierarchy. The closest he can find to a collaborative model are ssome string quartets and rock bands, but even rock bands are dominated by one person (he says). The main examples he can think of are folk art. [aha.] Folk art isn’t leading edge. It’s quaint. So, is UGC just priming the pump for commercial entries, which is the model of the past. To predict otherwise, one would need a model, an historic analysis, data.

UGC will be prevalent in the low end, he says, and an explorer in the high end. But it will be difficult for UGC to remain in the lead. Commercial entities will (Eli says). To say otherwise is to engage in religious thinking.

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