If you think back to the early days of social media, things were very different then when compared to now. In general, people were less inhibited when it came to what they shared on social media. The social web felt like a freer place, one where concerns around privacy, political meddling, and data protection weren’t thought about, and sharing everything you wanted was celebrated rather than frowned upon.
Indeed, you could say that in these early days, user-generated content (UGC) was king. Users believed that if they created compelling, personal, and engaging content they could get famous, and maybe even rich. This led to an era of oversharing, where nothing was off limits, content was king, and “authenticity” was the goal.
The End Of UGC
However, things are changing. According to TechCrunch, the end of this golden era for UGC was 2008: “Inherent in this plan was the idea that UGC was somehow purer and more desirable than commercial communications. This era lasted from about 1993 until about 2008. This was the era of an unfettered internet, of the Cluetrain Manifesto, and of open source everything. The ethos was pure anarchy in its best light. No one would control your output, no one would stand between you and your fans, no one would take a cut of your money. Bloggers, tweeters, and Facebookers would get rich simply because they existed.”
So what changed in 2008, and what is replacing it now?
Though it didn’t happen overnight, the social web became a lot more corporate in starting in 2008. As companies like Facebook grew, they realised that they needed to look for a business model that would allow them to generate revenue from their user base. This introduced corporate interests into the UCG game, with huge after effects. As TechCrunch put it: “Early users of all social media joined because of that original promise of fame, fun, riches, and relationships. They leave now because the walled gardens are overrun by marketing and trolls. This can be said of every major platform. No one is safe.”
The interests of business and marketing now hugely affect—and often impinge on—how we use these networks. Just look at the “ad-pocalypse” going on with YouTube, where the network is demonetising videos that are not advertiser-friendly, much to the creators’ dismay. This kind of battle of platform versus creator is a huge departure from the early days of UGC, where the platform was hardly noticed at all.
The Gate Has Been Crashed
Another major thing that’s changed is the sinister nature of many of these platforms. Trolls, fake news, and online bullying doesn’t make these networks particularly fun places to be, and they’ve struggled to find solutions to cracking down on these issues. Because of that, content creators are leaving. High profile defections from Twitter happen almost weekly. Most recently, Mike Monteiro wrote a viral Medium post explaining why he was no longer using the network after being an early adopter, and Facebook finds itself embroiled in political scandals and culture wars at the highest levels of the national discourse. This is not at all what early content creators had in mind for the future when they imagined gate crashing the so-called “gate-keepers.”
So what’s next? Social media isn’t going anywhere, but the current platforms we use will die out if they don’t find a way to retain users while still having a business model and avoiding censorship. Many in the forecasting business predict that privacy-focused tools or plugins will become key in the future, as social media uses are becoming more and more keen to have control over their own content. While no one knows exactly what the future brings, the era of UCG and oversharing is definitely over.