The art of user contributed content.

May 02

 The art of user contributed content. It is dawn, as the city still slumbers the blue stark sky is tainted with the orange hue of the first sun. While the refreshing chill clamps desperately to the air around me, silence dances in my ears. "My Kyoto is fantasic" is written on a bright bumper-sticker of a passing car. I briefly confuse myself in thinking that Kyoto would a be a great name for a car brand that would surely sell, before realizing its a little joke. The car is an Alpha Romeo. And judging by the state of it, it was built way before there was any mention of kyoto anywhere. I smile and walk by.. then stop .. turn around, pull out my digital camera and snap a picture of it. A shot that will end up on top of the countless flickr photos I have. A picture that might make people smile, or even be used somewhere on the internet in an article..  A brief second of my life captured in words, in images .. Set adrift on the great lake that is called cyberspace. But more importantly. If I would not have been a contributer, and merely an observer to the 'user contributed web" I might have missed that moment altogether.

The possibilities of the internet. The internet is a fantastic medium. Offering us more information then we can ever process. Even as we struggle to keep up, finding new ways to filter and aggregate information we will never be able to grasp it all. The internet gives us a link to a world wide network of chat clients, instant messaging programs, chat-rooms, forums. New and infinite ways to communicate and discuss with people all over the world. Even a IM buddy list of 20 people can keep one occupied (or distracted) for the better part of an evening. If the topics of conversation are world peace, what underwear stacy is wearing right now, or the current state of the purple hamster-wheel. The digital pathways of the net will accommodate us.

But something that has grown over the last few years that makes the internet the most wonderful medium in existence. The rise of user contributed content. The internet is no longer a collection of static websites. It has become a white canvas of gigantic proportions. A canvas that can be exhibited all over the world, simultaneously. Accessible by anyone. With a keyboard and a mouse we all become the artists. No matter if we choose to  write, speak, sing, dance, paint, draw or even just BE .. The internet is there for us to express ourselves and share the artistic spark in our soul with the people of the planet. Letting the uniqueness of our own user contributed content define our very existence in the vastness of the web.

Making us see with new eyes, hear with new ears, Give us a new way to express ourselves.  Having access to such a range of possibilities changes us in who we are. Not only are we exposed to the thoughts, the words, the art of countless others like ourselves. We become the artists. For me that means experiencing the worlds (both virtual and real-world) in a different way. Always looking for that angle. For that one thing that makes something special, makes something worthwhile to share. It might be the sun-rays bouncing of a building in Maastricht, the sounds of a band playing in the street. Perhaps a stray thought, an idea, a mood. Something worth sharing with the world or something that one just wants to put out there to tell people who you are. Like an artist looks at the world in a different way so does the "content contributing user". Looking for the magic in every moment. The creative possibilities of every thought every impression. The infinite combinations that can be made by infinite stimuli to create infinitely diverse content. Content that has no clear cut boundaries except for those conceived by its creator. Content as free as the spirit within us all.

The Paradox of user created content.  Amazingly after two years I have seen a paradox evolve in this brave new world. A world where all of us enjoy the freedom of creation. The freedom to have free and equal access for our content to the world. Ways of sharing who we are, want we want to create and how we want to put it out there. Yet there is an unmistakable paradox where many  choose to let go of the freedom of there creativity in favor of becoming just that one that we dreaded the most : More and more content contributers want to be like mainstream. And all for the purpose of enjoying the same popularity. I remember the immortal words of Adam Curry as he said 'Fuck Clearchannel radio' as he defined podcasting as the revolution in media and an explicit rebellion into all that was mainstream. But over two years into it all I see very little truth in the statements. Many free podcasters who used to "do their own thing" have now turned to join podcasting networks. Their own home-brew exploits now form factored in a certain production-straightjacket that they uphold in favor of "more listeners" and "better stats". I to have fallen pray to it all. Being blinded by numbers, by popularity. Marveled by user feedback, engrossed in "production schedules", even letting old school (washed out) radio producers giving lectures on how pod-casting should be done. But the worst thing is : I let go of my individual creativity in favor of acknowledgment of the masses.

And in the end I feel a gnawing sensations , nibbling away at the borders of my mind. The question I post myself : Have I sold my creative soul ? Could it be true I was lured away from doing my own thing in favor of fitting into the mainstream straightjacket. Was it wrong for me to lie awake and wonder 'how I should define what I do ? ' Tossing and turning to park my own creativity into some small cubicle so some podcast directory could catalogue it ?  Was I wrong in presuming that one "needed to yield" to the mainstream rules that define media ? Did I offer to let go of what I did just to get more attention ? Did I turn away from who I really am in favor to be "noticed".  And in the end is that not something we can all fall prey to ? Perhaps the Web 2.0 is like high-school where we all try to run with the popular kids. Where we think about image and looks instead of being true to who we are. And if so?  Will we grow out of it. Will the web 2.0 reach a level of maturity where we no longer care to be dating the cheerleader and redefine the world by our own standards. If this is indeed so .. I can't wait to graduate and get away from it all… So I can be who I really am.

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