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User Generated Content: Let Chaos Reign?

User generated content on a site starts with one simple decision, which is whether to moderate the content or let every single posting go live.

UGC requires moderation for sites that want to maintain a degree of credibility with their visitors.

Moderation typically is a process whereby a site editor reviews a posting before it goes live to make sure it stays within site ethical, legal and quality standards.

That posting could be a comment, a forum response, a photo, video, etc. If it passes muster, it goes live on the site; if it has objectionable content, it is deleted.

Moderation Has Benefits

What is UGC?

User-generated content is provided by site visitors.

Those visitors are usually registered to protect against spam.

The content they contribute can be a comment, article, photo, video or forum posting.

Moderation has several major benefits and a few big detriments.

The benefits include maintaining the quality of postings, avoiding any legal disputs from libel charges and preventing the appearance of spam, which usually is a significant problem on unmoderated sites.

The two big detriments are the time involved in reviewing each posting and a sharp reduction in the number of postings.

In other words, moderation is about quality over quantity.

Quality matters to sites that want to maintain a good public reputation, especially sites that are the online presence for an offline business.

Customers who know the business and go to the Web site expect a good experience.

Unmoderated Content – High Quantity, Low Quality

Unmoderated user generated content is about quantity over quality. It generates numerous postings that are not reviewed before going live.

They go live immediately and they go live as they were written.

Site managers with experience in unmoderated content have run into postings that are libelous, profane, racist, homophobic and even threatening.

A wise approach to an unmoderated UGC site is to post a policy saying that all content is moderated and anything objectionable will be removed only if brought to the attention of the site staff.

This approach usually avoids any legal responsibility for the site in case of libelous postings, foul language, racist comments and other controversial material.

But it doesn’t help the reputation of the site or necessarily provide a pleasant experience for a visitor who is subject to such attacks.

Users who consistently abuse the guidelines end up getting banned. But they can come back with another user profile and email address to resume their previous behavior.

Examples of UGC Sites

One of the largest UGC sites on the planet is Facebook — along with Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites.

Because Facebook is its own business and people expect the freedom to post almost anything, it doesn’t suffer from the same potential for damage to its reputation such as IBM, American Express, Wal-mart and other major brands.

But Craig’s List suffered through repeated damage to its reputation as a result of postings by prostitutes and other undesirable behavior.

These setbacks created the need for a combination of automated and manual monitering of posts.

Another popular example of this approach is the Yahoo! forums, which have unmoderated postings that come down or get edited if automation identifies objectionable words or if a user complains.

A more challenging example is the behavior on photo sites such as Flickr, Pinterest and Instagram. Identifying objectionable photos with automation is much more difficult than identifying text. Sites that plan to allow UGC photos should proceed cautiously.

Major Content Sites Use Moderation

Because of the risks of unmoderated content, many major content sites now use moderation.

Some sites that allowed UGC don’t allow it anymore because of the risks with unmoderated and the time requirements for moderating posts.

Any site considering UGC might consider launching it in a limited moderated form to understand the proccesses and challenges that go with it before considering an unmoderated approach.

A ranking process — often with votes by other users — can push the better posts to the top of the page and the weaker posts to the bottom.

A useful, keyword-rich post can result in higher search engine rankings for that page.

Visitors are not likely to worry about SEO when crafting a post. But the site can make an SEO-friendly post more prominent by using their own ranking system.

Either way, user-generated content has the benefit of adding to a site’s total size. But it also can impact the site’s credibility if that content is damaging in some way.

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