Histories of User-generated Content: Between Formal and Informal Media Economies

Ramon Lobato, Julian Thomas, Dan Hunter


Debates about user-generated content (UGC) often depend on a contrast with its normative opposite, the professionally produced content that is supported and sustained by commercial media businesses or public organizations. UGC is seen to appear within or in opposition to professional media, often as a disruptive, creative, change-making force. Our suggestion is to position UGC not in opposition to professional or "producer media," or in hybridized forms of subjective combination with it (the so-called “pro-sumer” or “pro-am” system), but in relation to different criteria, namely the formal and informal elements in media industries. In this article, we set out a framework for the comparative and historical analysis of UGC systems and their relations with other formal and informal media activity, illustrated with examples ranging from games to talkback radio. We also consider the policy implications that emerge from a historicized reading of UGC as a recurring dynamic within media industries, rather than as a manifestation of consumer agency specific to digital cultures.

Full Text: