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« history of social network sites (a work-in-progress) | Main | Race/ethnicity and parent education differences in usage of Facebook and MySpace »

August 3, 2007

User-generated neologism: "Indigenous content"

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Posted by Clay Shirky

My class in the fall is called “User-generated”, and it looks, among other things, at the tension surrounding that phrase, and in particular its existence as an external and anxiety-ridden label, by traditional media companies, for the way that advertising can be put next to material not created by Trained Professionals™.

All right-thinking individuals (by which I basically mean Anil Dash and Heather Champ) hate that phrase. Now my friend Kio Stark* has come up with what seems like a nice, and more anthropologically correct version: Indigenous Content (which is to say “Created by the natives for themselves.”)

* ObKio: Best. Tagset. Evar.

Comments (12) + TrackBacks (0) | Category:


1. Seth Finkelstein on August 3, 2007 6:12 PM writes...

I'm amused - you know what happens to the natural resources of indigenous peoples ...

It might be created by the native for themselves, but the colonists sure make a fortune by "harvesting" it (as well as sometimes even harvesting the natives themselves ...)

AdSense is a pretty good modern version of shiny beads.

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2. tom s. on August 5, 2007 3:31 PM writes...

If I read you right, I'm not sure that "traditional media companies" are as ridden with anxiety as you assert. At least, what they are anxious about is the existence of competition rather than the particular form of it (user-generated/indigenous content).

The News Corp purchase of MySpace suggests that media companies might be quite happy with user-generated content as long as they get to own the platform on which it is generated. Of course, their professional staffers may not feel the same way.

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3. Andrew Schrock on August 5, 2007 6:15 PM writes...

Could you please provide a link to kio stark's original paper or posting, so we could get some context?

I'm no anthropologist, but to follow from Seth's comment, isn't the phrase "indigenous" rather antiquated, and doesn't it contain colonialist connotations?

It also begs the question whether "native" peoples even exist online, where we are all transplants from various other cultures. "User-generated" would at least be functionally accurate.

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4. martin on August 6, 2007 9:19 AM writes...

semantic services, just for context: here is an earlier discussion (in 2005) about UGC: "Are you a user or a slave?" (with links to Scoble, Dash et al.)

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5. Vera on August 6, 2007 2:11 PM writes...

Where user generated content might seem most apt to me when used (for example) to describe a photo and its tag in, it doesn't begin to describe (imo) the content on most blogs.

Indigeneous strikes me as awfully homogeneous in terms of both culture and individuality.

I tend to use the words citizen and/or constituent to describe content creators in and contributors to a community (however loosely defined).


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6. Phil on August 7, 2007 2:42 AM writes...

Martin - thanks for that. The linked Anil Dash piece seems particularly apposite here. Quote:

"interestingness in Flickr doesn't pay. At least not yet. Non-pro users are seeing ads around my photos, but Yahoo's not sharing the wealth with me, even though I've created a draw. Flickr's plenty open, they're doing the right thing by any measure of the web as we saw it a year ago, or two years ago. Today, though, openness around value exchange is as important as openness around data exchange."

I do like the reasoning in that last sentence - the trump card in the argument is it's what we're doing now! Fashion as ethical absolute.

I guess on Flickr we're all indigenes - even Anil Dash.

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7. Daniel Latorre on August 7, 2007 6:28 PM writes...

Member Created Artifacts?

When issues of lexicon come up, and often in our nascent networked interacting globe, many people seem to bristle about quibbling over mere words.

In working on the Creative Commons aspect of a project I'm working on, I came across a post from Mike Carroll's blog wondering about an alternative to "girl", one more equivalent to "guys" but not so infantalized as "girls". (An issue that's in the air for teachers especially.)

So, thinking about culture, online culture, about "users", about "indigenous", about linguists like Edward Sapir and the significance of the words we use to describe the world, their role in cognition... then thinking further about culture, anthropology and historical/colonial issues cultures have in objectifying and exoticising other/new cultures... then further wondering about what digital colonialism may be going on today... I come back to the realization that how we frame the world does matter, we use words to do so, they have meaning. Meaning matters. Deeply. Just ask Lakoff about Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things.

So, lawyers, jokes aside, know the significance of words, of the code they are in the human software we call society. About their emergence and significance Mike Carroll nicely puts it as
"But let's not forget the basic semiotic lesson -- words start out their careers as arbitrary signifiers and they derive meaning from our collective agreements."

People better get used to creating new words we'll need new ones all the time. Another type of human interaction, this wordplay. How large is the namespace of our online networked world? We don't know yet. Doesn't matter, just know that our hyper connected polyglot will ever evolve. Our sociality is laid bare online, visible now in ways before that seemed out-of-awareness, except now we have submit and post buttons. We interact through so many more words, silently typing away. We can "talk" back, and take back words ascribed to things we do, that we don't seem to find that fitting. Language has always been emergent. Static dictionaries are just petrifications. Knowing this many still don't like to feel change, life, it makes them jittery. Or less useful they use red herrings like claims of "newspeak"; but what matters is who and how many are defining ourselves, to be able to have the literacy to understand when objectifying is happening or isn't. Context matters.

And of course, everyone knows that often, actions matter more than words. But the namespace of culture matters, it seems to be part of how we can all get along, hopefully better than we have before. These words, these ideas. We're filled with so many. Many are so old. Some less useful than they were thousands of years ago, or 7 years ago.

Do we work at defining ourselves or let it come from some external sources? How to design experiences for group self-definition? What works well now? We can always emerge again, and again.

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8. Kevin Marks on August 13, 2007 7:02 PM writes...

As I said before:

We already have a word for people who create for the love of it, rather than being paid to, and it is 'amateurs'. As with many other pleasures, when we seek out opinions, we prefer those that flow from passion rather than from payment.

Now it may be argued that, given the decline in the teaching of Latin and French, the loving root of 'amateur' is no longer perceived, so those who write pour l'amour ou pour le sport may see 'amateur' as a slight. In which case lets retranslate it to English and call it 'lovingly created media'.

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9. Sylvain Carle on August 16, 2007 9:48 PM writes...

I can not argue too much with someone getting back to French and Latin roots (as I would betray my own francophone "racines")... but I think "passion" is a better re-interpretation of "amour" than "love" in this specific context, it has more legs to support the argument about people doing something "because they care".

Or "because the feel compelled to". As I am doing myself right this moment...

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10. Marc Rapp on September 14, 2007 7:53 AM writes...

Well then–technically speaking: Indigenous Content has all ready dictated that it is defined as, "We create it, they sell it." Re
labeling it, no more/less negates that brands are still in the hands of the stewards.

It's the most viable ethnographical data there is.

And to add to Daniel Latorre's comments, forget semantics, people better get used to redefining creativity and art.

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11. andy carvin on October 15, 2007 11:09 AM writes...

The only problem with calling it indigenous content is that it's a bit confusing since there's already indigenous peoples' content online - aboriginal groups, first nations, Native Americans, etc. Since there are indigenous activists working to expand their cultural heritage online, they probably wouldn't appreciate having the term "indigenous" appropriated for uses that have nothing to do with indigenous peoples. Personally, I like the name "homespun content" or "homespun media" instead, not unlike the homespun movement that Gandhi advocated back in the day....

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12. Badger Gravling on October 30, 2007 3:31 PM writes...

As someone who has a vested interest in the digital world, and also works in the traditional media, I doubt that it's the term 'user generated content' which matters.

The simple fact is that there's a lack of inspiration and leadership within traditional media firms, and a strong element of self-presevertion and fear.

That's the problem, not the label for content.

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