User-generated content no longer king

Over the past several years, we’ve gone through a revolution which took power away from media companies–and their well-paid, but allegedly colorless scribes–and gave it to the people.  Wikipedia, user reviews on Amazon.com, TripAdvisor.com and Yahoo Local, YouTube, social media-driven content and of course, billions o’ blogs, gave old money media a run for its money. Over the last, say, five to seven years, these trends have forced execs to twist their brain into a pretzel trying to figure out how to harness users’ creative energy while maintaining control of their brand.

Well, the playing field has shifted again, if a recent article appearing in Newsweek is any indication. In its feature, Newsweek suggests that users are getting sick of wondering whether the content their peers create can be trusted–pushing the pendulum back towards expert content. The article points to sites like Google’s Knol, best though of as a mashup between Wikipedia and Squidoo, which relies on expert contributors who share revenue.  It also mentions Mahalo, backed by the indefatigable serial entrepreneur and creator of Weblogs Inc., Jason Calcanis. Mahalo is a search engine whose results are driven by the quality of the content, as determined by panels of experts.

Actually, this is a back-to-the-future kinda thing, if you bear in mind that Ask.com has been doing something like this for, what, a decade?  But if Newsweek is right–and it’s hard to argue that they’re onto something here–we’re talking about a shift which is long overdue.  In short, it’s time to balance the amateurs, the whackos, the professionals and the big-dollar media plays online.  It just makes sense that neither expertly-crafted results nor the ramblings of unqualified strangers will do the job for everyone.

That being said, you’re not going to see Web content turn into a gated community for eggheads, either. Building content one piece at a time just doesn’t scale up well–it’s too much work!  So there’s still plenty of room for ventures that successfully capture the wild, wooly Web content out there generated by everyone from pros to cranks.  However, maybe it’s time to put a different wrapper on that content. What we need is something that offers much better tools for filtering and sorting non-professional content than any search engine does today. When someone invents that filter, we’ll see yet another shift.

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