When you drew a fantastic picture or wrote an A+ paper back in grade school, the best place you could hope to show it off was the family refrigerator. Today, however, that A+ paper could be blogged about by complete strangers and your pretty picture could wind up on desktops across the world.
Welcome to the world of Generation C. No, we didn't just go from Gen X to Y then magically skip back to the beginning of the alphabet—C stands for "content," although it could just as easily stand for "creativity," "consumption," or "connected."
Even though some members of Generation C were born just this decade, they have already sent shock waves through traditional media. "You" were Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2006. Advertising Age named "The Consumer" its 2006 Ad Agency of the Year. With terabytes of digital content being created and uploaded every day, user-generated content is vying with standard, professionally produced content for audience—and seems to be winning.
The amount of user-generated content is expected to skyrocket in the coming years. According to London-based Informa Telecoms and Media, the number of videos uploaded to YouTube will increase fourfold to 198 million by 2011. And user-generated mobile content, which generated $3.5 billion in 2006, is predicted to be worth $13.2 billion in 2011.
"This is a new kind of consumer," according to Donald Dew, CTO of Critical Path, a mobile content solution company. "They aren't categorized by age, they're categorized by behavior. And it's very much about content-centric communication, how they share, store, and manage content."
The world might have its eye on Generation C, but there's still much that non-Gen C-ers don't understand what they're capable of and how they've managed to effect such a dramatic change in such a short amount of time. This is a generation that spans across the age divide to encompass the growing population that creates, shares, and is connected by its own user-generated content.
Generation C is the "You" in YouTube, the "My" in MySpace, and the "i" in iPod. They're you (and me), and they're shaking up the way people make, think about, and use digital content.
Face Time Online
Generation C is adept at deploying digital content, but what distinguishes it from the standard IT office whiz is how members of this generation build networks, relationships, and their very identity around and through content.
While Generation C can't be tied to any particular age range, it seems that when it comes to digital content, the children are indeed leading the way. According to Pew Internet research, 33% of teens say they've shared some of their own creative work online, whether it's artwork, a photo, a blog, or a video they've created. Fifty percent consider themselves digital content creators. And 55% belong to a social networking site like Facebook or MySpace, which means that the ties that were formerly forged in cafeterias and locker rooms are now just as likely to form online.
Social networks are a prime example of how Generation C views digital content as a form of self-expression. It's where they communicate, collaborate, and connect with one another.
Facebook was born in February 2004 as an online alternative to Harvard University's paper-and-ink social directory. It soon expanded to include other Ivy League schools, then all other American colleges, high schools, and now pretty much everyone with an email address. Facebook boasts 16 million users in 47,000 networks and is the seventh-most visited site on the web.
Facebook's layout is pretty standard, and its social networking capabilities are similar to pioneer networker Friendster. What sets Facebook apart is that it provides an easy-to-use platform for uploading and sharing digital content, from blog entry-like "notes" to videos to photos, which can be tagged and searched across networks. In fact, Facebook is now the number-one photo sharing site on the web.
Tosin Mfon, a 23-year-old graduate student at Northwestern University, wouldn't describe herself as a digital content junkie, but Facebook's easy picture and video uploading and sharing tools have her hooked. "I don't remember what I did before Facebook, really," she says. "It's the easiest way to share photos with people who want to see them. I just tag them, so I don't have to worry about sending them to the people who want to see them. I take more pictures now than I used to, pretty much as the mood strikes me. It's a great way to keep in touch with people who I wouldn't necessarily call on the phone."
On Facebook, you are defined by your content, as extensive or minimal as you want that to be. It can be as simple as a list of favorite bands or a multimedia buffet that reflects the user's creativity as well as his interests and allows him to share it with everyone in his network. And the site visualizes the interconnectivity of networks, with each entry in the user profile—from school name to favorite TV shows—being a hyperlink to other users with the same interest.