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The Rise of User-Generated Content You can make the power of the individual contributor work for your business.

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Web 2.0 is dominated by the consumer or end user. With only a browser and an internet connection, anyone can publish content. They have the power to speak out, whether it's reviewing a product or service or developing their own brands with less capital than was required before.

The Phenomenon
User-generated content has been around for a while, but has only really taken off in the past few years. Initially seen on websites as discussion boards, it has transformed to entire websites based on user-generated content, from social networking and blogging to video sharing.

A number of factors have contributed to this frenzy:

  • Increased bandwidth. Anyone with a broadband connection can easily load larger files now. Just try uploading a large picture or video with a 56KB modem, the technology of 10 years ago--a nearly impossible task.
  • Better tools for posting content. Before blogs it took much more effort for writers to publish their written content. Now people can sign up and create a blog in minutes. Web 2.0 sites have focused on making it easier to publish any type of content including images, videos, podcasts and documents.
  • Technology digitization and capture improvements. Digital cameras and video capture tools have advanced in the past 10 years, allowing amateur electronic device users to easily capture and distribute pictures and videos in electronic format.
  • Better internet penetration and connectivity. It's easier and cheaper to connect to the internet than it was 10 years ago.
  • Social networking. Websites are making it easier to interact with content on the web. You can add your thoughts, share, rate, e-mail and advertise content.
  • Advertising and the capitalism of the web. People realized they could make money by posting enough content and developing an audience and certain level of traffic.

User-Generated Content and Entrepreneurs
Overall, user-generated content is a game-changing trend that can be used to create a new business or improve your existing one.

Artists, writers, musicians and other content creators now have a low-cost publishing mechanism for their work. Thousands of artists and professional photographers have posted artwork or photos on Flickr. Musicians have multiple portals for posting their music and building audiences. Record companies actually monitor the number of friends that a MySpace band has and often sign musicians when they reach a certain number of friends.

Other entrepreneurs can incorporate their ideas with these new trends to differentiate their business. There are many easy-to-use blog sites that let you publish your written content on the web. I provided a short list of some of the more popular ones in "Web 2.0 Tools for Getting Noticed." Some of the more mainstream user-generated content sites focused on specific types of content besides blogs include the following:

  • YouTube provides a destination for users worldwide to quickly and easily share, rate, discuss and view video clips.
  • Slideshare.net allows you to host and share all sorts of presentations.
  • Flickr and Photobucket are two of the more popular photo-sharing sites that allow for convenient posting and organization of pictures to share with friends and family.
  • Podcast.net allows you to record your story or radio program and then create a podcast for listeners.
  • Digg lets users submit news stories and websites, which are promoted to the front page through a user-ranking system.

User Reviews Improve Business
The consumer has a voice in the online world, and they are using it. User reviews are common on larger websites now and are having an impact on other consumers' purchasing decisions. eMarketer recently published an article with statistics indicating that user reviews have increased the average order value, site traffic and overall conversion rate.

Most of the fastest-growing sites on the internet now are based on user-generated content. Their popularity has grown tremendously over the past couple years. There are many new opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs in this area. For small businesses, user reviews--especially positive ones--can improve conversion rates on the web. Overall, user-generated content is creating a medium where masses can interact and has become an incredibly powerful force across the web.

Frank Bell is Entrepreneur.com's "Web 2.0" columnist and a principal at IT Strategists, a leading business and technology consulting firm in Southern California. He has consulted with many internet startups, as well as companies such as Yahoo!, Vivendi Universal, Disney, Toyota, Nissan, Deluxe Digital Studios, AEG, Sony and Ticketmaster.

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