What are we talking about when we talk about CGM?

Ruminations on user/consumer-generated content.

Are we not men? No, we are CGM. We are Devo? I'm not sure at the moment.

As I sit and listen to the conversation at Supernova about how power has shifted to the people, I'm struck that we have thrown all human communication, from voice and IM to prose, audio and video into a single silo that we call consumer-generated media (CGM). Sometimes, it's user-generated content, but apparently it is all the same because we're trying to make a business of it.

Simple categories To make an industry out of idiosyncracies of human communication, we aggregate all of it into the CGM silo.are easier to pitch to investors and to monetize.

Yet, social media is a lot of different stuff. Media almost always has been diverse and subversive to one segment or another of society.

"There is a guy who said markets are conversations and any technology that makes that happen is good," said one of the panelists a moment ago (I'm at the back of the room so it's hard to tell who said it. Probably Craig Newmark of Craig's List). 

In order to make finer distinctions about the value a company can bring to the market, it's necessary to focus on some need customers have to fulfill. No argument about that. To make an industry out of the idiosyncracies of human communication, we aggregate all of it into the CGM silo.

But one-to-one communication, such as IM or email, is not "content." Companies that integrate IM into their services shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that the messages flowing over their IM servers are somehow a content that can be captured and monetized.

Mena Trott says during the panel that she hates to listen to podcasts, including her own (so, why make them) that take a long time to develop a point, but she likes the fact that short audio messages are used by bloggers to add to their postings. She's describing but not acknowledging that the package that is a podcast is a very different form of communication compared to audioblog snippets.

Community discussions, too, are not content. It is a form of interpersonal communication among groups. You change it by turning it into an asset and mining it.

Some blogs, podcasts and vlogs are communication, a voice sent to a world, some aspire to produce content, information or entertainment packaged to be reconsumed and to accrue value. So, when we talk about "consumer-generated content" we need to make this distinction.

By doing so, acknowledging this distinction between communication and content, companies can better serve their customers. As I pointed out yesterday,  there is a very real question about the ownership of information that needs to be addressed by social media companies, which would be easier to answer if you made these distinctions, as well.

So, if you look at social media as consisting of communication and content, to make just one distinction, the companies offering services can better understand that in some lines of business they are providing carriage (logical carriage, linking people based on system user IDs) and in others they are acting as a publisher or distributor of packaged information. It would be easier to determine when the data on a site was personal and should be kept private and owned by the users or when the site is helping to promote messages and may be able to earn additional revenue by increasing the success of a particular producer.

As I write this distinction is finally made by Tina Sharkey of AOL, who says, "It's the curation of social media where we see the greatest value." She is describing how metadata extracted from communication can facilitate new interpersonal connections or to promote packaged programming, such as a blog seeking ads or a podcast or vlog that aspires to worldwide audiences with revenue.

AOL can carry communication and curate information to create a new type of social directory, but they are two challenges, one having to do with keeping AIM up all the time so people can IM while the other is about analysis and creating taxonomies that help people discover one another. Over at Time Warner, AOL's parent (and former parent in the Time Warner relationship), they think about taking content to market. AOL should establish a group that promotes AOL bloggers, podcasters and vloggers with the verve they do all the crappy TV programs they make.

Distinctions help. Time to move past the generic mush of CGM to honoring the intentions of customers, some of whom just want to talk while others want to build and monetize audiences.