Are there lots of content producers or just a few?
Demir Barlas of Line56.com, among others, counters that most people are readers/viewers/consumers and few choose to become writers/uploaders/producers.
I have a third view. (UPDATE: Actually I don't. In his comment on this post, Jay Rosen points out that my view is no different from his.) I agree with Barlas that most consumers don’t become producers. But now they can if and when they want (which traditionally they couldn’t without expending a lot of time or money or both). Like when a company screws them around, or simply sells them an inadequate product, and they get upset enough to write something somewhere.
Most potential producers will rarely, if ever, make use of their new options — but there are a lot of these people. Now let’s do some math. The “expected value” of something is (well, I’m simplifying the definition) its value multiplied by its probability. For instance, the expected value of my winnings in a lottery that has a single prize of a million dollars is: $1 million times the (let’s assume) one-in-five-million chance of winning, times the number of tickets I have. Why don’t I have a massive number of tickets? Because they cost (say) $1 each. Here the expected value per ticket is 20 cents (not a good deal if I paid $1 for it). The probability that any particular ticket will win is quite low. But if I have multiple tickets, obviously my chances are better: their total expected value is 20 cents times the number of tickets I have. Of course my cost goes up too, to buy all those tickets.
Now let’s apply this to potential producers. As with lottery tickets, the probability that any particular person will produce anything is quite low. But the more of them there are, the greater the chance that someone will produce. And now that the cost of a “ticket” has dropped so much, there are lots of them. Suppose you run a company and there’s a 1 percent chance that an unhappy customer would publicly complain about you (even 1 percent would be a massive increase from how things used to be, given the past difficulty of airing a complaint in a way that the public would be exposed to it). If you have 1000 unhappy customers, you can “expect” 1000 times 1 percent = 10 public complaints. And Google will display all of them. Companies, beware the passive consumers who could become producers.
OK, that was only about complaints, which are a very small fraction of all the user-generated content. But the idea applies in general: even if only a small percentage of the potential producers actually produce anything, the more potential producers there are, the more actual results there will be.
I’ve been saying for a while (though apparently I haven’t blogged it before) that the key mechanism of Web 2.0 is reduced barriers to entry. Not eliminated, just reduced — which still has massive implications.