User-generated content

If you want your user community to produce content (as opposed to commenting on content you create), you need to give them the tools to do so. One common approach is to create a wiki and build an initial structure that reflects what you think people will want to write about. Once the actual users get involved, they will probably change the organization, but prepopulating the wiki with some information and a proposed organization helps encourage participation.

Adding a social layer, which lets readers comment on information and share it via social media channels, is technically not very difficult. The challenges lie on the policy side:

  • What sort of comments are allowed?
  • Will you moderate comments? If so, what is the moderation policy?
  • How will you handle critical comments?
  • How will you handle comments that are technically incorrect?

Versioning presents another major challenge. Let’s say your product is in version 1, and your users have commented extensively on the version 1 content. When you update content for version 2, what do you do with the comments? Do you keep them or remove them? What if you corrected the content based on a comment? Can you now delete the comment?

Finally, you need to think about reputation issues. Within your user community, each participant will have a reputation, which may be positive (expert knowledge, always helpful), negative (sarcastic, rude, and often inaccurate), neutral (lurker, never posted before), or something more nuanced. For example, a product manager might have a reputation for glossing over his own product’s deficiencies while highlighting problems with competitive products. However, this manager might be a reliable source on the overall industry. You cannot control the reputations directly, as David Lankes writes:1

Any system that seeks to either impose an authority view of credibility, or that seeks to change behavior must now do it with the understanding that users can simply bypass these attempts and create counter structures. Furthermore, these alternative credibility structures can have a global reach and build communities of like minds across divisions of geography, race, gender, age, and other demarcations.

If you attempt to lock down and control the user community beyond what the users consider reasonable, you may end up with no community at all.

1 “Credibility on the internet: Shifting from authority to reliability,” Journal of Documentation, Vol. 64, No. 5, 2008, R. David Lankes,, accessed March 29, 2012

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