User generated content (UGC) is material on websites, and occasionally other media sources, that is produced by the users of the website. This is different than, for example, a website designed by a company that puts forth material produced by professionals. In UGC, it is the amateur, in most cases, who contributes the content.
Content created by users has become tremendously popular, and some of the most frequently visited sites on the Internet are primarily user generated. This is the case with sites like Wikipedia, where anyone can write an article with sufficient expertise. Other users may evaluate the content, suggest changes, or even make changes. Some material on the site carries warnings that an author is now espousing opinion, or that certain statements are not verifiable or have been called into question by other users.
No author is paid for contributions to Wikipedia, which makes this type of user generated content distinct from other types. For example, blog sites, where users can blog about any topic they want to, may carry ads, which if clicked on, mean a share of profits for the bloggers. The percentage of profits varies from site to site.
Other times, bloggers may simply be paid a percentage of the profit for having ads on their site, and are paid by the number of people visiting the site. So there is particular impetus to have blogs that will be read by others. This often translates to better blogs being read by a high number of people. Excellence in writing can have its rewards.
Similar to Wikipedia is the popular YouTube, which has thousands and thousands of examples of user generated content. It should be stated that not all content on YouTube is user generated, however, since it may infringe on copyrights by using songs or video clips that are protected by copyright laws. It may use previously recorded professional material, as with scoring, or in video remixes. Some professionally-produced content is also created and distributed through the site.
Occasionally, a company will authorize the use of its images or music for use on UGC sites, but other companies do not authorize this. When content that contains unapproved music or images is uploaded, it is usually found and removed from the site.
One of the challenges with user generated content is that it may be inaccurate or espouse opinions or beliefs that others find offensive. People who rely on UCG sites for information might get the wrong answers and not think to confirm the information since often the printed, or uploaded, word is treated as true simply because it is written. Writers can presume authority or expertise where they have none, and the reader may not always be able to discern the false from the true.
At least for the purpose of research, UGC should be double-checked against more recognized sources, such as encyclopedias or dictionaries. This can help eliminate perpetuating untrue material. Often, however, the users themselves are quick to make corrections when material is incorrect.