It's been heralded as an amazingly new thing that the grand new businesses of the age, Google and YouTube and Facebook, are not based on the sale of a product or service, but are streams of advertising revenue attached to user-generated content. These companies make money not because they produce anything of value, but because their users (in theory) do, and the companies' name recognition causes it to be convenient for users to go to them to locate information generated by other users. Enough name-recognition and user-generated content, and sufficient people swarm by to produce views and clicks that, at some point, are paid for by the people who buy the products (often only more layers of advertising, but that's another subject). So it's a new paradigm in business schools, communication, social psychology, etc. Instead of making widgets, selling widgets, or even using the proximity of widgets you made in order to advertise something else, you set up a big tent, other people show up and make their own widgets, other people show up to look at those widgets, and you make money thereby. How amazing. It's a bright new digital future of heretofore unexplored capitalist possibilities.
That narrative is equivalent to the serial killer pretending to be stunned when he claims his next victim. There is nothing new about user-generated content. Everything for sale is user-generated content. Remember Henry Ford, who supposedly paid his workers enough that they could buy the things they made? Same deal. Google, YouTube, and Facebook are just another variation on movies, newspapers, and the enclosure of the commons.
Take Facebook for the easiest, dumbest example. They generate ad revenue because people come to their site (at least initially) to see what their friends/family are "doing." Ergo pictures of your friend's new dog, and of everyone else's new dog, cause you, and twenty million other people that minute, to have a 0.5% chance of clicking on an ad for Susie's At-Home Dog Washing Service, for which Facebook bills the digital content provider who subcontracts with the regional ad representative who billed the credit card company who billed Susie. In short. The thing that's supposed to astound economists (and has been so astounding them ever since they decided to be astounded sometime after the internet) is that Facebook can be so big without even making stuff to draw people to the ads. They don't have to take the picture of the new dog themselves, nor hire reporters to do it, etc. How amazing! User generated content!
Facebook, though, isn't a "new business model" anymore than it was "created" by that nasty little Harvard turdling that the CIA used to front their latest citizenry database. Western wealth has always been a means of capturing user-generated content.
So, you go on Facebook's dating service to meet someone. In so doing, you generate ad revenue, directly or indirectly--not because of something Facebook did, but because you wanted to meet someone, and that someone might have a picture up, or some paragraphs about them, etc. Sounds like "user-generated content," right? Made possible only by the internet?
Bullshit. What are Facebook, and all the other plastickly-social versions of it, including the sex or religious or thoughtful ones, replacing? Simple: their real world equivalents. Bars. Clubs. Adult education annexes. What people want--what they've always wanted--is other people. Real estate developers are just material Facebooks, inventing the idea that, by putting a roof over a certain spot of land, and "owning" that land, they get to charge everyone who shows up to meet someone else. No one gives a shit about the blurry music and sweaty room, but in a world where every square inch is owned by someone, there's always the desperate hope you might meet a friend in a place that sells itself as "where you can make a friend."
Everything out there is user-generated content. Labs pay scientists comparative pittances to capture their user-generated inventions. Producers buy rights, show a film, and charge people to look at it, alone or together. States claim virtual ownership of land, levying everyone for rent and hitting farmers for usufruct, too. The middlemen are always there, sitting on their asses, collecting endless tithes from people who actually do stuff, charging them for access even to one another.
Once, we understood this just as we do now Facebook. The offense that some people now take at Facebook--the idea that this big, stupid thing has become a substitute for human interaction, and an encouragement to the worst sort of social misbehavior--was once taken at the idea of some guy getting to own "the green" or "the mall." Of course major news belongs to everybody, of course the farrier should be paid for the shoeing, of course all the young people should be able to go flirt somewhere without paying $20 at the door...and bit by bit, we lost that shock, until now, all that we have left is to be mildly thoughtful when those tiny nooks of virtuality through our browsers are doing something completely brand new by making money without doing anything useful at all.
How far in another hundred years? "Your latest bowel movement, sponsored by WipeKleen®!" Sure, it'll be annoying and offensive as you're trying to strap yourself onto the porcelain throne with a snack and a movie, but by then, we'll have forgotten about the bajillion dollars lost in the 21st century, just like how now, we take it for granted that the Whoever Family owns Wherever. And then comes the time when you take it for granted that your bowel movements cost $4.99 each (unless you want to skip the ad, in which case it's $5.99), but you're mightily offended that DreamSpace Industries® keeps slipping placement shorts into your REM-3. After all, dreams is going too far!
Aww, it's not that bad; I mean, what else you gonna do anyway? Besides, who else is gonna pay for your sleep?