Agile Development, PHP

The Importance of User Generated Content

The days of companies controlling the creation and distribution of engineered content are fading. An explosion of user generated content (UGC) has reshaped the Web development landscape.

UGC is Ruby on Rails latest strategy to hand over the creation of documentation to those who care most about its long-term success, its community.

User Generated vs Engineered Content

Engineered content is created by established knowledge experts and content owners who are part of an official team. UGC, on the other hand, is created by users themselves.

The benefits of UGC are:

  • User opinions: The popularity of the content is based on user ratings and opinions.
  • User interaction: Allows all users the choice of becoming participants rather than just spectators. Also, it provides knowledge experts who aren’t part of the team with a medium in which to share their knowledge
  • Content restriction: Many more methods of content entry, making it less restrictive.
  • Content coverage: A wider content provider base means more areas of knowledge can be covered.
  • Quantity of content: Increases traffic and crawlable content.
  • Content linkability: Increases engagement.
  • Content strength: Content containing targeted keywords that will be crawled by search engines and indexed highly.

Rails new social documentation site

Built on top of APIdock, a social software documentation application, Rails-doc gives you a chance to contribute by writing documentation or rating content. It also provides easy access to documentation for a full line of Rails versions. A super-fast keyword search gives quick answers to quick questions and the full search looks through everything and finds everything that can be found with your given search term.


Remember Zend’s quick-start contest? The idea was to get people involved in the process of writing documentation. But the problem with this is that contests are not very social, there’s no teamwork involved. Users don’t want to compete, they want to help, they want to be part of the community. Engineered content doesn’t allow this. Not surprisingly, they only received 2 contributions.

Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learnt here.

4 thoughts on “The Importance of User Generated Content

  1. The QuickStart contest was my idea. I pitched it to the team, and collaboration was the biggest concern. That’s why I suggested people could collaborate when I announced it. Now, 2 entries was certainly less than I had hoped for, and it may be the case that this is entirely due to the fact that people don’t want to compete. In any case, the contest was an experiment that had these lessons for me:

    1) People need more time for something of that magnitude.
    2) The format of individual contributions didn’t work as well as I had hoped. Maybe the element of competition is not appropriate or encouraging in this context.
    3) I really gotta get back to that QuickStart and finish it off!

    I think all of your criteria for good user/contributor community generated content are spot-on. What is the best step forward we can make for ZF? Looking at the qualities you list out, would manual comments a la be the best first step we could take?

    Great blog! In particular, I’ve started reading all of your entries for the ZF feedback.


  2. Hi Wil,

    Finding tutorials and code examples is becoming more and more difficult. It would be nice to have all the tutorials in one place, displayed by popularity and/or rating, where users can post code examples, rate them and add comments.

    Also, if the application is built on top of the ZF and open sourced, people could extend it by developing modules.

  3. Interesting topic. I think set some standards in this area, as PHP has often been praised for its manual, and the user-contributed comments are a big part of this.

    There’s a lot of user-generated documentation in the Rails community simply because Rails doesn’t have a proper manual (only RDoc-generated API references), and its community has worked to plug this gap with sites like Rails-doc and contributions to the wiki.

    ZF is at the other end of this scale – it does have a manual, but it doesn’t have a lot of community contributed stuff.

    I think the main problem with allowing style comments on the ZF manual is that it will lead to a lot of “how do I…?” posts, which would distract from the useful content. But I still think this would be a useful addition. Just try and make it clear to users that the feature is meant for code examples and solutions rather than questions, point people looking for interactive help to resources like the mailing lists, and give the community at large the ability to help with the moderation.

    I think the simplest improvement that could be made to the current ZF manual would be the addition of a ‘See also’ section for each component. This would link off to external resources such as relevant tutorials on dev zone, wiki pages, and (decent) blog posts from the community.

  4. Pingback: Federico

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