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Work For Fun, Work For Free

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YouTube is the latest company to jump on the crowdsourcing bandwagon with the creation of a film that portrays life on earth on July 24. The project, Life In A Day, is not particularly original. A famous series of photo books portrayed A Day In The Life of various places, and The New York Times has just finished Moment In Time, which asked everyone to take a photo at the same time on Sunday, May 2. The main difference is that YouTube is asking for movies instead of photographs, and this reflects the arrival of mass market video equipment.

Until fairly recently, not many people shot movies, because it required somewhat specialised equipment. Today, most of us probably carry movie-making equipment everywhere. People who might never buy camcorders can make movies with tiny video cameras such as the Flip range, with smartphones, with digital still cameras, or using the webcams built into laptop PCs. We can also distribute them by uploading the results to YouTube, which is why the site was started in the first place.


YouTube has brought in some big names to give its project an aspirational angle. Life In A Day will be produced by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator etc), directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play etc), and shown at the Sundance film festival next year. Just as there’s a chance you could spotted by a talent scout during a pub football game, your snip of film could grab the attention of a Hollywood producer -- or at least Sundance regulars such as Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. You can dream.

In a way, it’s surprising that YouTube hasn’t done this before. What’s now called “user generated content” (UGC) is one of the staples of Web 2.0. Perhaps the most famous example is Wikipedia, but it also underlies Flickr, Facebook, icanhascheezburger, Answers.com, OpenStreetMap and many other sites. In other words, the people who produce the content are the same as the people who consume the content, although the number of producers is usually much smaller than the number of consumers.

Commercial organisations have been quick to recognise people’s willingness to contribute for nothing, or at least for no immediate financial reward, and have tried to exploit it. Results have been mixed. You might not have heard of Amazon’s putative product encyclopedia, Amapedia, or, if you are lucky. Penguin’s attempt to crowdsource a novel - A Million Penguins. Google Knol has proven similarly dire. But CNN gathered lots of user-generated news footage via iReport.com, and at least Cure Together - crowdsourced health research - has a worthwhile aim.

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