During the 20th Century we were obsessed with separating the professionals from the amateurs, but today’s layman citizens are more likely to be asked to innovate through use, make things desirable, and work like semi-professionals in a number of different domains of human activity – writing, sport, IT programming, music, or cinema, to name but a few. This phenomenon is known as “Pro-Am,” or professional amateurs. In this context, user generated content (the old dream of Tim Berners Lee) refers to a whole range of media whose content has been either produced or directly influenced by its final users. This is opposed to traditional content manufactured, sold or broadcast by traditional media organizations. The term became popular in 2005 amongst Web 2.0 and new media users . This movement reflects the democratization of means of audiovisual production that has come with new technologies. Amongst the most accessible of these, for the general public, are digital video, blogs, podcasting, mobile phones, and Wikis. Content generated by users also often uses free or open source software and relies on the new, very flexible copyright licenses which are removing basic access problems and making it easier for geographically and globally dispersed individuals to collaborate with one another.
User generated content is also thought of, by those involved, as an excellent way of improving one’s own abilities, to teach oneself and discover new areas of knowledge. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is an excellent example of user generated content. Citizen journalism is another, where the fluid boundaries between professionals and amateurs has led to very well written blogs that the traditional forms of news media themselves have had to address and integrate. There are no newspapers without blogs these days! Even the way we write is changing, as the tools and knowledge now exist to create a counter-power to the mainstream media when it becomes too biased.
Joël de Rosnay calls this “new class of digitial network users capable of producing, broadcasting, and selling non-proprietary digital content based on the principles of the “new new economy,” the «pronétariat» or internet citizen advocates, in that are capable of generating a large amount of visitor traffic to sites, allowing free access, providing very personalized service at very low prices, and betting on the effect of expansion. As professional amateurs, or pro-ams, they use tools that are freely available on the Internet and identical to those used by professionals. They are users, web surfers, bloggers, citizens like any other, but they are entering into ever greater competition with the traditional infocapitalists, whom they no longer trust because of the inflated cost of the products and services they offer and the difficulty the less fortunate have in accessing them, when it comes to information, music, videos, books, or telecommunications.” This leads to the kind of situations in which one can find, in an NGO-ridden world, people who use professional methods, and defend the enterprising mindset despite their militancy, and, in the professional world, people who may well be amateurs, because they are journalists in one kind of media in the daytime, but blog at night, etc. At the same time, salaries in the world of journalism are weakening and contracts are becoming more precarious , even more than elsewhere. In such a context, can we call social, scientific and technological issues new forms of deliberation? How should we make the democratic process richer, and thus involve civil society?