Open Source Content is the future of user-generated content

Jan 2021 β€’ Zack Hargett β€’ View on Twitter ↗️


"The most radical and transformative of inventions are often those that empower others to unleash their creativity -- to pursue their dreams." "...even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation. When a platform is self-service, even the improbable ideas can get tried, because there’s no expert gatekeeper ready to say β€œthat will never work!” And guess what – many of those improbable ideas do work, and society is the beneficiary of that diversity." Jeff Bezos


In the same way YouTube disrupted media of the 2000's, TikTok is disrupting media of the 2020's (including YouTube). Interestingly, TikTok is beating YouTube at its own game β€” reducing friction.

By making it easy to remix existing content, TikTok reduces the friction to create new content. This is what I call Open Source Content β€” breaking out individual components of a piece of content and using them as entry points for viewers to create new content.


It may be helpful to picture traditional content as flat vs Open Source Content as 3D.

Flat content is a single file and single stream. Take, for example, watching a YouTube video. The YouTube video is available to you in one format and one format only. Curious what song or special effect was used in the video? You're likely out of luck.

3D content is comprised of multiple files and multiple streams of media. Take, for example, watching a TikTok video. The TikTok video's components are shown in plain sight as you view. Curious what song or special effect was used? It's right there on the screen. Want to use that song or effect? Two taps and you're recording.

Open Source Content represents an incredible opportunity for UGC platforms to turn viewers into creators. Platforms adopting this model are more likely to enjoy much better engagement than the standard 90-9-1 ratio, like Musically's 25% creator ratio reported prior to the TikTok acquisition.

YouTube reduced the friction to be Hollywood star

In the 2000's, YouTube disrupted entertainment by giving the common person a platform. What once required moving to LA and trying to impress a media gatekeeper suddenly only took a camera, computer, and internet connection.

Top media executives of the time ignored YouTube as a threat. From a Wired article in 2005:


"There is not that much talent in the world," Diller (CEO of IAC) said. "There are very few people in very few closets in very few rooms that are really talented and can't get out." Wired Magazine, Oct 2005

Early viral YouTube videos like Charlie bit my finger and The evolution of dance were authentic captures in low-fi. But, over time, the war for attention of viewers led to more polished productions, sharper visual effects, more thoughtful stories, and more shocking video titles. And, for any chance of making money at your craft, YouTube demanded long-form content... An awful lot to chew as a creator and an awful lot of friction to get started.

TikTok reduced the friction to be a YouTuber

TikTok beats YouTube at their own game with its ability to dramatically reduce friction to both create and consume content. From my notes on an interview with Musically (now TikTok) Co-founder Alex Zhu: If you want to build a user-generated content platform, the content has to be extremely light β€” both content creation and content consumption need to happen within seconds, not minutes.

A high-level key metric for every UGC platform is the percentage of users creating new content. The reasoning is simple β€” the more users you have creating new content, the more content you have to show. The flywheel spins! In a perfect world, 100% of a platform's users that consume content would also create new content.

Musically, part of the predecessor to TikTok, once saw 25% of its active userbase creating content source (6:30) β€” a stat incredibly high relative to comparable UGC video platforms that typically aspire for 1% of their userbase to create content source.

(Part of) TikTok's secret sauce

TikTok makes video creation easy by isolating the individual components of content and making them available to the viewer.

I like to think of this as Open Source Content β€” a way of breaking out the component tools used to create content (music, filters, visual effects, etc) and making those easily available to the viewer. Let's look at an example.

In this flow, I am two taps away from creating content with the effect that I see being used. The same goes for using audio templates, visual effects (wavy videos, face filters), reply functions (stitches, duets, etc), and more.

TikTok makes tools used in any video you consume clear and accessible.
TikTok makes tools used in any video you consume clear and accessible.
The essence of Open Source Content is isolating and splitting out the individual components of a piece of content to reduce the friction of creating new content.
The essence of Open Source Content is isolating and splitting out the individual components of a piece of content to reduce the friction of creating new content.

One of the beauties of Open Source Content is the ability to fork content. See a piece of content that you like but think you could do one part of it a little better? Go back in the content's history and insert your unique creation into the piece's lineage. Your piece β€” your lineage β€” just may win the war for attention.

Possible frontiers for Open Source Content

Memes. By definition, memes are examples of remix culture. The most popular memes are almost always derivatives of a meme that came before it. And it, before it. And so on.

But memes are still somewhat high-friction to create. Today, the best memes are typically made with professional-grade photo and video tools. Tomorrow, the friction to create high-quality and niche memes will be reduced through Open Source Content a la isolating individual components of an image or video and making it easy for viewers to remix.

Instead of editing a flat image or video of a meme, the content comes alive in edit mode. Individual components of an image or video are easily changed or removed. New components are ready to insert. And memes become easily personalized to niche and small groups with tools to let you swap faces for friends.

Music. The stars of the music industry have changed in an interesting way over the last ~10 years with a special emphasis on music producers instead of just vocalists. The desire to be a star is certainly there, and Open Source Content represents an interesting way of achieving that stardom.

Today, people listen to "flat" songs β€” songs that are professionally-produced, remixed, and listened to in a single audio file. Fancy remixing a song or creating a new one altogether? You'll have to have knowledge of complex tools like Abelton or FL Studio to do so.

Tomorrow, in an Open Source Content world, new platforms will expose the individual elements of a song to make it easy to remix and create new songs.