How to solve the chicken and egg problem for a user generated content site

If you are building a site that is going to be based on user generated content, one of the challenges you may face is on how to seed the initial content for the site.  Without a decent amount of engaging content, it is going to be difficult to get new users excited / interested enough to sign up on your site. At the same time, unless you have a user base, its going to be hard to generate interesting, fresh content on the site. So, its a classic chicken and egg problem about what comes before the other.

So, how can you develop the initial site content before you actually open up the site to the public ? Let’s look at some approaches:

1) Convince your friends and family to sign up for the service. LifeBlob is a startup that did just that. Initial userbase seemed to comprise of the founders and friends and family of the founders.

2) Getting friends and family to generate the initial content might work, if they actually have relevant content to contribute. For instance, if you start an indie music site, friends and family might not be able to seed content as easily. So, in such a scenario, you’d need to reach out, coax and convince users to sign up and start contributing content

3) Seek out evangelists for your site. Say you are starting a portal focused on cricket, you can probably reach out to Indian bloggers who write about cricket and possibly even hire them to start contributing on your site

4) Hire a few people part time to seed content on the site. I’m not sure what avenues you could explore to find these hires – but I’ve heard of people hiring off Naukri and other job portals

5) Scrape / Crawl data from other sites. For instance, if you’re developing a classifieds site, you could look at scraping data from other existing classifieds sites. I know this borders on the unethical, but probably should be a good base to get you started

6) Provide incentives in terms of contests or rewards for users to sign up and contribute content. Look at how successfully ibibo is doing it

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any means. And more than anything, I’d like this to be a really open discussion in terms of other ideas and avenues that you can think of. Startup founders – if you’ve been in a similar situation, I’d like to hear your stories as well.

What other ways can a 1-2 person startup generate the intial content ?

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7 comments

  1. Seeding initial content for a UGC is much more harder than it seems initially. Even if you get your family and friends to sign up, have them space out their contribution to the site. Ask them to contribute to the content with consistency. So instead of say a friend signing up and writing 100 reviews on day one, you’d rather have him write a couple of reviews everyday.

    Go to bloggers and other prolific people on the net and get them to write an honest review of your site. While this might not directly help you seed the content, you will at least start getting the ‘content consumers’ on your site and some of them might even convert to ‘content producers’.

    I would discourage the scrapping idea. When a user of the site knows the content is scrapped, they won’t have any motivation to contribute. Seeding is not the same as scrapping. It’s a psychological thing.

    If your site is a 100% UGC, then don’t ever pay anyone to contribute. Just stick to your principles. No fake accounts, no fake contributions. Persuage people you know to sign up and make an honest contribution.

    Incentives/rewards is again a kind of bribe. You need to socially reward people, by giving them more power on your site. Say, convert a few active users to become moderators of the site. Seek their opinion before starting work on new features. Keep the top contributors in the loop on new developments on your site.

    Keep the contribution process simple and dumb on your site. From all the visitors you get on your site only a few will contribute to the content (How many of us have uploaded videos on YouTube vs. How many of us have watched YouTube videos). So don’t force all your users/visitors to contribute. That’s the way it is.

    • thanks anand for sharing your experiences..although i would have to say that if the site is initially very bare in terms of content, then getting users to convert into content contributors/ producers is difficult as well..

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