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Communications of the ACM

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Who Owns the Social Web?

Who Owns the Social Web? illustration

Credit: Justin Metz

User-contributed content plays an increasingly important role in the Internet's evolution, overtaking professionally created and curated resources. Sophisticated recording technologies allow non-professionals to produce high-quality photos and videos. Improved editing and sharing applications facilitate other aspects of media creation, including larger-scale collaborative efforts. And social media venues give their users new opportunities to publish, curate, and recommend content. Every phase of the creative process—from recording to editing to publishing—has become more popular and interactive. At the same time, content ownership has become more complicated. Any distinct item may be associated with a virtual web of stakeholders.

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A product review posted on Amazon might attract hundreds of comments that contribute substantively to the review's value and credibility. Videos on YouTube might respond to, excerpt, or satirize one another. Ongoing conversational threads on Twitter are held together by hashtags and @responses. Gamers use their avatars to interact with one another against the backdrop of a virtual universe and, in so doing, create new forms of data that build on the game's commercial content. Moreover, as individuals develop rich personal profiles, they publish new kinds of online representations of themselves.


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