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5 Examples of Using User-Selected Content to Increase User Engagement

by Vincent Chan on Jun 26, 2009


This post is inspired by the webcast of Jamse Hong at Mixergy.com. This video interview is about how James Hong and his co-founder, Jim Young, bootstrapped HOTorNOT to over $5 million in annual profits. If you are into entrepreneurship, definitely check it out. You will learn a lot from it.

During the interview, James mentioned that a lot of social networking related sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, Slide, Digg…etc, using “User-Selected Content” to increase user engagement. Not sure if James coined the term himself, but I couldn’t find much information about this topic. So I decided to do some research on it.

(Update: James told me on twitter that the term “User-Selected Content” is actually coined by him. Thanks James!)

What is User-Selected Content?

User-Selected Content basically is a feature inside a user-generated content or social networking site. Using this feature, the users don’t have to create the content themselves. They just have to choose from a library of content in order to create an event between members easily and quickly.


It drops the bar for what it takes to generate user content for someone else to view. It encourages more interaction and conversation between users. Like James said, the easier to do, the more it’s going to happen.

Content and conversation are still two of the most important things on the web today. So if you want to grow your business, you better understand how your competitors are taking advantages of this feature.

Below are 5 examples of sites using User-Selected Content:

1. Facebook


In the early days, everyone loved to POKE each other on Facebook. You poke your friends and they will usually poke you back. Sometimes you don’t really know why you want to poke your friends but it is fun, it is an interaction and it is an easy way to get in touch with friends.

By using this feature, you don’t have to write anything to let your friends know that you are thinking about them. You don’t have to call them and you don’t have to think about what to say beforehand. Just have to click “poke’.

Later on, a lot of applications, such as SuperPoke!, Hug Me, Free Gifts…etc, and Facebook’s feature, such as Like it and Become a fan, are also using the same concept to promote activities between users on Facebook.

2. Slide


The popular Slideshow by Slide is another great example of using User-Selected Content. Members just have to choose pictures from their own computers and upload them. The site will then help you make a beautiful photo slideshow that you can showoff to your friends on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Friendster…etc.

The users can choose from a library of preset designs or choose their own styles, themes, music, background and special effects. Just to make their photos look nicer. If you ask people to create this kind of photo slideshow in Adobe Flash? It will takes days, weeks or even worst; most people will just give up. Without these widgets, all the content you can see on MySpace will be text and static photos. You think young kids will stay on such a boring site for a long time? I don’t think so.

3. Polyvore


Polyvore may be an under the radar startup. Yet if you check out their traffic in the past few years and their management team, you will be AMAZED.

I will say their whole site is 100% based on User-Selected Content. Their users can mix & match products from their favorite stores and brands, making their pages like a scrapbook. So the community members are able to find out the latest hot trends, brands, and celebrity styles.

Their easy to use, drag and drop editor helps people create sets composed of individual images. After that member can publish and share their creative and stylish sets with friends and the Polyvore community. Just think about this, the users just have to pick from some pre-upload and pre-edited images in order to participate in the community. They don’t have to search for the product images on the web and they don’t have to edit the pictures in Photoshop. The site has already done it for them. Everyone has an equal chance to make a unique and beautiful set of images. You know how long does it take just to clear the background of a product photo? No wonder their members are so passion about this site. What a brilliant use of User-Selected Content!

4. Last.fm


Besides fashion industry, User-Selected Content can be used in the music businesses, too. Last.fm is a music service, acquired by CBS for US$280m in 2007, that lets users discover new music they like, based on the music they already listen to. In other words, the site will learn what music their users love.

Using a music recommendation software called “Scrobbler”, Last.fm builds a detailed profile of each user’s musical taste by recording every songs the user have listened to, either on the streamed radio stations, the user’s computer or portable music devices.

Therefore, this “Scrobbler” application is the core portion of their User-Selected Content feature. Scrobbling a song means that when you listen to it, the name of the song is sent to Last.fm and added to your music profile. You can shift a song’s ranking on the site just by listening to it on your own computer. Just like what you would normally do. Users never have to change their habit or preference. Moreover, that particular song will be recommended to other users and they will know that you have listened to it. As a result, the site automatically connect you to other community members who like what you like.

Simple and easy! You listen to a song, the User-Selected Content, and the site will tell you which members have similar style and musical taste. So you can easily start a conversation with them because you already know what they love.

5. Club Penguin


Believe it or not, every action on Club Penguin is User-Selected Content. That’s right. You won’t be able to send a customized message to your friends or upload any content to the site. Members have to select conversation phrases from a pre-defined list. Club Penguin calls this the “Ultimate Safe Chat” mode. In this way, the children could never reveal their personal information and there won’t be any inappropriate talk.

Despite this limitation, the company has created many communication methods so that their members can play and talk with each other with ease. For example, you can send a postcard to other members if you want to tell them they are your best friends. Or players can express their feelings with emoticons, such as a happy face, a sad face, angry face, winking…etc. If you don’t know what to say sometimes, you can simply throw a snowball to others or choose the dancing action to draw attention.

Not interested in such a site? Me neither. However, the rapid growth of Club Penguin, with over 12 million user accounts, suggests that it has already achieved considerable success. With such a targeted audience and safe environment, it’s no surprise that the company was purchased by The Walt Disney Company in August 2007 for the sum of US$350 million.


So do you believe in the power of User-Selected Content yet? If you want to increase user engagement, make sure you have created features that make it quick and easy to facilitate dialogue between users just by pointing and clicking. Yes, make it so easy that a cavemen could do it. 🙂

Photo source: dreaminhealey, zen, Dan Eriksson, calperniaaddams @Flickr

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  • Kikki

    This could make me a lot easier on the “web and new media” session for the agency-to-agency project on Red Bull next year. no one here is trained and knowledged in web studies/businesses. we're just users.

  • Kikki

    This could make me a lot easier on the “web and new media” session for the agency-to-agency project on Red Bull next year. no one here is trained and knowledged in web studies/businesses. we're just users.

  • http://Scale.cc Vincent Chan

    If you want to know more about web businesses, just shoot me an email 🙂

  • http://Scale.cc Vincent Chan

    If you want to know more about web businesses, just shoot me an email 🙂

  • Kikki

    This could make me a lot easier on the “web and new media” session for the agency-to-agency project on Red Bull next year. no one here is trained and knowledged in web studies/businesses. we're just users.

  • http://Scale.cc Vincent Chan

    If you want to know more about web businesses, just shoot me an email 🙂

  • Jindou

    Vincent,nBeen reading the blog for a while now and love it.nnJust wondering, I’m working on a few projects in Australia and we do not really have a strong startup culture.nnIn your opinion, do you think that location plays a huge factor in a successful startup? eg. is SF or NY better than Adelaide, Australia (I mean where is that right?!)


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