The Purpose of User Generated Content

He begins... User Generated Content is good. I get it. But like wet kippers, sometimes, enough is enough.

I refer to a particular case in point.

Now I don't know if you've ever visited Nordstrom (dot com). Their website, as lovely as it is, went a little too diplomatic when they opened up the judging of sizing of their shoes to their audience.

That's right. You can select whether the shoe comes up wide, narrow, long or short.

"A splendid idea" I hear your mind compute, as not unlike me, you consider all the possible positive brand implications that could come about as a result of opening up the recommendations of the buyer.

But wait.

Isn't that a bit like Nordstrom (the experts in dressing) don't want to take the opportunity to be the experts of their own footwear and offer sizing recommendations, and instead give that responsibility to not only everyone, but anyone?

It's essentially a global brainstorming session on whether a shoe will fit me. So my question is - how necessary is it all? How does it actually benefit me?

For anybody that's ever been involved in a brainstorming session, you know exactly how they tend to go.

It ends up like that scene from Alan Partridge when he's trying to convince the head of BBC commissioning to keep him on, and in a moment of desperation offers; "Monkey Tennis" as a programme idea.

Let us consider in a moment of wild abandon that all humans don't happen to have the same width feet - a left field concept, but try.

Meet Alan.

Aged 45, he stands at 5,8" with size 10 feet, and eats in great quantity.

He comes to the site, knows he has feet that look like marshmallows and so needs a pair of wide fitting shoes.

He may well read the review and opinion of Derek - a sports enthusiast also size 10, but eats nothing but aubergine and quinoa owning objects bearing more resemblance to snooker cues than feet.

Now Derek says "yeah, comfortable and very wide".

But Derek, a yogurt pot as shoes would feel roomy to you.

So based on skinny Derek's opinion, Alan buys them, realises they're not wide enough compared to his chubby stabilisers and has to head to Boots for vaseline.

With User Generated Content, it's almost as though some brands relinquish their power to the masses in a bid to look like a friendly, modern, liberal and welcoming brand - but there are times when it's more harmful than good.

There are times when brands need to offer their customers the chance for their opinions and thoughts to be shared, I completely agree.

They have no choice but to become platforms for growth, and social proof is something we're focussing on a great deal.

But pick your battles, think about when it could potentially do more harm than good.

As will so much of the work we create at first, purpose must inform what you do, so you should start there.

Brilliant User Generated Content should inspire and helpfully  inform fellow consumers, so consider the most ripe opportunities for them to contribute to this.

This is learning the art of real User Experience.