Sony Ericsson gets drunk on the web 2.0 cool aid after everybody else has left the party

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Can good old fashioned User-Generated Content help shift handsets? Sony Ericsson apparently thinks so.

The handset maker has announced a new web service called Creations, its “vision for the future of mobile entertainment”, based on something the company is calling ‘co-creation’.

Basically, it’s a content sharing site – sorry, a “movement” (I kid you not) – in which users can upload, “remix” and publish content to and from their mobile phones and the desktop, all distributed under a Creative Commons license.

It’s an idea that might have seemed credible a few years ago but in 2010 it appears as if Sony Ericsson has got a little too drunk on the web 2.0 cool aid after just about everybody else has left the party. Either that or the company’s leadership have turned to the scriptures of Lawrence Lessig in the hope of clawing back marketshare.

It’s also eerily reminiscent of aspects of MOSH, rival handset maker Nokia’s own attempt to jump on the UGC bandwagon. Which is quite apt since Sony Ericsson is at least eating its own dog food by re-mixing an old idea. And while the two aren’t exactly the same – MOSH enabled applications as well as multimedia content to be shared and emphasised crowd-sourcing over remixing – the free-for-all nature of Creations will likely see it face many of the same challenges that eventually led to MOSH being deadpooled.

First up is the thorny issue of copyright infringement. For the most part, users of Creations will be asked to police themselves by agreeing to the site’s terms and conditions which include not using material for which they don’t hold rights. That’s fine and dandy in theory but we all know how it works out in practice. Worst still, since all content uploaded is then distributed under a Creative Commons Share-alike license, examples of copyright infringement will inevitably be duplicated.

Sony Ericsson will of course implement a DMCA-type take down notice system in which copyright holders can request that content be removed but this cat-and-mouse game doesn’t guarantee service providers stay out of the courts or aren’t threatened by legal action. Just ask Nokia.

MOSH was heavily criticised by Warner Music for being a hotbed of piracy, straining relations between the two companies. And just last week, video sharing site Veoh entered the deadpool after being crippled by a lengthy law suit filed by UMG.

Creations will initially focus content on mobile phone wallpapers and themes, with ringtones reportedly up next. Three ingredients perfectly suited to copyright infringement.

Then there’s the issue of revenue. While tight integration with Creations could, arguably, add value to Sony Ericsson handsets in the eyes of consumers, there’s unlikely to be much revenue generated from the service through selling advertising. UGC is by far the hardest type of content to sell ads against, especially in a free-for-all scenario. Just ask YouTube, which over the years has been steadily moving towards more professionally-produced content.

And that leads us to third-party developers, which Sony Ericsson hopes will write apps that support Creations. Why would they bother? Without an obvious way to monetize those apps and with Creations’ longevity – based on the track record of similar efforts – far from guaranteed, it’s hard to see how the developer community will be persuaded to jump on-board.

That said, I can’t entirely blame Sony Ericsson from trying something – anything – to distinguish itself from the wares of other handset makers. It doesn’t have a smartphone platform of its own, piggybacking Windows Mobile, Symbian and Android, and it’s so-far weak on the services side.

But in 2010 is UGC really the answer?

  • Davor

    OK author demonized UGC ‘in 2010’. But simple question follows: in this insanely accelerated Internet business environment, what is answer? What type of service? Aren’t Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc etc all UGC sites? And until we find new ones, only available – and until then very rich and successful indeed.

    • Steve O'Hear

      I’m not writing off UGC. More pointing out how a traditional old-fashioned content sharing – even with the words co-creation and remix mentioned – is plagued with challenges that might be a bit too much to swallow for a handset maker.

      Very few hardware makers understand content or social features well enough to execute successfully and in SE’s case, I’m not convinced that launching a site like Creations isn’t a big distraction from what they should be doing: building great hardware and UI. As well as leveraging their ties to Sony proper.

      Your point about Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is spot on. That’s why there is only really one Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The first two are more about social messaging and sharing content with a user’s social graph. The latter needed Google’s money to fend off lawsuits and buy it space to find a path to monetization.

      Creations will be no Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. I’m sure of that.

      • Davor

        I could agree with you on that. Especially that hardware makers don’t understand social and content features. Actually this can be extended to almost all ‘old world’ corporations – there is almost no successful site built by some corporation, or by their R&D. Almost all Internet stars are built ‘in the garage’ by some enthusiastic folks.

        What’s left for corporations is to buy them out, or to invest in them. And hopefully not to interfere much with founders future plans.

      • Steve O'Hear

        Rather than starting their own web services, investing in and buying the hottest startups is what I’ve advised or predicted that the smartest players will do – especially the carriers but it also applies to old guard hardware makers.

  • Mitch

    Don’t drink the Hater-ade.

    Every consumer based site has some form of User Generated Content. How do you know this is just not a first step for Ericsson? You cannot build an Ovi overnight.

    • Steve O'Hear

      There’s very little UGC on Nokia’s Ovi these days. It’s now more about selling app and content (music etc), along with web services such as push email, social messaging and navigation.

      It’s not just a first step for SE, it’s a movement (their words, not mine). That Kool Aid is strong stuff.

      • rutherford

        You know something? I started to write a comment asking ‘why get so hung up about marketing’ but halfway through I see the point –

        It seems like overkill for what is essentially swapping backgrounds or whatever and SE would make better use of their excellent developer resource platform by opening up their OS and firmware to greater customisation.

        I had a go at creating my own SE camera driver (some excellent independent experts out there on the net) but had to stop as trying to see in the dark with regard to which register value to change and when became too difficult (tried to automate changing the EV value so I could take fake HDR shots in a single click).

        If they opened up their phones killer features to remixing I don’t doubt they’d have themselves a movement tomorrow.

  • Nashville Hype!

    I still own the domain — the best name EVER for UGC. I sure do wish they would’ve thought to buy the name from me before they started this service … Creations?!?! Creations are what people come to see AFTER UGC has been created… it says nothing about the process of collaborative creating and what they wants their users to do.

  • Sony Ericsson to Use Creative Commons «

    […] Commentary by Steve O’Hear at TechCrunch. […]

  • Bhupathi

    Does this has any selling points when compared with and ??

  • Dagg

    Take a look at looks like spinn-off, met the guys.

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