If there were a Mount Rushmore honoring UGC video visionaries, I imagine there would be little debate about including Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim who brought us YouTube.  A notion, a bit of technology, and recognition of the inherent human desire for self-expression and occasional idiocy, and the rest is history.

So, arguably, these guys are the collective Jefferson and Lincoln of UGC  video for both their declaration that content and distribution would no longer be in the hands of the few and for their technological proclamation that delivered on the promise and set the online video space free. Two giant sculpted faces down and two to go (the three of them will just have to learn to share).

But long before the launch of YouTube, the first large-scale UGC video success story had already been alive and kicking for over 15 years.  It was 1989, when a then little-known television producer had a notion, a bit of technology and an understanding of the inherent human desire for self-expression and more than occasional idiocy.  Meet the George Washington of UGC, the creator of “America’s Funniest Videos”, Vin Di Bona.  (Note:  I worked with Vin as his President of Worldwide Development for almost five years.  However, that doesn’t make any of the following any less true.)

In 1989, Vin was already quietly making pioneering efforts in the television format business.  While it is common place today to have prime-time filled with Americanized versions of foreign television hits like Idol, over two decades ago, Vin was busy establishing the first significant ties between Hollywood and overseas producers and broadcasters.  He was one of the first producers to import a foreign format for American television. On one of his many trips abroad, a bit of “technology” gave him a notion.  He noticed that the Japanese were rabidly into the newly developed home video camera and knew that the wave would be coming to the States.  A few glimpses into what people were capturing on video later, and the rest is history. For every somber wedding vow captured on tape, there were many more brides passing out and grooms calling their betrothed by a different name.

The show launched in 1989 and soon Vin and his production company were receiving thousands of user generated video submissions per week. And so, a franchise was born.  The show is still running on ABC, 20 years later—the longest running entertainment program in ABC history.  It has been sold to countries all over the globe and has single-handedly created a universal fear among men, any time a kid, a baseball bat and an exposed crotch are anywhere in sight.  Think about it.  An entire television juggernaut based completely on submitted content. So Vin gets carved in stone on the far left of the UGC Video Mount Rushmore in the GW slot—the Father of UGC, long before the acronym existed.

So who gets the last spot?  Who will be the Roosevelt of UGC? He spoke softly, carried a big stick and moved the US into an expansionist adventure. The analogous next phase in UGC will be finding editorial, commercial usage and creative indexing solutions for the morass of material floating about.  Whoever can harness the raw power of UGC, expand its influence in branding, entertainment, building community, and expanding the inalienable right to free expression will get my vote.   Now get to it.

Peter J. Schankowitz