The popularity of sites featuring user-generated content (UGC) has increased dramatically in the UK over the last year, according to research by comScore.

The firm found Wikipedia to be the top UGC property, and the sixteenth most popular site overall with 6.5m visitors in July 2006, up 253% from a year earlier.

Other UGC sites that have moved into the top 50 in the UK include (up 467% to 5.2m visitors), (up 393% to 4m), (3.9m visitors), and (up 328% to 3.9m).

Web 2.0 is clearly architected for participation, as it attempts to harness the collective intelligence of Web users,” commented Bob Ivins, MD of comScore Europe.
Many of the sites experiencing the fastest growth today are the ones that understand their audience’s need for expression and have made it easy for them to share pictures, upload music and video, and provide their own commentary, thus stimulating others to do the same. It is the classic network effect at work.

UGC sites, according to the study, are also much more ‘sticky’ than their counterparts.

The research showed they draw more frequent visits than non-UGC sites (4.2 vs. 3.5 average usage days per month), longer periods of engagement (79.9 vs. 33.2 average minutes per visitor), and more pages viewed (217 vs. 52 average pages per visitor).

Users of the top social networking sites demonstrate particularly high levels of engagement, with visitors to and averaging at least 5 usage days, 2 hours of use, and 300 pages viewed per visitor during July.

The question now is how they can monetise their popularity without alienating their users.

It is clear that UGC sites – and in particular social networking sites – represent potentially fertile ground for advertisers and marketers,” said Ivins.

Users on these sites visit more frequently, stay longer, and view more content, which means more opportunities for marketers to communicate key messages. The challenge right now is to determine effective ways to integrate this messaging while maintaining a positive user experience.