People say that communication technology diminishes the difference between producers and consumers. It's hard to get a book published, kinda hard to write for the paper, not too hard to host a BBS, pretty easy to have a web page, darn easy to participate in a forum, and nearly impossible not to create content while playing a MMORPG. Sometimes, it seems like the next step would be to take the difference away entirely: everyone produces.
Let's take a little bit of a closer look.
Each technology seems to make it a little easier to produce - easier to publish and, usually, easier to actually create content. But the problem is that in the process of making creation easier, they also make it more limited. It's pretty much unavoidable, because in creating a framework to facilitate communication, you make specific assumptions.
For example, a book's framework is pretty open - you can write just about anything. And, at least recently, you can even include pictures without too much difficulty. But forum posts are less useful: although you can technically say anything, the forum audience isn't usually willing to read long posts about subjects the forum isn't organized around. Even worse is a MMORPG, where your content creation is largely limited to equipment, guilds, and some minor amount of RP. It's hard to, say, discuss the nature of language. It's hard enough just to tell a love story. Too much of the content is incidental rather than intentional...
Another side effect of turning people into producers is that a lot of stuff gets produced. Leaving aside the fact that the majority of it is crap, you have the problem that any given individual is going to be exposed to literally hundreds of options at any given time. I call this "swamping", and it leads to a whole host of problems such as fan disunification and a loss of scale and awe. I'll post on them some other time, but for now I'll just say that artfully restricting people's access to player-created content is not only possible, but necessary.
The question is: can you create a system of content creation which is easy, but robust enough to allow people to say unusual things in unusual ways?
I think it might be possible using a "tiered content" system. Imagine three programs which let you build or experience content.
The "bottom" level, the easiest and quickest, would be construct content using tiny fragments. For example, if it was a first-person shooter, you could toss in fragments which define weapons, enemies, level specifics, plot events, and so on. Of course, this same program would let you EXPLORE the content and even allow others to "push" fragments into your game, making it a kind of iterative, expanding, cooperative storyline.
The "middle" level would allow you to design the fragments that the bottom level uses. This would take a bit more expertise to use, although simple stuff like a new kind of weapon might not be too hard. It would also let you share and browse fragments, trade fragments, mutate them, and so on.
On the "top" scale, it would be a method of creating a front end. For example, you could build a kind of web browser, or a first-person shooter, or an RPG. You're not creating content: you're creating a method to explore content which gets created. Obviously, this would be the most time-consuming level to use. It is entirely possible that a creation on this level would generate versions of the middle- and low-level programs specifically for the product.
For most users, simply using the lowest level at its most basic setting would be fine. It would be similar to simply playing a game (or browsing the internet, or whatever), except there would be the option to have weird "cooperative plot" variants and stuff.
Users that are more interested in creating can do so at whatever scale(s) they prefer.
Is it viable?
I don't know. I'm still thinking about how fragments can be defined such that they auto-generate most of the details - hopefully leaving low-level creators with little more than dialogue to fill in once they put down all the plot fragments.
Even if it was possible, would it allow people to make the statements they want to make? Can you convince people to play these games?
I don't know.
But... I am going to spend some more time thinking about it.