Keen on Web 2.0

This is a very old article. It has been imported from older blogging software, and the formatting, images, etc may have been lost. Some links may be broken. Some of the information may no longer be correct. Opinions expressed in this article may no longer be held.

The Observer has an interesting article about Andrew Keen’s new book The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy. Although the book isn’t released until early June, according to the Observer article the basic premise is that:

bloggers and other evangelists for the web [are] destroying culture, ruining livelihoods and threatening to make consumers of new media regress into ‘digital narcissism’.

He points out that most of what you see on MySpace, YouTube and other such social networking sites is utterly banal; the information you read on Wikipedia has often not been edited by experts; and a disproportionate amount of information can be found on Pamela Anderson, compared with, say, Emily Pankhurst.

All that is true, but I don’t see why that will necessarily lead to our culture being “killed” and our economy “assaulted”. Compare what is found on the Internet to normal, everyday speech.

Some speech, such as plays, press conferences and after-dinner toasts has been well thought out, revised, edited, checked against relevent authorities for factual innacuracies and rehearsed before finally being spoken. Most speech though is idle chit-chat, quick telephone conversations, ad-hoc business meetings and discussions about last night’s TV around the water cooler. The world is not a poorer place for it. When I’m chatting with my friends, I might occasionally make a grammatical slip-up; perhaps my sentence composition was not quite as good as it could be; or (heaven forbid!) I might make the odd factual error. And guess what? Nobody minds. The inaccuracies and lack of editing of normal everyday speech do not kill the medium of speech altogether.

More people discuss Pamela Anderson than Emily Pankhurst on a day-to-day basis. As far as I’m aware, fans of Ms Pankhurst and in no way detrimentally effected by the discussions about Ms Anderson. A reduction in discussions about Panela Anderson will not automatically lead to an increase in discussions on Emily Pankhurst.

Most of the stuff people talk about is utter rubbish. What they had for dinner last night; what they thought of the new James McAvoy film; isn’t that a nice top? I think Robert’s coming down with a virus or something; ooh… have you heard the new Beyonc{e’} single?… Guess what? For the most part, if you don’t want to listen to these people talking, you don’t have to. If you don’t want to read the same banality on the web, don’t read their blogs. You have a choice which web pages you read.

Keen criticises Web 2.0 sites such as Wikipedia for making it impossible to discern the important from the trivial. ‘Wikipedia is going to become the internet,’ he said. ‘It does away with the distinction between the distinguished and the ordinary and becomes a bizarre compendium of information. […] I want to learn about Martin Luther’s epiphany, not the epiphany of the 11-year-old who blogs next door.’

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. What seems unimportant to you might be of vital importance to someone else. Through standards like RDF people are able to publish lists of things that they think are important. You can subscribe to other people’s lists of important stuff too, if you value their judgment.

So yes, there is an awful lot of rubbish on the Web, but that rubbish needs to be there. There’s no-one standing there with a gun to your head forcing you to read it though.