Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Cult of the Amateur Web 2.0 Critic

I got an early Christmas gift of "The Cult of the Amateur" by Andrew Keen and I have already finished it.

The book is short and offers little original or insightful web 2.0 or even web 1.0 criticism. There is some good, topical commentary on the downside of user-generated content, blogs, citizen journalism, and online copyright chaos. But a lot of the book rehashes tired, old Internet (and granted legitimate) criticisms about Internet porn and gambling, with some saccharine lamentations for the death of newspaper classifieds and others. Then much of the book simplistically blames the Internet for the death of record stores and identity theft as if the Internet was the only factor in their demise. The book also glazes over things with vehement tunnel vision.

Still, I don't regret having read it.

There has been so much hyperbole about the web lately and particularly web 2.o (I have not been alone in predicting this bubble 2.0 to burst soon.) I firmly believe that boosterism doesn't ultimately help - it pushes both the good and bad aspects forward. Acknowledging the shortcomings as you go and addressing them builds something much stronger and much greater.

When Keen's book came out in caused a stir in the blogosphere. By and large, I heard critics denouncing the book with the one-sided fervour of Keen. There was no insightful dialogue going on either way.

I understand that Keen wants to sell books and he does this by being sensational. You don't make a buzz with a treatise showing both sides of an issue. So, Keen takes a stand and single-mindedly argues it.

Keen does raise some very good points that need to be discussed and acted upon.

For instance, why do so many people believe - or at least want to believe - so much rubbish news that comes out of the blogs? Why do people need to have news fresh by the minute instead of waiting for the facts to come in. Why would I want my news or commentary from someone more opinionated than knowledgeable (I don't want any comments on this point - it's a rhetorical question!). These are the main reasons I so rarely read blogs. But then again, many people blog about things that no other sources would cover.

Keen is also critical of the low quality of most YouTube content. And again, why so many people watch it (mystery) and believe it all to be true (stupidity). Again, I almost never watch YouTube except that it has allowed some small-scale companies to distribute content otherwise not feasible, such as CommonCraft's educational & entertaining videos. And yes, I have been known to watch a few irresistible memes/fad stuff on YouTube. It's not like everything on TV or in magazines is all enlightening fare either - why should Mark Burnett and Rupert Murdoch have the monopoly on manufacturing crap?

Like Keen, I also find the flagrant copyright violations that the Internet enables to be troubling. Not all Web 2.0 fans are digital communists. Obviously, people should be compensated for their work, although more reasonable pricing would help everyone.

There is a lot of things wrong with what's happening on the Net, but I believe that even greater, more positive things are happening on it. I think it's important to address the problems. Although I wish it were a better book, I applaud Keen for proclaiming that the emperor has no clothes.

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