Nicholas Carr, a real
journalist, has a blog post that argues that Web
2.0 is amoral. That’s a relatively uninteresting academic argument though.
Of more practical import, is his rage against the “cult of the amateur”.
But I find it curious that he bases his argument against amateurs on a
completely false statement:
“The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional.”
Well I for one don’t “distrust” professionals. Web 2.0 for me is
about amateurs having the tools and opportunities to compete with
professionals. Never in our history has it been so easy for “amateurs”
(and I dislike that word) to publish to the Web – and via social software and
networks stand a real chance for their voices to be heard.
My counter point: the best of these scruffy little amateurs will
eventually rise to professional status and write/create for professional
publications, or create their own professional brands and businesses. If I believed in Mr Carr’s argument, those
amateurs-turned-professionals would then turn into untrustworthy publishers.
Wrong. Then Mr Carr says:
“The Internet is changing the economics of creative work – or, to put it more broadly, the economics of culture – and it’s doing it in a way that may well restrict rather than expand our choices.”
His reason? Because “free trumps quality all the time”. He spends a
lot of time denouncing the quality of the Wikipedia, to back his position up. My
counter point is that of course more competition is going to make it more
difficult for 20th century mainstream media to earn their living. But I think
Carr is far too dismissive of our (as ‘consumers’) respect for and need for
quality content. His assumption is that most people will choose free content
over “quality” content. But what he’s conveniently overlooking is that
people these days are far more critical and active in their judgement of
content quality. When I read the Wikipedia, I always do so with a critical eye.
Likewise when I read blogs. Likewise when I read the NY Times (e.g. the
Times’ fluff piece about Inform.com the other day). It’s not a question of
free vs quality, it’s a question of: what is my judgement of this piece of
content, whether free or paid for. I don’t consider that to be restricting my
It is true that Web 2.0 is changing the economics of creative works, but
quality will always rise to the top. Whether it’s mainstream media or
“amateur”. The challenge for 21st century media companies is to leverage both professional and user-generated content; and find new ways to earn money from the best quality of it. Old 20th century media thinking won’t work in Web 2.0.