Reality check: Web 2.0 & blogging just 'digital narcissism'?

Here is a bit of a reality check on the web 2.0 frenzy. I’ve always thought the hype around web 2.0 reminded me a bit of the hype around the early days — which I, by the way, was very much a part of. It’s the reason why I am so revenue-driven when it comes to creating web projects these days.

At the back of my mind, it has been worrying me, though: There is an almost unchecked, uncritical enthusiasm for web 2.0 and citizen media. In fact, try be a critic: Critics are often shutdown as not “getting it” or being behind the times. There is fear-mongering talk of media being “replaced” and there is talk of a “revolution”. Jovan’s piece, which I didn’t agree with completely, is one of the few local critical pieces on the issue I’ve read. It’s important to be critical and constantly check what you do. That’s the school of thought I subscribe too. And it’s important to approach the subject with intellectual honesty — being critical and rechecking assumptions.

But does Web 2.0 have a gold rush feel to it at the moment? (I’ve previously posted on this). Most people jump on the web 2.0 bandwagon for fear of being left out or left behind. It took about eight years for things to turn with Things turned when the promises of the prophets did not materialise and became known as a “crash” as one entrepreneur after another failed over a two-year period.

Now, where are we? We know web 2.0 is more an idea that encapsulates a new culture on the web (web 2.0 really describes practices that have been around for years, but now is a concept that markets those practices more effectively for the mainstream, thanks to O’Reilly). But the concepts are useful and have practical application.

For me the idea of wikipedia is utopian, yet it appears to be working. Or maybe it isn’t working because it has yet to stand the true test, which is the test of time? As more high-profile inaccuracies or acts of vandalism start appearing on wikipedia over the years, like we have seen recently, maybe the tide will turn on the project and public opinion will turn. Maybe it will be innacurate information used from wikipedia that will lead to a high-profile blunder or calamity? Maybe Wikipedia will shut its doors to the public and further retreat behind registration? BUT maybe none of this will happen and the project will succeed, get stronger and be the seemingly-utopian realisation of collective collaboration?

The Observer article cites Andrew Keen (read his blog) who has written a book “The Cult of the Amateur” which accuses bloggers and other evangelists of the web of destroying culture, ruining livelihoods and threatening to make consumers of new media regress into ‘digital narcissism’. The Observer article goes on to say:

His book… has become a rallying point for dissenters with nagging doubts about the revolution of blogs, wikis, social networking sites and podcasts. Keen has been praised for applying the brakes to what seems to have become a runaway train: the idea that anyone can use technology to gain control of the media and change the world… Keen criticises Web 2.0 sites such as Wikipedia for making it impossible to discern the important from the trivial.

I believe we have to keep our eyes wide open. And I have never believed citizen media will “replace” traditional media models. Organised, corporate structures with incentives (such as salaries) produce quality and get the best out of human beings. It’s worked for centuries. But also in the citizen media sphere: the pressure of social ties, idea of doing good and maintaining a reputation is also powerful in promoting quality — the prime motivator for me behind this blog. (What Jimmy Wales emphasised in an interview I did with him).

But I do however believe the two (traditional media and citizen media models) will co-exist as different information forms. I also believe that there will be more blog aggregators, Technoratis and other tools that are able to discern the authoritative from the trivial. As the internet gets polluted with more and more rubbish we’ll need systems to help us discern. Remember, in a world sense, the internet is still elitest.

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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