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 dot.com 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 dot.com. Things turned when the promises of the dot.com prophets did not materialise and became known as a “crash” as one dot.com 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.

5 Responses to “Reality check: Web 2.0 & blogging just 'digital narcissism'?”
  1. Traditional Media? Have you read the Mercury or the Daily News? These are the dailies that tell the Durban populace about itself and the current News. Firstly it seems to have to a standard five or six reading level; secondly; the news more often feels like propaganda than news, and finally; it often feels more like advertising with some snippets of news tacked on. And quite clearly the traditional media is often the first to become the mouthpiece of a ruling party – looks at whats happening inch by inch at the SABC and SAfm.

  2. Hey peter. One of the key features of web 2.0 culture I guess is its transparency, flexibility, inclusiveness, honesty and ability to be self critical. Have a look at wikipedia and the way it publishes discussions and debates around its own various posts — completely transparent. Wikipedia also carries a large post where it carries criticisms of its very own site and the very model itself.

    Whether or not Andrew keen is just trying to generate PR for himself and jump on the bandwagon as the official opposition remains to be seen….

    Yes Vin and I have very lively debates on these issues… :-)

    Thanks for the nice words.

  3. Interesting to say the least.

    This is one of a few local blog posts of late which I feel rises above the background noise of idle chit chat or self-aggrandizement. Interestingly enough one of the others also focuses critically on their own medium of presentation, being “Where is social media going?” by Vincent Maher (and yes I am aware that you are colleagues – your office discussions must be interesting).

    I do believe that the fact that these two posts stand out adds merit to both their arguments and concerns yet at the same time does hold out hope for the medium as a valuable resource – people intimately involved who can still keep a critical eye open and raise concerns in an eloquent fashion.

  4. I agree with you. I think the assumption that traditional media is “more accurate or less biased than citizen media” should be challenged. I think it’s important to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of each, and continue to be critical of both — which is really the jist of my post here.

  5. I have to disagree with the assumption that traditional media is more accurate or less biased than citizen media. Professional Journalists are as lazy as anybody else and “traditional” content is mainly about turning a profit (which is often, but not always, the case with citizen generated content). Whatever media, It’s all about choosing your sources and cross-referencing them but the web 2.0 offers a platform where knowledge and opinions are instantaneously in the line of fire. Often, the resulting node of information is richer than what would have been achieved with more static methods of publication.

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