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Seeking common factors in the Web 2.0 bubble

Or, why we're not all doomed, after all

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Column Boy oh boy! - has Andrew Keen upset the world of Web 2.0. I'm tempted to tell him: "Things change. Deal with it." but instead, I'm going to suggest you watch a talking rabbit discuss the end of the world and American culture.

Because he does have a point: the whole Web 2.0 crusade is based on the assumption that "reality" TV can somehow be better than carefully made programmes, or that the scalp-itchings of 10,000 ignorant (deliberately ignorant) fantasists are somehow a substitute for careful journalism.

The rabbits' argument is between this week's guru, Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur - who doesn't like the Long Tail - and blogger Robert Scoble, who is one of the longer joints of the Long Tail. (The rabbits, as far as I can tell, are bit-part actors whose last speaking role was as the Mice in the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and I think they should go back to non-speaking parts, myself. Even if they don't either of them have a long tail).

Long Tails are niche markets. Niche markets, according to Chris Anderson are great, exciting democratising. Keen, however, thinks they're evil, and reduce culture to its highest common factor*.

My problem with Keen, is simple enough: he's a typical long-tail writer himself.

His own description of a long-tail writer (otherwise called a "blogger") is just a member of a horde of talentless monkeys. Proper writers (he suggests) learn their trade: "There is a scarcity of talent, expertise, experience and mastery in any given field. Thomas Friedman the New York Times Columnist, and Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent of the Independent newspaper, for example, didn't hatch from some obscure blog - they acquired their in-depth knowledge of the Middle East by spending their years in the region.... nurturing talent requires work, capital, expertise, investment. It requires the complex infrastructure of traditional media."

There's no money in blogging. Also, says Keen, we're losing all our best talents, and not only that, but our morals, our industry, and our culture. "Our" culture appears to be American culture, but Keen is actually a North London lad, and has a mid-Atlantic perspective despite his new home in Silicon Valley.

So why is Stanford law professor Larry Lessig so utterly pissed off with Keen?

"Keen is our generation’s greatest self-parodist. His book is not a criticism of the Internet. Like the article in Nature comparing Wikipedia and Britannica, the real argument of Keen’s book is that traditional media and publishing is just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Here’s a book — Keen’s — that has passed through all the rigour of modern American publishing, yet which is perhaps as reliable as your average blog post: no doubt interesting, sometimes well written, lots of times ridiculously over the top — but also riddled with errors."

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