Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Keen vs. Weinberger

Keen v Weinberger in the WSJ. Essential reading for Web 2.0 enthusiasts and detractors.

Given the clarion call in my book for access to knowledge and the need to get ordinary people involved in decision making process surrounding the development, deployment and regulation of large information systems I particularly liked Weinberger's closing comments:

"For example, you're right that we're in the middle of a disruption of the professional media "ecosystem," as you aptly call it. Some of our professional media are faltering before we have built their online replacements. It's frightening, especially if you're delighted with the existing mass media. But, the transition is hardly over. If these institutions have value, then providing that value on line is an opportunity that may well be addressed by the market (have faith, Andrew!) or by the new economics of cooperative social production expounded in Yochai Benkler's seminal "The Wealth of Networks" (which is available, of course, in its entirety for free online). Further, these newly fashioned mechanisms for delivering old-fashioned value will have their own advantages, as well as the weaknesses you note. Wikipedia, if nothing else, is more complete and current than printed encyclopedias -- and we can quote it at length without getting sued. iTunes enables some worthy musicians to find their own small audiences. Open access scientific journals have made far more research (including peer reviewed papers) available to scientists than ever before -- a good example of what I think of as the power of making information miscellaneous. In fact, amateurs and professionals are getting "miscellanized" so that their influence is proportional not to their status but to the value they contribute...and our understanding of the professionals is being enhanced by their revealing more of their amateur, personal side in their blogs.

Most of all, a serious discussion of amateurism has to be able to admit that it may have some benefits. For example:

(1) Some amateurs are uncredentialed experts from whom we can learn.
(2) Amateurs often bring points of view to the table that the orthodoxy has missed, sometimes even challenging the authority of institutions whose belief systems have been corrupted by power.
(3) Professional and expert ideas are often refined by being brought into conversation with amateurs.
(4) There can be value in amateur work despite its lack of professionalism: A local blogger's description of a news story happening around her may lack grammar but provide facts and feelings that add to -- or reveal -- the truth.
(5) The rise of amateurism creates a new ecology in which personal relationships can add value to the experience: That a sister-in-law is singing in the local chorus may make the performance thoroughly enjoyable, and that I've gotten to know a blogger through her blog makes her posts more meaningful to me.
(6) Collections of amateurs can do things that professionals cannot. Jay Rosen, for example, has amateur citizens out gathering distributed data beyond the scope of any professional news organization.
(7) Amateur work helps us get over the alienation built into the mainstream media. The mainstream is theirs. The Web is ours.
(8) That amateur work is refreshingly human -- flawed and fallible -- can inspire us, and not just seduce us into braying like chimps.

Yes, Andrew, we are amateurs on the Web, although there's plenty of room for professionals as well. But we are not replicating the mainstream media. We're building something new. We're doing it together. Its fundamental elements are not bricks of content but the mortar of links, and links are connections of meaning and involvement. We're creating an infrastructure of meaning, miscellaneous but dripping with potential for finding and understanding what matters to us. We're building this for one another. We're doing it by and large for free, for the love of it, and for the joy of creating with others. That makes us amateurs. And that's also what makes the Web our culture's hope."

Thanks to the Berkman blog for the pointer.

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