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Cult of the Amateur

Entry 654, on 2007-12-07 at 21:48:01 (Rating 3, News)

I have just listened to a discussion on a recent book, the Cult of the Amateur, which is a criticism of the Web 2.0 phenomenon. If you don't know what Web 2.0 is then join the crowd, but here's my definition: its primarily about Web content being created by amateurs. Web sites might provide feedback and comment mechanisms; blogs can allow comments, discussion and presentation of news stories by anyone; video and photo sites provide storage for anyone who wants to contribute; music upload sites create distribution channels for amateurs; etc.

The Cult of the Amateur criticises this trend because it is seen as spreading low quality, inaccurate and biased information and stealing what rightfully belongs to big media corporations. Its easy to take sides on this and say either: yes that's right, all blogs are nonsense; or to say no its totally wrong, the Internet is a great source of information. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between these extremes.

I haven't read this book so I suppose I shouldn't really comment, but this is a blog and since when has reliability been important? In fact, I do try in most cases to make sure I know as much as possible about the subjects I discuss here although I freely admit this blog is primarily about opinions, and I don't verify the content as much as I do in (for example) the skepticism section of my web site.

OK, that aside, I have to say I think the book is basically wrong. Its true that all the points made are true to an extent: many blogs are pure nonsense, a lot of videos are inane rubbish, and many news reports aren't really based on facts. But there are two reasons why these factors don't matter as much when we look at the big picture. First, although there is a lot of low quality material there is also a lot of good material and its not that hard to establish where the good stuff is. And second, the mainstream sources, while more superficially "professional" are also often of low quality.

So I think the increasing prominence of amateurism is actually a good thing. The key factor in accessing it is one which has always been important on the Internet: learn how to search for good material and how to verify that information is accurate. I can do that more easily on the Internet than I can on TV and in newspapers. At the very least amateur content provides a useful addition to traditional professional sources.


Comment 1 (997) by JD3 on 2007-12-10 at 05:07:05:

I think you are right - there is good stuff on the Internet. But most people have more trouble finding it than you think. At least with newspapers there is a basic quality standard they have.


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