Crowdsourcing 'meme' debate

Are buzzwords, or memes, the result of fabled serendipity, or is business acumen a necessary component?

Jeff Howe has asked me to apologize for sparking a debate, in my posts on Wired’s publication of his crowdsourcing piece in their June issue (see my last post: “Wired crowdsourcing: the birth (planned?) of a meme,”), on the power, emotion, value, and marketing inherent in today’s tech word symbols, both explicit and implicit; a debate that Nicholas Carr is also engaging in today in his post on last week’s “inside-the-blogway dustup over the ownership of the term "Web 2.0."

There are various ways to look at the affair, I guess, but what particularly intrigued me today wasn't its legal or ethical intricacies but just the way it revealed how we can invest a thing, particularly a purely symbolic thing, with very different meanings depending on the circumstances. The term "Web 2.0," if you remember, only started being bandied about in earnest about a year ago, during the runup to the second edition of the annual Web 2.0 Conference. At the time, the blogosphere treated the phrase with general disdain. It was, people said, laughably vague, seeming to mean at once everything and nothing, and its implication that a new stage in the Web's history had suddenly begun wasn't even accurate. "Web 2.0" was routinely dismissed as being "just a marketing slogan for a conference." Some bloggers forswore the term altogether.

But at the end of last week, when it was confirmed that "Web 2.0" was indeed a marketing slogan for a conference, and a trademarked one at that, everything changed. "Web 2.0" was suddenly a deeply meaningful, deeply valuable term. Bloggers rose up en masse to proclaim "Web 2.0" a cherished piece of public property, like a little, semantic Statue of Liberty. It had become a kind of totem. What had once been empty of meaning was now filled with meaning.

I am flattered that Howe has labeled me a “journalist” and happy to know that it seems that I am welcome to “extend an invitation" to Wired collaborators to be interviewed. Howe’s specific advice, however, is a bit dispiriting: “Wired's general number is 415 276 5000. I would suggest you ask for media relations and tell them the nature of your inquiry.”

Are buzzwords, or memes, the result of fabled serendipity, or is business acumen a necessary component? Join the conversation: “Talk Back” below to share your thoughts.

UPDATE: For a related debate on business influences impacting publication decisions and strategies, see Michael Arrington's "On Conflicts of Interest and TechCrunch."

UPDATE II: BOTH SIDES HAVE BEEN HEARD ON THIS "CROWDSOURCING 'MEME' DEBATE".

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