Nick Carr on the amorality of Web 2.0

Nick Carr on the amorality of Web 2.0

Summary: Worth reading: Nick Carr ruminates on the millenialist rhetoric around Web 2.0--which he says represents participation, collectivism, virtual communities and amateurism --and the potential hegemony of the amateur, which is exemplified by Wikipedia in his view.

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TOPICS: Enterprise 2.0
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nickcarr2.jpgWorth reading: Nick Carr ruminates on the millenialist rhetoric around Web 2.0--which he says represents participation, collectivism, virtual communities and amateurism --and the potential hegemony of the amateur, which is exemplified by Wikipedia in his view. Nicks says, "The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional. We see it in their unalloyed praise of Wikipedia, and we see it in their worship of open-source software and myriad other examples of democratic creativity."  He goes on to say, "Wikipedia might be a pale shadow of the Britannica, but because it's created by amateurs rather than professionals, it's free. And free trumps quality all the time. So what happens to those poor saps who write encyclopedias for a living? They wither and die. The same thing happens when blogs and other free on-line content go up against old-fashioned newspapers and magazines."

I don't fully subscribe his view. Some Web 2.0 promoters lack objectivity, or are less experienced, but not all see it as a transcendental movement. Some Web 2.0 promoters distrust the professionals or so-called mainstream media, but that's healthy growing pains. The tools of content production and distribution have been unleashed. Open source is a way of product development that is more democratic, but it hasn't prevented both established and new companies from building substantial businesses around it. Wikipedia is full of holes, but it's allure and potential is undeniable. If you are a poor sap who writes encyclopedias for a living, then talk to Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia about how your expertise can be applied to Wikipedia's problems. At some point, foundations, rich Silicon Valley execs and governments should contribute to the cause of getting the world's knowledge online. Web 2.0 is simply about improving Web 1.0. Below are some excerpts from Nick's post: 

"If you read anything about Web 2.0, you'll inevitably find praise heaped upon Wikipedia as a glorious manifestation of 'the age of participation.' Wikipedia is an open-source encyclopedia; anyone who wants to contribute can add an entry or edit an existing one. O'Reilly, in a lucid new essay on Web 2.0, says that Wikipedia marks 'a profound change in the dynamics of content creation' - a leap beyond the Web 1.0 model of Britannica Online. To Kevin Kelly, Wikipedia shows how the Web is allowing us to pool our individual brains into a great collective mind. It's a harbinger of the Machine.

In theory, Wikipedia is a beautiful thing - it has to be a beautiful thing if the Web is leading us to a higher consciousness. In reality, though, Wikipedia isn't very good at all. Certainly, it's useful - I regularly consult it to get a quick gloss on a subject. But at a factual level it's unreliable, and the writing is often appalling. I wouldn't depend on it as a source, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to a student writing a research paper.


The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional. We see it in their unalloyed praise of Wikipedia, and we see it in their worship of open-source software and myriad other examples of democratic creativity. Perhaps nowhere, though, is their love of amateurism so apparent as in their promotion of blogging as an alternative to what they call 'the mainstream media.' Here's O'Reilly: "While mainstream media may see individual blogs as competitors, what is really unnerving is that the competition is with the blogosphere as a whole. This is not just a competition between sites, but a competition between business models. The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of what Dan Gillmor calls 'we, the media,' a world in which 'the former audience,' not a few people in a back room, decides what's important."

Implicit in the ecstatic visions of Web 2.0 is the hegemony of the amateur. I for one can't imagine anything more frightening.

Like it or not, Web 2.0, like Web 1.0, is amoral. It's a set of technologies - a machine, not a Machine - that alters the forms and economics of production and consumption. It doesn't care whether its consequences are good or bad. It doesn't care whether it brings us to a higher consciousness or a lower one. It doesn't care whether it burnishes our culture or dulls it. It doesn't care whether it leads us into a golden age or a dark one. So let's can the millenialist rhetoric and see the thing for what it is, not what we wish it would be."

Photo Gallery: Web 2.0 Conference 2005

Topic: Enterprise 2.0

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6 comments
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  • A lot of things don't care, but do their job anyway.

    And I fail to see how more participation by more people to expand ideas can be considered to dull a culture. What quality, exactly, makes a culture better or worse, anyway?
    Zinoron
    • Cant U see the problem ?

      The JAVA people are promoting their AJAX products

      .NET People are promoting theirs products, these people are not interested in AJAX at all , they are interested in jacking it up for their greed.
      LogicallyGenius
  • AJAX 2.0 = Selfless Platform independence

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AJAX_2-0
    LogicallyGenius
  • Scam 2.0!

    I have been hearing about this and the flying car for 10 years now!
    also the Lizardman, chupacarda, alien abductions, better microsoft programing, crop circles, bigfoot, alien autopsy, elvis sightings, longhorn, Michael landon appearances, stockpiled WMD's, windows security, Kenedy assination plots, .......
    Stop being suckers people!
    An_Axe_to_Grind
    • You Forgot

      ...the Flying Pigs.

      I'll believe in Flying Pigs before I believe in "better microsoft
      programing".
      Jkirk3279
  • Frivolity Run Riot

    find it far too frivolous for my tastes. An example would be where Wikipedia, passes itself off as an "Encyclopedia", problem is anybody can put in anything, no facts are required, you've nothing to go on in terms of trust and reliability. Then we have the "Blogs" Oh, I just love "these" people. They are "Experts" {according to themselves}, giving out opinions and advice most of it rhetorically and have the nerve to want to be equated, indeed granted the same Credentials and as Genuine News and Media Reporters. They want us to accept and even give them the same rights of silence and privileges that Reporters "Who shouldn't" but do enjoy right now. They have massive discussions over the minutia and we are supposed to be in awe of that. A blog is a Blog, is a Blog. Period and nowhere near the level of an accredited and bonafied News Reporter.
    This then is what Web 2.0 is comprised of? These and many other examples on how the net can go wrong. Anybody who goes to Wikipedia to get information,deserves what he gets, as for the Blogs, I seriously question the need for it's very existence, let alone the self importance that they want to achieve.I avoid them like the plague, too many experts at nothing with lots of opinions on everything.
    If this is what the net is becoming, fragmenting or disintegrating into, it will be interesting to see the disaster 5 years from now. I'll stick to what works, what is verifiable and what is truth and absolute fact, not this Mickey Mouse game of who out-guesses who based on what opinion found in Wikipedia.
    I think I can throw in RSS Feeds too.
    With them, the question is "Why?",Who needs it?
    Thank You
    Aaron
    Aaron A Baker