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Anti Web 2.0 Rant The Cult Of The Amateur

Reviewing: Doubleday / Currency The Cult Of The Amateur By Andrew Keen  |  Rating:
May Monten By May Monten on
Badge: Publisher | Level: 5 | Other Entertainment Expertise:

This book is a rant about the current state of the internet, especially its reliance on user-generated content.

I was looking forward to reading this because I do think that "Web 2.0" has been over-hyped. Even though I participate in it (as I am doing this very second as I type!), I can also see there are problems.

And the author, Keen, does make a few good points about how the so-called wisdom of the crowd can be just a lot of noise, and how sites such as MySpace and YouTube (just look at their names!) can cater to narcissism.

But he destroys whatever value his arguments may have had by going way overboard. I quickly became irritated with his "reasoning." He is very unfair, cherry-picking all the negative facts about one side (user-generated internet content) and all the positive facts about the other (mainstream media).

Just one example, out of many: When he writes about Wikipedia, he uses only examples that describe it at its absolute worst. So he gives a litany of mistakes and instances when it was used to deliberately spread misinformation.

But he never mentions how much of the time user-editing does work, and (even though he compares Wikipedia unfavorably to the Encyclopedia Britannica) he never mentions that Wikipedia covers a huge range of topics that would be impossible for any single conventional encyclopedia to match.

He also neglects to mention that much of the information is footnoted so that users can check the accuracy for themselves, and that the footnotes themselves provide a great starting place for research. You would never know, reading his rant, how useful Wikipedia can be when it is used intelligently, rather than blindly.

On the other hand, when it comes to discussing the mainstream media, Keen sees only the good and ignores mistakes and bad information. I agree that the New York Times is the gold standard of newspapers, but to praise it while downplaying Jason Blair and not mentioning Judith Miller is to engage in cheerleading, not analysis.

When I first discovered the internet, back in the dial-in bulletin board days, I was starry-eyed, thrilled about the possibilities. I really did see it as a utopia. I've long since become disillusioned, and I would love to read a book that accurately described what happened. But this, unfortunately, is not that book.