Andrew Keen at the Frontline Club

By richard | 17 September 2007

Content creation and distribution has become far cheaper than it was in the past. Whereas in the past you’d have tons of equipment to create television programs today the barriers to entry are lower as a result of which the cult of the amateur is allowed to flourish. As the technology is adopted by more people those who have never studied the theorie point and shoot. What this means is that there is a huge amount of mediocrity on the web. Some like to say that it’s ninety nine percent crap and they’d be right. Why else use a search engine?

The cult of the amateur is a great thing because it encourages those who have no training to produce content for others to enjoy. The problem is that they’ve had no training. As a result they’re sloppy. They don’t shoot b-roll. They don’t edit anything and then they put it on the web. What’s worse is that it’s long.

Andrew Keen concentrated on audio and really wanted it to promote the sharing of great works and high culture. Instead there has been a steady rise in low culture. This is a debate that goes back to the days of Adorno when public literacy for all became a hot topic. Over time the general level of knowledge increased and so the natural balance returned.

Professional journalists are investigative, going out and doing their own research before digesting this information out and writing their pieces. They have an in-depth knowledge of their topic and rather than go off on tangents they are going to backup everything they say with facts.

I listened to a woman present her theories about one topic a few days ago and she always said “I did this” and “I did that”, a few days letter I listened to journalists, ambassadors and other professionals speak about how “we did these things” and “we did those things”. They often looked at creating a sense of a community or group of people working on an idea.

The point is that whilst everyone has opinions which they want to share not all of them have the credentials to provide the content. Whilst as individuals our knowledge is not detailed enough to be of value if all of us work together towards a common goal then that work is of a greater value, hence the reason behind wikipedia’s success as a resource.

During the Andrew Keen conversation talent was discussed and whether it is natural or whether it takes years to aquire. The discussion focused on the gatekeepers and how they were there to find talent, polish it and then commercialise it. He saw the value of transparency for trust. Both evidence and backing up the information help make resources more reliable. As a student you learn that there is no point in writing something down until you have found someone to backup your sentiment with research.

Andrew Keen, to get a definite rise out of the crowd referred to bloggers as a mob and who can blame him. Whilst Journalists go out and interview people and do a lot of background research before writing about their topic of interest bloggers tend to go on what others have written. Whilst listening to this it brought up thoughts about how blogging would be better for content analysis since it is easier to read a collection of articles and write about them than to go out and get access to all those of interest. Andrew Keen made the remark that many blogs do not have original content, recycling what they found on a variety of resources.

At one point Keen did accept that his book was written tongue in cheek and that whilst the book had a lot of success in Canada and England the Americans did not understand his point of view. He went on to say that he knew who he was writing it against rather than who he was writing it for. He said that it was a response to digital eutopians. At this point he made clear that he was not a technological determinist but a social one. In other words he believes that people, rather than technology determine the type of life and interaction we have with our environment.

Towards the end of his conversation he spoke about web 3.0 as the rediscovery of expertise and professionalism, point which agrees with one of my earlier posts. He wanted the information economy to be about distributed trusted content. He also wanted it to be given a solid backbone.

During the Q&A one person asked him whether he was a troll searching to annoy people through the writing of his book. He answered humourously that bloggers don’t read books. It was a clear and deliberate provocation but it was clear that he meant this as a joke rather than a direct attack.

I don’t agree with all of the points made by Andrew Keen but he does make some interesting and valid points about the future of the media. it’s something that we must all think about. Culture production is an important aspect of our lives and it would be a shame, after centuries of hard work, to promote works of mediocrity.

Finally if you would like to listen to the speech in person it can be found at this address

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