Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Web 2.0 -- amateur vs. professional?

Matt Marshall at Silicon Beat wrote a great, link-rich post on the open/closed debate of Web 2.0. Among other things, he cites Nicholas Carr's essay, The Amorality of Web 2.0, where, among other things, Carr shreds what he calls the 'cult of the amateur':

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.
I think that Carr is right. I think that amateurs are unrealible. One of the most fascinating little plays of the Web 2.0 conference for me was watching people's reactions to Barry Diller's talk.Zbutton Diller is a very savvy billionaire media mogul, who has pulled off bigger bets against longer odds than anyone else who spoke at the conference - including the founders of eBay and Google. Diller made what I consider to be some obvious statements, like, "there's only so much talent in the world," suggesting that there are limits to what amateurs can accomplish. In several subsequent conversations, people went out of their way to criticize Diller, shaking their heads and mouthing variations upon, "he just doesn't get it." These being the same people who mouthed salutations about Terry Semel's respectable, by-the-book defense of Yahoo's experts+amateurs, us+users positioning in the marketplace. Zbutton

Well, Diller is right, and I think that Tim O'Reilly knows it. O'Reilly, after all, is possibly the man most steeped in open source on the planet -- and most open source projects are the creations not of a diligent factory of excited amateurs, but rather the crafting of a small, dedicated group of professionals who are working outside the established structures of traditional software firms. Apache wasn't written by a herd, and Ruby on Rails is largely the creation of one really smart guy. If anything, open source proves not just the appalling common denominator of the amateur, but the opposite - the transcendence of the truly talented. I liken open source to the kind of flowering that took place during the scientific revolution in England -- a relatively small group of really smart people working together openly to create some truly revolutionary advances, and then a much larger group of people taking advantage of the new climate to make the world a better place.

I believe in the value of user-created content. But I think that value is centered in, and almost entirely contained by, the province of opinion. Voting. Editorial. Commentary. Not core content, not data. We've got a hybrid us+user model at Zvents, and I'm happy if that makes us Web 1.5.

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