Label Cloud

woensdag 28 mei 2008

vrijdag 23 mei 2008

Cult of the amateur

In The Cult of the Amateur. How today's internet is killing our culture and assaulting our economy Andrew Keen has written an anti-web 2.0 polemic. The title, as well as the basic idea of the book, comes from Nicholas Carr's post The amorality of Web 2.0. The premise is that the democratization of the internet is a Great Seduction (incidentally also the title of Keen's blog), in that it's promising what it can't deliver, i.e. the new digital economy will free us from historical structures and injustices, in particular mainstream media. The democratized media ideally does way with intermediaries, making the offered information more truthful and efficient. Keen asserts that this is not the case.

Summary. What he calls the Noble Amateur is being glorified by web 2.0 proponents, and in many cases are glorifying themselves. The new media has made it extremely easy to publish one's own opinions and artistic endeavors. The result of the ubiquitous blog, video- and music sharing sites is an enormous flood of amateur productions. It is already impossible to read every book that has been published, listen to all the music on the market or see all the movies. Do we need to wade through all the, mediocre at best, amateur art as well, Keen asks. The same goes for amateur journalism. In most cases he considers them opinionated without being actually knowledgeable, basing their thoughts on the work of others. This in contrast with real journalists who have experience and the financial backing (thus access to resources) of their employers. The result is a flattening of our culture, and a media that is more vulnerable to corruption. That is why we need cultural gatekeepers in a formalized, official and transparent way. The new elite of the internet is now anonymous. Algorithms have become more important than humans. On sites like Digg and Reddit, top ranking news items are based on popularity. So, if an item gets more diggs, the item becomes important. Systems like that can be gamed. Citing Pareto, Keen states that all systems are dominated by 20% of the people that shape 80% of the content. So wisdom-of-the-crowd sites are being shaped by twentysomethings. Related to this, he warns for is the flattening of paid and unpaid content. In traditional media it is clear what is information and what is a commercial. On sites like YouTube it is now easy to insert commercial messages that look like it has been produced by amateurs. By gaining anonymity, we're losing context.

For our economy, the problem with the web 2.0 culture, is the concept of the free lunch. People are reading free news on blogs and other sites, sharing mp3's, videos and books, and give nothing in return. Traditional media loses money, but no new revenue is being created to sustain the economy. If we don't watch out, record companies will no longer be able to support artists, news agencies will have to cut down on decent journalism, publishing only faits divers, and Hollywood will crumble. And what do we get in return? Wikipedia with its badly written prose and sometimes gross factual errors, MySpace mediocrity and YouTube amateurism.

This is not the biggest danger. In the chapter "1984 2.0" Keen explains the problem with search engines. Sites like Google are aggregating enormous amounts of personal information. Up until now, there exist no laws detailing what exactly can be done with that information or how long it may be stored. In this way we're giving up our right to privacy.

This more or less summarizes the book. A more extensive explanation is given by Andrew Keen himself during a presentation at Google (Authors@Google):

Review. After reading Weinberger's pro web 2.0 books I thought it seemed like a good idea to see what the other side of the medal looks like. Keen gives a warning against the all too rosy view of how the internet looks like now. Checks and balances are duly needed to avoid too much abuse of people. In the last chapter he proposes a few solutions, which make sense. One of them is, own up. Sign information with your own name. In that respect, the information in online encyclopedias can get better. The newly founded Citizendium is being cited. This is a wiki like Wikipedia, with the difference that editors need to use their own name. Another adjustment is the importance of experts. When a discussion should arise about nuclear fission, the word of a Ph.D. in nuclear physics will carry more weight than that of a 13 year old high school student. Joseph Reagle pointed out in his blog that in Wikipedia editing is in fact checked for relevance and accuracy (as wel as Lessig, see further). The discussion Keen refers to, is portrayed as a war between an expert and an amateur in which the amateur won. This is however not the case. Apparently the expert was being reprimanded for editing without explanations, while the amateur was banned for a moment in time from editing at all. For a more details, see the original post.

Keen warns for the danger in the data searchengines gather. Google knows more about everyone than any institution ever before. Nobody knows what they do with the data gathered from searches and there are no laws controlling it. He's got a point there. Some form of legislation might not be too bad. The European Union is now taking some first steps. Privacy officials are conerned that searchengines keep their data for too long and propose to destroy them after six months. Although it's good that some rules will probably follow, I'd rather they didn't destroy the data. I'm convinced there are possibilities of doing some very interesting historical and sociological research can be done with the gather information. It would be a better idea to hand it over to a digital repository (archives) under the control of the EU.

In the chapter "moral disorder" he talks about the dangers of sexual predators trying to seduce children on social networking sites, and the growing addiction to porn and online gambling. In his "solutions" he hits the nail on the head. It's up to the parents to instill proper values in their children. Yes there are perverts out there. But out there means the real world too. Teach your children well and the problem won't become one.

That being said, the book feels more like a cleaned up rant than anything else. It's not always clear what Keen is against. He's defending main stream media, because they can provide us with decent material based on their size. On the other hand, he's against companies like Google because they're becoming too big. He blames web 2.0 for destroying the music industry and other media. The fact that record companies are losing money can not be attributed only to the fact that music can be shared. And if it can, then I would like to see the research that supports the direct link he's trying to convince us of. Although I don't have a thorough economical background, even I feel that he's lumping arguments together. But don't take my word on it. Andrew Lessig, the founder of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society and CEO of the Creative Commons project, criticized the sloppy reasonings and economic explanations on his blog. He wonders how it is possible that all the factual errors present in the book could have gotten past the rigorous editing process that Keen claims is inherent to mainstream media (as opposed to the internet). "And then it hit me: Keen is our generation's greatest self-parodist. His book is not a criticism of the Internet. Like the article in Nature comparing Wikipedia and Britannica, the real argument of Keen's book is that traditional media and publishing is just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Here's a book -- Keen's -- that has passed through all the rigor of modern American publishing, yet which is perhaps as reliable as your average blog post: No doubt interesting, sometimes well written, lots of times ridiculously over the top -- but also riddled with errors. Keen's obvious point is to show those with a blind faith in the traditional system that it can be just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Indeed, one might say even worse, since the Internet doesn't primp itself with the pretense that its words are promised to be true."It bothered him to the point that he made a wiki about the book, The Keen Reader. He explains the several fallacies in Keen's work. His economical views on how internet businesses work are a bit shortsighted, lacking a basic understanding of economics.

Further more, Keen places an undying trust in the Experts of this world. Everybody's opinion counts equally on the internet, while the value of those who know more or are more creative is being ignored. Therefore we need cultural gatekeepers. And who is going to decide who will be those Keepers of the Gate? The concept of a truly transparent organization which elects its members democratically is very beautiful, but how long will that last? Such an organization would only slow the pace of knowledge sharing down. The internet was able to develop so quickly because of the lack of gatekeepers. Don't mess it up by installing them now. And let's not forget that mainstream media isn't all that wonderful. Do we need another Britney Spears or 50 Cent? And Big News isn't always that neutral either. It is well known that Fox News is pro-Republican, just like we know in Belgium that the newspaper De Morgen is somewhat pro-socialist and the magazine Knack is republican (the European meaning of the word, for the Republic, against the monarchy). Most importantly, all the mediocre music, videos, amateur news and whatnot is of fleeting interest. They'll get their 15 seconds of fame, and will dissapear again. Quality eventually floats to the top. Mr. Keen does not want to wade through all those MySpaces and YouTubes. Well other people do. And for those who don't, there are other ways of finding good things. Personally, it helps me more to read on a forum or a blog music reviews by people who consistently write good reviews than by reading professional magazines. The magazine might have a better understanding of the exact musical references, but the blogger will tell me if that shit is dope. And that's all I need to know. After which I'll try to figure out for myself if I like it or not.

The internet is having a profound impact on the way we live our lives. It's also a young technology. People are still adjusting to what it is like to be a 'netizen'. Yes, bad things come from that, such as Second Life addictions, but there are also TV addicts. Keen says that on the internet people only visit those sites with likeminded individuals, reinforcing their beliefs. And the difference with your local bible study group is ...? We're talking basic psychology here. You hear a piece of information. Then you try to incorporate it your mental model of the world. Conflicting information gets filtered out, compatible info stays. Meaning: like attracts like. Traditional media are supposed to give us a more general understanding of the world, by producing balanced information. The fault in this reasoning is that everybody is interested in the world. People who are find their information in regular newspapers but also on the internet. Those who are not, don't. The same goes for being critical on the internet. People who are critical in general remain so online, those who are gullible do not. I wonder if people are not even more critical online since it is well known that everybody can publish anything they like.

The internet has opened up a world of possibilities. People like Keen would like to close them again. Yes there is a lot of amateurism out there which cannot compete in some respects to official media outlets, but there are also very good amateurs who are worth listening to (besides a number of experts writing blogs). I want to be able to choose between both of them, instead of someone else making that choice for me. The book is interesting in the sense that it provides some counterweight to some of the all too positive web 2.0 proponents. But more than that it cannot be said to be.

vrijdag 16 mei 2008

Baloji's Hotel Impala

Starflam's Baloji has dropped his first solo album a while back, called Hôtel Impala (volume 1). Since buying it a week or two ago I've been listening to it over and over again. To anybody who likes Hip Hop, cop that shit! Overall the beats are good, the rhymes are tight, what more do you want? The sound is not like that nineties ish we like, but it sure as hell isn't like that protools synth crap we've been hearing for the last couple of years either. If anything, Hôtel Impala sounds personal and committed. For a more detailed overview of the album, here's an interview with the man himself.

Tout ceci ne vous rendra pas le Congo

De l'autre côté de la mère

Interview (with English subs)

dinsdag 6 mei 2008

Baby loves Hip Hop

"Hall of fame hip-hop producer Prince Paul teams up with some of rap music’s most celebrated mcs to create a prehistoric, preschool musical masterpiece. Part book on tape (narrated by Grammy winning poet Ursula Rucker), part Broadway show (The story was just optioned by Pablo Piccasso!) the cd takes kids (and parents) on a musical journey that tells the story of 5 best dino friends that come together to teach key life lessons and have fun."

The Dino 5 consists of DJ Stegosaurus (Prince Paul), MC T-Rex (Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5), Tracy Triceratops (Ladybug of Digable Planets), Teo Pterodactyl (Scratch of the Roots), and Billy Brontosaurus (Wordsworth of eMC).

Nice one. 'Cos I'm sure Babies love Hip Hop too.