Web 2.0: Democracy or Anarchy?

A response to Andrew Keen
A Parks Associates White Paper

Author: John Barrett, Director of Research © 2007 Parks Associates

Web 2.0: Democracy or Anarchy © 2007 Parks Associates

Attribution
Authored by: John Barrett Published by Parks Associates © June 2007 Parks Associates Dallas, Texas 75230 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher. Printed in the United States of America.

Disclaimer
Parks Associates has made every reasonable effort to ensure that all information in this report is correct. We assume no responsibility for any inadvertent errors.

Attribution and Disclaimer

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Web 2.0: Democracy or Anarchy © 2007 Parks Associates

Table of Contents
1.0 2.0 3.0 The Charge .............................................................................................................4 The Response..........................................................................................................5 Conclusions.............................................................................................................8

Table of Contents

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Web 2.0: Democracy or Anarchy © 2007 Parks Associates

List of Figures
Figure 1 Social Networking & Blogging ............................................................................ 5 Figure 2 Digital Media Habits & Age................................................................................. 6

List of Figures

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Web 2.0: Democracy or Anarchy © 2007 Parks Associates

1.0 The Charge
In his new book, The Cult of the Amateur1, Andrew Keen publicly and pugnaciously says many of the things people were quietly thinking about Web 2.0. He refers to bloggers as a "pajama army" wreaking cultural havoc from their parent’s basement. Let me provide a few highlights: “(Web 2.0) democratization, despite its lofty idealization, is undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience, and talent… it is threatening the very future of our cultural institutions.” “The Web 2.0 revolution has peddled the promise of bringing more truth to more people— more depth of information, more global perspective, more unbiased opinion from dispassionate observers. But this is all a smokescreen. What the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.” “…millions and millions of exuberant monkeys—many with no more talent in the creative arts than our primate cousins—are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity.” “Blogs have become so dizzyingly infinite that they've undermined our sense of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is imaginary. These days, kids can't tell the difference between credible news by objective professional journalists and what they read on joeshmoe.blogspot.com.” “Amateur hour has arrived, and the audience is now running the show.”

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Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture, June 2007

The Charge

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Web 2.0: Democracy or Anarchy © 2007 Parks Associates

2.0 The Response
By penning his polemical book, Keen has brought to the forefront an inevitable debate over the quality of user-generated content and the long term societal impact of Web 2.0 technologies. Never one to shy away from a good argument, let me share my own observations. Many bloggers do in fact wear pajamas. The term “Citizen Journalist” conjures the image of an unsung, Edward R. Murrow-type waging a lonely crusade against society’s corrupted powers holders. Hard working family man by day, by night he pounds the keys of his computer in order to hold the entrenched media moguls of the world accountable. The truth of the matter is rather different. Bloggers are, by and large, a sub-set of social networkers (see Figure 1). Sixty-three percent are between the ages of 13-24 and the average age is just 26 making them one of the youngest segments on the Internet (see Figure 2). Yes, that’s correct. It’s not a legion of Edward R. Murrows taking on Dan Rather and CBS but rather a phalanx of college kids and their recently graduated peers.

Social Networking & Blogging (Q3/06)
"How often do you do use the following?" (Among Internet Users, n=2,060; +3% )

Neither 73%

Social Network Only 12%

Both 12%
Source: Digital Media Habits © 2006 Parks Associates

Blog Only 3%

Figure 1 Social Networking & Blogging The Response 5

Web 2.0: Democracy or Anarchy © 2007 Parks Associates

Digital Media Habits & Age (Q3/06)
"What year where you born?" (Among Internet Users Engaging in Activity Monthly)

Use Online Dating Sites Read Blogs Upload Photos to Websites Chat with Webcams Make Digital Videos Listen to Podcasts Upload Video to Sharing Site Upload Music to P2P Use Social Networking Sites Keep a Blog 26 26 26 26 28 31 31 31 30

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Source: Digital Media Habits © 2006 Parks Associates

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25

30

35

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Mean Age of Users

Figure 2 Digital Media Habits & Age There are lies on the Internet, just like TV, Radio, and Print If you don’t believe there are lies on the Internet, try Google searching the term, “George Bush is an Alien”. If after reading through all the returned hits you still don’t think there are lies on the Internet, please seek immediate psychiatric help. A consequence of letting anyone and everyone publish on the Internet is that, by definition, the screening process is rather scant. Some people will take the time to check their references, others not so much. As a result you can find lots of honest errors as well as plenty of not-so-honest errors. Of course this isn’t all that different from other forms of media. If The New York Times can get its facts muddled sometimes, you can rest assured someone anonymously blogging as BigKahuna55 will leave some eyes undotted and some tees uncrossed. Ah, but you may point out that a much larger portion of user-generated content is inaccurate. The venerable Times gets it right 99% of the time while BigKahuna55 is batting .100 at best. But that isn’t exactly a fair comparison. BigKahuna55 will probably hold his own against The National Enquirer while notable bloggers like Dan Gillmor will give any mainstream print journalist a run for their money on accuracy.

The Response

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Web 2.0: Democracy or Anarchy © 2007 Parks Associates You can find good content (if you want it) Like a magical cauldron, Web 2.0 is supposed to let us boil all of the world’s content, bringing the best to the top. It does, although the process is messier and more technical than it sounds. Rankings and organization are based on direct user input (through tagging & rating) or indirect input (i.e. analysis of usage patterns). These tools are still in their infancy, however, and constantly being refined. As they are improved upon, they will become more effective at sorting content and separating the good from the bad. This is not to say that good content will ultimately supplant all bad content through a Darwinian online struggle. It is already possible to distinguish accurate, well-written online journalism from rubbish. All you need to do is pretend you’re a college professor for 10 minutes and check a few references. It’s actually quite easy to do (again thanks to Google). The problem is not distinguishing good and bad content. The ‘problem’ is that people genuinely prefer ‘bad’ content. Five hundred years after the invention of the printing press, tabloid papers still abound, not because people can’t distinguish them from legitimate publications but because they prefer to read garbage. ‘Bad’ content (like porn) will perpetually exist because people prefer it over quality media.

The Response

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Web 2.0: Democracy or Anarchy © 2007 Parks Associates

3.0 Conclusions
So where does this leave us? Is the world of Web 2.0 a new democracy that will empower the people at the expense of the entrenched or just anarchy masquerading as order? Much of the former and a little of the latter. Democracies are always more chaotic than dictatorships and a newcomer could be forgiven for mistaking them with anarchy. If you were raised under the quiet drudgery of Communism, the first time you experience the deafening noise of a thousand competing ideas and messages it must surely seem completely void of order. Yet stick around for a while and patterns begin to emerge. A method behind the madness comes into focus and it is only then that the true benefits of a pluralistic, multicultural, cacophony of ideas becomes apparent. Dissimilarity brings strength. Inconsistency brings choice. Unpredictability brings innovation.

Conclusions

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Web 2.0: Democracy or Anarchy © 2007 Parks Associates
About the Author: John Barrett currently analyzes technology-driven products and services for Parks Associates, a digital home research firm and consultancy. He has authored over a dozen industry reports on topics such as broadband adoption, ISP bundling strategies, mobile phone service, digital music, and VoIP telephony. He holds an MA in international economics from the Johns Hopkins University: School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and a BS in international affairs from Georgetown University. Industry expertise: International Research, Mobile Communications, VoIP, Social Media, User-generated Content, Web 2.0 About Parks Associates: Parks Associates is a market research and consulting firm focused on all product and service segments that are “digital” or provide connectivity within the home. The company’s expertise includes home networks, digital entertainment, consumer electronics, broadband and Internet services, and home systems. Founded in 1986, Parks Associates creates research capital for companies ranging from Fortune 500 to small start-ups through market reports, multiclient studies, consumer research, workshops, and custom-tailored client solutions. Parks Associates co-hosts CONNECTIONS™ (in partnership with the Consumer Electronics Association) each year. www.parksassociates.com.

Conclusions

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