4 ways Web 2.0 might be flawed

I’m a huge believer in the power of “Web 2.0”; in the power of social computing to change the fabric of how society interacts with each other other.  So when I saw a book at the library that took the opposite stance and accused the Internet of killing society, I had to pick it up.  After spending the last two days reading  The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture by Andrew Keen, I have really been thinking if there might be some downside implications of social computing that I haven’t thought about.  It’s an interesting challenge to take the position or opinion that is completely different than yours.  So inspired by the book, I decided to jot down 4 ways Web 2.0 might be flawed…and why I might be wrong for being such a strong believer:

  1. Being loud and being right aren’t the same thing: Reed writes about an experience he had at FOO Camp where he says, “Everyone was simultaneously  broadcasting themselves, but nobody was listening…it suddenly became clear that what was governing the infinite monkeys now inputting away on the Internet was the law of digital Darwinism, the survival of the loudest and most opinionated.”  When you stop to think about it, many of the voices that have emerged in Social Media today are leading the revolution because they are shouting the loudest, posting the most, and making the boldest statements.  But just because they are the loudest, are they really right?
  2. Consumer Generated Media takes advantage of amateurs: I was at a meeting at P&G where Deb Schultz made this point a couple of times.  That consumers are waking up to the fact that advertisers are “taking advantage” of them when they do a CGM campaign.  Doritos gave the 5 finalists of their Super Bowl CGM spot $10K and a trip to the Super Bowl, a total cost of maybe $75K.  But a professionally produced Super Bowl spot likely would have cost up to $500K…a difference of $425K.  So Doritos gets a great ROI and “efficient marketing spend”…but they also take that money out of the hands of professionals and don’t compensate consumers what their time/effort was really worth.  Does CGM maybe do more harm than good?
  3. The embrace of Consumer Generated Media enforces a belief that anyone can do marketing: An amateur is defined as “One lacking the skill of a professional.”  Professionals are highly compensated in the fields of art, writing, engineering and medicine because they spend years honing their craft.  You wouldn’t want an “amateur” doctor operating on you, so why are marketers embracing “amateurs” to create advertising?  Isn’t that just admitting that marketing isn’t a professional field, but instead something that can be done by anyone and that training doesn’t matter?  As Reed points out in his book, “While there may be infinite typewriters, there is a scarcity of talent, expertise, experience, and mastery in any given field.  Finding and nurturing true talent in a sea of amateurs may be the real challenge in today’s Web 2.0 world.”  So as marketers, the purpose of CGM shouldn’t be to save money, but instead to find new talent that can be nurtured and developed.
  4. You can’t believe anything that you read any longer: The written word is so powerful in society because of its’ level of trust.  There was a high cost of entry to publishing…ie, it took a lot of money to publish something.  And because of this, writing was done by professionals, people who had other professionals (editors, etc) approve something before it was printed.  This created a tremendous level of trust in the printed word.  But today, anyone can “publish” with the click of a button (including me).  You can edit a wikipedia entry however you see fit or post anything about anyone on a blog.  This creates a society where we can no longer believe the written word.  Some might say this is a good thing but I’m more in the camp of Former British Prime Minister James Callaghan who said, “A lie can make its way around the world before the truth even has the chance to puts its boots on.” Or as Reed wrote, “We are being seduced by the empty promise of “democratized” media.  The real consquence of the Web 2.0 revolution is less culture, less reliable news, and a chaos of useless information.”

Now to be clear, my fundamental belief of digital, social computing and Web 2.0 hasn’t changed from this book. But it was an extremely provocative read and led me to the great intellectual exercise of really thinking about the potential flaws of something I believe so strongly in.  It’s a book I would encourage every marketer to pick up.

So what do you think?  Are these really flaws of Web 2.0?  Could the benefits of today’s Internet also be leading to the destruction of culture?  Or are they just bumps we need to address?


10 Responses to 4 ways Web 2.0 might be flawed

  1. Finn McKenty says:

    dave, good thoughts, and i definitely agree with them.

    that said, #2 is tricky. i think of it as supply and demand (or to use the five forces framework, threat of substitutes). with more creatives than ever available to marketers, it creates downward price pressure. this is certainly the case in industries like apparel: a company like, say, quiksilver or billabong would probably only pay the artist $250 or so for a t-shirt design that they might sell 10 or 20K units of at $25 each (disclaimer: i am only using those companies as an example, i’m not sure what their particular rates are). the fact of the matter is that there are tons of kids out there who would do great design for free, so they have no incentive to pay more than a few hundred bucks.

    similarly, if CGM is a viable substitute to professionally created content, it makes sense that prices will trend downward for creative. now, whether CGM is actually a viable substitute is certainly debatable, and you address many of the reasons why it may not be in points 1, 3, and 4. “professionals” in creative fields should be scared, and should find ways to add value that “amateurs” can’t to justify their cost. just as cheap stock photography (istockphoto, etc) has put many B-level photographers out of business, CGM threatens to take away some ad/media jobs. i don’t want to see anybody lose their job, but such is life at times.

  2. Dave Knox says:

    Finn – Great points as always. The whole concept of downward price pressure is very interesting, especially when you talk about big brands who have long standing relationships with big agencies. Would the big holding houses be willing to recognize the changing creative landscape and adapt accordingly? Or would they dig in and leverage their long standing relationships to keep rates where they are. My money is on the latter since most of the holding companies are public shareholders that have to answer to their bottom line.

    What do you think are some ways professionals can add value that amateurs can’t in the creative/strategy field?

  3. Zac Echola says:

    1. Loud isn’t right, but it sometimes helps. Think about all the asshole people on twitter that friend like 100k and have maybe 100 followers. Just because you’re the loudest doesn’t mean people are listening.

    2. This one is a good question as a purely Marxian thought experiment, but I don’t think that because I use Facebook or YouTube I’m entitled to some ad money. It’s the expected trade off. I get a distribution channel, data storage and/or a useful service, they sell the ads. I pay nothing, they try to keep it alive. If I don’t like that, I can build my own Web site with my own infrastructure and do my own marketing.

    3. Just because something isn’t created by a “professional” doesn’t mean it can’t be created professionally. The two concepts should be separated. I am a journalist by profession, but I understand the fact that people who take pictures of a news event, who may not be professional journalists, can still make an ACT of journalism. There is no difference between what they do and what I do, beyond the fact that I likely do it more often than they do.

    4. You can’t trust the Web? What? Wasn’t this argument squashed in like 1996? Sure there’s a lot of noise and nonsense out there, but rather than being a book or a newspaper article as the end-all-be-all, which have had a very long history of noise and nonsense, every piece of media on the Web is up for instant review and critique as quickly as the original content had been created.

    The “democratization” of the Web as devolving into some kind of giant water-cooler conversation is exactly what we knew would happen. People talked about this stuff every day before the Web. The idea that most people would log on and suddenly not be morons is a pipe dream.

    In conclusion, Andrew Keen is a moron.

  4. Brian Siegel says:

    There are certainly millions of pseudo experts out there now!

    People are shouting ‘louder’ vs. listening (see Greg Icenhower’s article, “Don’t Shout, Listen”, at Fast Company and others – as I am sure internal P&G docs) – great guy as well, highly recommend you connect with him if you haven’t done so already!). http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=greg+icenhower%2C+don%27t+shout%2C+listen

    So many ads, consumers be fed what they should believe without context and meaning, being manipulated by numerous channels. *ironically a blog about this subject/culture/buzz and truth/substance in ads via internet/web 2.0 ‘info age’ era = http://www.culture-buzz.com/blog/Truth-in-advertising-1527.html

    Don’t forget, P&G offered the same ‘Doritos’ deal via YouTube with both negative and positive feedback ; ) http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=P%26G+advertising+contest+online

    Web 2.0 allows the users to have control, access, and contributive shaping power, but with limited and small amounts of accountability = what will happen next?! http://khrisnaresa.wordpress.com/2008/04/24/web-20-the-place-where-the-few-control-the-many/

    It’s interesting to perform research and the first things that arise are usually Wiki and someone’s blog! If they’re truthful, it sure leaves the user a lot of responsibility to dissect and analyze if it’s meaning is of graceful truth! http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=blogs+and+wiki – just look at the shear #’s!

    How do you propose that the “Internet Police” manage this, companies utilize the internet for advertising, and be more in tune with consumers? http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=policing+the+internet

    Ironically, we’re shaping the internet by sharing information via your blog, our personal projects, and even when I researched for fun utilizing ‘Google’, and each ‘electronic breadcrumb’ , movement, word, or ideas has contributed to something – as to what, not too certain, ha

    Nice topic, apprecaite the inspiration, interested in hearing an update as to what you have been doing, projects, and how you find all this time to read so many books! Cliff notes? Google’ing for the ideas, then posting the ‘top 3+’ points via one page format?

    later bud,
    Rock On!

  5. Rich Carvill says:

    In terms of CGM forcing downward pressure on creative rates etc., I think that there may be some overreaction. Maybe they saved money on the actual development and production costs of a Super Bow commercial, but in the end, it’s results that matter. Most amateur creatives don’t have the knowledge or experience to develop long-term successful marketing communications strategies, messaging or measurement techniques. Don’t get me wrong, I love the freedom of an open channel of CGM, I just don’t believe that this is a threat to dedicated professional marketers and advertisers.

  6. Finn McKenty says:

    i’m overseas and paying for access by the minute, so i’ll have to be brief. agencies can do a lot of things better than consumers (at least so far). consumers are probably about equally as good at coming up with Big Ideas for novel commercial that will spread virally, but that’s really only a tiny part of the equation. they generally don’t know the company’s strategic priorities, the nitty gritty details of the business, and other elements that are crucial and just as important as making a clever spot that gets a lot of hits on YouTube despite its crude production values.

    for example, perhaps the problem with Product X isn’t awareness, perhaps the problem is that everybody knows about it but not enough people are actually buying it, so we need to drive trial, not simply awareness. or perhaps the Product X franchise in general is performing really well, but one particular SKU is languishing, so we need to prop it up, etc. these are the sort of things that consumers are very unlikely to know about, yet are vital to the business.

    second, since agencies get paid, they can and will do things consumers simply don’t want to. for example, P&G is famous for making ads that are extremely effective, yet perhaps not incredibly interesting to work on or watch. consumers are probably not going to slave over a Swiffer commercial based on the old A/B comparison or a similarly proven yet creatively uninteresting premise. they make commercials, shrines, etc because it scratches a creative itch, and they’ll stop working on them as soon as it isn’t “fun” anymore. agencies don’t have this luxury, nor should they.

    those are my unedited thoughts for whatever they’re worth!

  7. Dave Knox says:

    Rich – As a “professional” marketer, I hope you are right for sure 🙂 As I watch the concept of crowdsourcing gain momentum in everything from t-shirt design (think Threadless) to managing a sports team (with MyFootballTeam), I cant help but wonder how long it is before people try this with traditional CPG. I doubt it will ever work given the points you and others make, but interesting to think about nonetheless.

    Finn – Paying by the minute and still taking time to comment. A big thank you for that. I owe you a beer in Cincinnati! Now for your points, great as usual. I’m particularly interested in the 2nd point. Yes it is true that agencies generally dont have a choice when it comes to making the ads…but creatives sure do. I dont know how many times I have been trained on how to give creative feedback because we need to motivate the best creatives to work on our business. At the big agencies, the top creatives sure do have the choice to work on our business or not…its just the account people that are stuck with us no matter what! The ironic part is that is how we are trained but when I talked with my creatives over beer, they actually tell me to go against training and not sugarcoat feedback…they just want to hear it straight.

    End of the day, everyone makes great points and I’m glad to see this discussion sparked by the post. Always fun to play devil’s advocate and see what sparks so thanks to everyone for the debate. Keep it up

  8. Pat says:

    Some thoughts:

    Professional marketers excel when trying to market to 100Ks to millions of consumers with the same ad. However, there are only a few professional marketers. With CGM, you get the effect of millions of monkeys all pounding away on typewriters. Very occasionally, one of those monkeys will produce a work of Shakespeare. Just don’t expect the same monkey to produce another work of Shakespeare.

    However, CGM really excels when selling to “my” friends. A consumer is unlikely to produce the next big viral hit — however, every 100th consumer does have enough creative ability to produce some sort of marketing that strongly appeals to them and people like them. Instead of having the one mega-Super Bowl ad that goes viral, a brand could end up with 100Ks of ads. Each of these ads would appeal more strongly the niche market than the professional ad.

    The hard problem then becomes matching the correct niche CGM content with the viewer. Once that problem is better solved then CGM will work infitiely better. How long this kind of targeting will take to develop is an open question.

  9. Ryan Jones says:

    Below is a scary article called Brave New World of e-Hatred…also addressing some of the negative impacts of Web 2.0. Though we are all believers, sometimes it is good to do a “sense check”.


    Good post and interesting discussion…

    Ryan Jones

  10. […] am not an expert and don’t claim to be. (The first point in Dave Knox’s post on the Cult of the Amateur  definitely made me think about that for a bit.) However, I’ve […]

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