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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?