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FCW Insider: A critic's view on Web 2.0

In this week's issue of Federal Computer Week, we run a critique of the much discussed book, "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture" by Andrew Keen. I asked Bruce McConnell to write the review because I think he has an interesting perspective, both as a former OMB official, but also because of his new organization, Government Futures, which seeks to tap into Web 2.0 and the wisdom of crowds. And I think McConnell did a good job with his piece, but I am still curious about what people think all of this will mean for agencies.

Earlier this year, FCW's Federal List focused on the Age of Disruption -- and I keep meaning that in the positive sense. This seems to be an opportunity when we can look at things in new ways. Change becomes a part of day to day business.

If you want to hear Keen for himself, he was on PBS's NewsHour last night.

ANDREW KEEN: The key argument is that the so-called "democratization" of the Internet is actually undermining reliable information and high-quality entertainment. By replacing mainstream media content, high-quality radio, television, newspapers, publishing, music, with user-generated content, we're actually doing away with information, high-quality information, high-quality entertainment, and replacing it with user-generated content, which is unreliable, inane, and often rather corrupt.

I have read Keen's book in chunks. I need to sit down and read it cover to cover. Frankly, it isn't that long, so... Unfortunately, I don't totally agree with the questions he was asked. For many organizations -- particularly government -- it isn't really an issue of democratization. What Web 2.0 provides is true information sharing -- a real opportunity to look at information in a broad way. Yes, there will be Bozos who have few insights, but it seems to me there is also a lot of knowledge out there that never gets fully tapped. Web 2.0 brings the power of networks to the information world.

All of that being said, I'm fascinated by Keen and his book. I first mentioned it back when the book first came out, and we included it in the FCW Library -- a list of books worth reading.

I definitely think it is worth thinking about the implications of making more information available to more people for more comments. My concern isn't really about the dumbing down. I think Keen has a glorified view of the pre-Web 2.0 era. In the NewsHour interview, Keen talks about the gatekeepers and "really high-quality newspapers."

When it comes down to it, I think Keen is looking for The Truth -- with capital Ts. He is overwhelmed by options. And he is worried, frankly, that people will like that crazy video on YouTube of some kid pledging his allegiance to Britney Spears. (If you really have to see it, here is the link. This is not a recommendation. I'm just providing information.)

When it comes down to it, we have to take responsibility for our interests. And it does make a difference. There is thoughtful and smart information out there, but people have to find it -- and be consumers of information. It is a much different model.

To me, the big issue has more to do with the "more" then with the information -- how do people keep up? How do people have time to be smart consumers of what is good information -- and what isn't. That, I think, is increasingly the role of "high-quality" Web sites, magazines, newspapers... the list goes on. I read Slate.com's Today's Papers every morning. Why? Because it goes through the newspapers and tells me what is important -- and what isn't. The WSJ.com has a Morning Briefing, and it provides similar information.

The next question is... what does this mean for agencies. I think we're still figuring that out.

But -- yes, I have to plug our own event -- FCW's CIO Summit in November is going to deal with precisely these issues.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Sep 18, 2007 at 12:17 PM


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