Andrew Keen: The Demise of Web 2.0
Andrew Keen, outspoken critic of the culture that has grown up around Web 2.0’s democratization – which he refers to as “the cult of the amateur” – recently presented on the future of social media at the Next Web in Amsterdam. In his estimation, traditional media’s demise has been hastened by the rise of 2.0. One assumes this was fueled by the notion of “everyone as creator” coupled with the free exchange of information online that lead to a disintegration of any central power structure – i.e. users can now just as easily go to YouTube to watch a clip of their favorite show as they can to the network that originally distributed it. Yet despite Web 2.0’s permanent alteration of the landscape, it too is in its death throes according to Keen, who points to the fact that big players in the space like YouTube and Facebook haven’t figured out ways to generate revenue streams from their online communities.
As a result, media’s top-down model which has already morphed into a cacophony of voices that, for the purposes of this discussion, we can call “crowdsourced” is again being replaced by a new form which he refers to as “the individual as brand.” This shift is typified by the emergence of Twitter, a site that Keen views as the “nail in the coffin of Web 2.0.″ And while this new platform might seem like a further leveling of the playing field, he argues that it is actually leading us to a reshuffling of the deck and a return to prominence for a small number of experts. So what happens to everyone else?
In Keen’s mind, this “digital feudalism” puts all influence in the hands of the few and that’s not necessarily a good thing, particularly for the little guy with only 200 “followers.” Though we may believe that their is crossover between those who are ”followed” and those who do the “following,” Keen makes a clear distinction between the two – you’re either doing one or the other. He feels that those with greater social cache will wield an increasing sway within these communities that will be harder to balance with a disparate number of voices. We’ve already seen this in our initial experiences with media aggregator Digg, where the role of influential “diggers” goes a long way in determining the popularity of a piece.
After hearing Keen talk, TechCrunch journalist Mike Butcher wonders if there still isn’t something to be said for a small number of “useful” followers that provide relationships more akin to a circular feedback loop as opposed to the mass of “adoring fans.” We’ve heard this sentiment echoed following the less than stellar outcomes of the Obama administration’s early attempts at making citizen government work. Which is to say that a lot of participants don’t necessarily translate into any more getting done, especially if they’re acting out of individual interest. Still, regardless of the end result, there’s little doubt that numbers matter. Whether that means we’re all doomed to follow the whims of the few remains to be seen.
TechCrunch‘s interview with Andrew Keen follows below.