Thursday, March 3, 2011

Assignment 2: The digital emperor has no clothes

The Digital Emperor Has No Clothes by Andrew Keen

This article first appeared in Associations Now magazine, and the intended audience is association executives. The essential issue being addressed is neatly summarized by headline: “Welcome to the dark side of Web 2.0, where focused expertise is replaced by rampant amateurism; opinion is mistaken for knowledge; and credentials, degrees and years of experience mean virtually nothing.” (Keen 1).

Keen’s states his position quite strongly: “genuinely valuable journalism and writing [are] lost in all the self-authored junk on the internet.” (Keen 1). He takes the position that the democratization and flattening of information hierarchies has resulted in so much unreliable information that it is becoming extremely difficult to locate credible sources. He also seems to be suggesting that information consumers are exposed to so much poor quality knowledge that they are unable to distinguish the good “stuff” from the bad. This is in stark contrast to Dianne Lynch’s position that the new generation values truth and accuracy. This leads to an unresolved question that neither Lynch nor Keen deal with directly: is there a generational difference in how certain groups evaluate Web 2.0 information?

Interestingly, despite his position as a new media skeptic, Keen’s advice to the leadership of knowledge-based associations is that they embrace Web 2.0 and use it to their advantage. He cites several examples of traditional newspapers that achieved success with their online versions. He suggests that this is evidence that readers still value “credible expertise over flatulent opinion” (Keen 2). He goes on to suggest that the variety of self-publishing options offered by Web 2.0 technologies give associations a way to assert their credibility and possibly drown out the “noisily opinionated amateurs” (Keen 2).

Keen also briefly addresses the issue of intellectual property rights. He suggests that access to certain websites can be restricted if the association does not want “unskilled wandering” by “any digital Tom, Dick or Harry” (Keen 2). This type of restriction seems to counter his idea of using technology to spread expertise, and Keen doesn’t resolve this contradiction.

Overall, despite his use of colourful language, Keen does make some valid points about the problems with assessing the credibility of information in the world of Web 2.0. His suggestion that associations utilize the technology to their advantage makes sense, but I’m not sure he’s fully thought through the implications of doing this. If an organization wants to assert their authority and expertise, yet still limit access to the information, there may be a general loss of credibility in public’s eyes. Associations may need to filter or monitor the discussions in their digital worlds, but too much suppression of opinion will simply cause readers to flee to other sites. With proper balance, however, traditional sources of creative and informational authority should be able to assert their expertise in a way that is accepted by “the mob”.

Keen, A. “The digital emperor has no clothes”. Associations Now, November 2007.

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