I can’t say that the panel discussion – Web 2.0: Cult of the Amateur? A Debate – was the most interesting or even the most entertaining session at the Personal Democracy Forum held last Friday in New York. That honor would have to go to Larry Lessig, Yochai Benkler, or Seth Godin, but the debate between Andrew Keen, the author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Assaulting Our Culture, and Clay Shirky, Craig Newmark, and Robert Scoble, produced the insight that kept rattling around in my head all weekend.
Andrew Keen argued that the editorial function of traditional media is critical to maintaining quality, and the recent rise of user generated content is lowering the overall quality of programming on the web. He also made the point that there is no fact checking in the blogosphere, so that you cannot trust anything on the web.
Robert Scoble shot back that if he posts something on his blog that is untrue, in less than 15 minutes, he will have 49 comments pointing out the inaccuracy.
This was the insight that I have been mulling over. There is an editorial process on the web – it just happens after something is published, not before. Now, that is blindingly obvious to everyone who has been blogging for the last several years, but the revelation for me is that all content goes through some form of editorial process, the difference on the web is that the process plays out in the open.
Fashion magazines are notorious for favoring big advertisers with big editorial coverage. The family that owns the Wall Street Journal is balking at accepting a huge offer from Rupert Murdoch because they worry about how he will influence the editorial coverage in that paper.
The question is really who do you trust to edit the information you use to make decisions in your life? Yes, the editorial process on the web is messy, sometimes even ugly, but it happens in front of you, so in the end, you have no one to blame other than yourself, if you end up relying on information that tainted, or skewed, or just plain wrong.
Craig Newmark captured the essence of this idea by reminding us of Churchill's famous dictum: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." Editing after publishing is terribly inefficient, but is better than the alternatives.