Missing The Point On Amateur Content Online

from the it's-amateur-for-a-reason dept

Nicholas Carr has a way about him: he comes up with impressive theories that sound so smart — but which are often painfully wrong. However, he does a good job of leading you down the road to wrongness so gracefully that it seems like maybe he’s right. His big splash a few years ago was over the idea that technology held no competitive advantage for anyone. The argument was that technology was becoming commoditized (something that was likely true), and therefore, any advantage was fleeting (again true, but not really the point). What he was missing was that those fleeting competitive advantages are the key these days, and simply having the technology your competitor has is quite different than really leveraging it to your advantage. Carr’s making some noise again, this time complaining that an internet made up of “amateurs” is a bad thing, using Wikipedia as his straw man. Again, he so gracefully leads people down this road by stating a few things that are true, that it’s easy to miss where he goes completely off the road. As with others who have trashed Wikipedia, he goes on about why you should never trust amateurs, and that the world needs “experts.” While it’s absolutely true that experts are important — hell, we’ve based our entire business on that very concept — what Carr and others agreeing with him seem to be (conveniently) forgetting is that amateurs and experts are not mutually exclusive. Combined, they actually create a much better solution. The experts are still necessary and useful, but the amateurs help bring out more info and raise new and important questions and ideas. The amateurs aren’t “taking down” the experts — they’re just making them even more necessary. The problem is that too many experts are frightened of these amateurs, rather than looking at ways to embrace and encourage the amateurs in a productive way. Embracing the amateurs opens up new and exciting possibilities for the experts — it lets them turn that amateur content into something much more useful and valuable than either the experts or the amateurs could have done alone.


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Comments on “Missing The Point On Amateur Content Online”

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19 Comments
Ron Ngn says:

Re: Amateur Experts?

Actually, Mike, you’re distorting Carr’s point here. He’s not arguing against amateurs – he explicitly writes that he wants both professionals and amateurs – he’s saying that the web may shift the economics of media in such a way that there will be now way to support the best qualities of traditional media in the future. It seems less like Carr is wrong on all these issues and more that you’re incapable of following anything but the most simplistic argument.

dorpus says:

What if amateurs are harmful?

Looking up medical information on the web is a painful exercise, because “alternative medicine” garbage outnumbers real information by about 10 to 1. Talking with amateurs is a tiresome exercise also, because they are hung up on conspiracy theories by the pharmaceutical industry, government, “artificial chemicals”, etc. IT professionals themselves are usually believers of these theories and may take steps to discourage or censor real medical science.

Riley says:

No Subject Given

The most important “feature” of Web 2.0 or whatever you want to call it is the peer-review system that allows people to validate and filter out bad data. These methods are still being devised and are not really very sophisticated yet. I think the value of the amatuer’s contributions is directly tied to how effective this part of the system is. As these methods improve, so will the content that is generated by this type of system. I disagree 100% with the article… the value of Web 2.0 content only increases as more people participate in the system. “Professionals” of course are running scared as they realize that the bar is contiually rising for them to compete with the amatuers. Even if 90%+ of the amatuer content is crap, the bad stuff is filtered out and the quality stuff shines through. Maybe even scarier for them is that their content now has to also be subject to the same peer-review system as the amatuers. The irony here is that Mr. Carr is just another cog in the blogsphere trying hard to rise above the cacpohony.

slice of pizza says:

I have to agree somewhat

“Too many cooks spoil the soup” is a phrase that speaks the truth. There are simply too many uneducated bloggers spewing forth extremist political drivel and other misinformation these days. even trying to Google for technical information leads you to outdated blog entries that are full of inaccuracies that go uncorrected.

The big problem is that people are taking things at face value and believing them.

Newob says:

Re: I have to agree somewhat

Still, accurate medical information remains scarce on the web. Now we have a billion idiots who presume to understand medicine because they read something that sounded “expert” on the web.

The big problem is that people are taking things at face value and believing them

These arguments are disingenuous. If the information is inaccurate then why don’t you correct it? If you don’t trust the information then why do you assume other people will?

Maybe increased freedom of information will weed out the quacks and the crooks in professionalism. Who says we need to have a central source of information for educating ourselves?

Newob says:

Re: I have to agree somewhat

Still, accurate medical information remains scarce on the web. Now we have a billion idiots who presume to understand medicine because they read something that sounded “expert” on the web.
The big problem is that people are taking things at face value and believing them
These arguments are disingenuous. If the information is inaccurate then why don’t you correct it? If you don’t trust the information then why do you assume other people will?
Maybe increased freedom of information will weed out the quacks and the crooks in professionalism. Who says we need to have a central source of information for educating ourselves?

crystalattice (user link) says:

Look at how much "amateurs" contribute

How many comets are discoverd by amateurs? How much knowledge do ham-radio operators have? Look at the value a “paper” MSCE has in the tech industry vs. 10 years of practical experience.

Just because you’re not a so-called professional or expert doesn’t mean you have nothing worth contributing. Amateurs have contributed quite a bit to modern life; heck, think of how many things were developed by accident.

Bob says:

Content

I tend to disagree, community content really is the future. Wikipedia is better today than any other information source, published or online.

It’s also quite amusing when a self-proclaimed expert declares everyone else to be an amateur. We can be sure his credentials qualify him to be a foremost authority on any given topic, including an assessment of his own expertise. Laughable.

Has everyone forgotten that Wikipedia is a work in progress, and will always be.. that’s the beauty of it.

Wikipedia does provide an area for the disputing of content (you can review the dispute and make up your own mind as to the truth of it). Regarding other articles, as part of the community, YOU are responsible for calling attention to errors you might find. Contribute!

Or would you prefer an ‘expert’, and trust that you’re not being fed a propaganda piece? Personally I’d rather trust solid community content, it irons itself out.

John C. Dvorak (user link) says:

All Specious BS

I think there are semantic issues here. Since amateurs CAN obviously be experts we are really talking about professional and non-professionals and the knowledgeable and the ignorant. None of these things have anything to do with anything else. I’m not seeing any sort of perfect definition of amateur, and that, to me, is the problem. The implied definition seems to be floating in-between “someone who does not get paid” and “someone who doesn’t really know much.” The subtext for the word seems to be “a rube.” You can all argue until you a blue in the face, but it’s laughable since everyone is using their own homebrew constructs onto which they base their argument. STOP NOW!

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