Andrew Keen: Put Some Money Behind Your Predictions?

from the who-actually-listens-to-this-guy dept

Andrew Keen, of course, is a guy who has written a laughably bad book about how only experts like himself should be able write things, because all those “amateurs” get stuff wrong. There are some who believe that Keen’s entire personality is satire, because everything he accuses “amateurs” of doing, he does himself. He gets many facts wrong in his book. His writing is amateurish at best. His interpretations are laughable. He relies on incredibly weak reasoning — all of which are things he insists that amteurs do, but pros such as himself don’t do, because they have editors and such. The most amusing, of course, may be his condemnation of Larry Lessig, whose position he gets almost 100% factually incorrect.

So far, I have yet to read anything by Keen that isn’t easily torn apart as laughably false, which reinforces the idea that everything he writes is satire. His latest piece, pointed out by Slashdot, is no exception. In it, Keen announces that the current financial crisis will put an end to open source and “free” business models because the crisis will mean that people actually have to make money.

Spot the rather obvious logical fallacy? The one even your sixth grader could point out? Right. Keen has set up a totally bogus strawman, that “open source” and “free” mean you don’t make any money. As anyone who actually looks at the details knows, that’s simply not true. Keen is so blinded by the word “free” he misses the fact that when people discuss the use of “free” as a part of a business model, they’re talking about using it to make money. Instead, he seems to assume that “free” is the end of the discussion.

“One of the very few positive consequences of the current financial miasma will be a sharp cultural shift in our attitude toward the economic value of our labor. Mass unemployment and a deep economic recession comprise the most effective antidote to the utopian ideals of open-source radicals.”

Funny, but part of the reason why all of those “user generated content” businesses took off in the first place was that after the dot com bubble burst, people had a lot of spare time on their hands. So they were more willing to contribute and take part in these things. Keen also seems to not realize that much of that user generated work and open source efforts are not about “utopian ideals” but very practical reasons that involve non-monetary benefits. People contribute to open source software not because they’re idealistic, but because it helps them elsewhere. People blog and post videos on YouTube not because they’re idealistic, but because they get value out of doing so.

The altruistic ideal of giving away one’s labor for free appeared credible in the fat summer of the Web 2.0 boom when social-media startups hung from trees, Facebook was valued at $15 billion, and VCs queued up to fund revenue-less “businesses” like Twitter. But as we contemplate the world post-bailout, when economic reality once again bites, only Silicon Valley’s wealthiest technologists can even consider the luxury of donating their labor to the latest fashionable, online, open-source project.

You know, I remember another business that had absolutely no business model right after the last bubble burst, even though venture capitalists had dumped $25 million into it at a very high valuation (which many — including myself — thought was ridiculous). That company became Google. According to Keen, that couldn’t have happened, because who would ever invest in a company with no business model? Does Keen have no sense of history?

“I’m pretty sure, if not certain, that the idea of free labor will suddenly become profoundly unpalatable to someone faced with their house being repossessed or their kids going hungry. Being paid to work is intuitive to the human condition; it represents our most elemental sense of justice.”

Again, that’s not what happened during the last downturn, but why let facts get in the way? Also, this is still based on the false premise that there’s no actual benefit for people and that they’re only doing things for “utopian” ideals. That’s simply untrue. If contributing to an open source project helps get you a well-paying job, is that utopian? If building an open source tool helps you jump start a different business, is that utopian? If blogging, Twittering or posting videos to YouTube helps you communicate cheaper, faster and better than other tools, is that utopian? Hardly. But Keen seems unable to consider these possibilities.

“So how will today’s brutal economic climate change the Web 2.0 “free” economy? It will result in the rise of online media businesses that reward their contributors with cash.

Well, I certainly hope so, since we hand out plenty of cash to contributors at The Insight Community, but I still think Keen is wrong here. He again is dismissing or purposely ignoring the non-monetary value that people get. Let’s look at his “winners” list:

“It will mean the success of Knol over Wikipedia, Mahalo over Google, over the, iTunes over MySpace, Hulu over YouTube Inc. , over, TechCrunch over the blogosphere, CNN’s professional journalism over CNN’s iReporter citizen-journalism.

Well, first off, some of those aren’t actually competitors, so it seems rather unfair to suggest that’s the case. However, I’d like to make a bet. While there are different estimates as to how long any recession might be, the general consensus is that we should hopefully start pulling out by the end of 2009 or early 2010. So, let’s pick a few of these that we can measure, and I’ll bet Andrew Keen $100 (really money, Andrew) that in two years, on October 22, 2010, Wikipedia still gets more traffic than Knol, that Google is still much, much, much bigger than Mahalo (if they’re even considered competitors any more), and that YouTube gets more traffic than Hulu.

If any one of those is untrue, I’ll write him a check. As for the other comparisons he makes, they don’t seem to be particularly reasonable comparisons, so I don’t see how to fairly evaluate how one wins over the other. TechCrunch is a part of the blogosphere, so how does that make sense? In fact, TechCrunch came out of the same “utopian” ideals that Keen dismisses. Michael Arrington started it for fun, with no plans to turn it into a business, but that’s what it became. I thought Keen thought that wasn’t possible? iReporter doesn’t compete with CNN’s professional news staff — they work together. iTunes doesn’t compete with MySpace — they’re in totally different businesses.

So, let’s put some real money on this, Andrew. Or does Andrew Keen not really believe what he writes?

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Comments on “Andrew Keen: Put Some Money Behind Your Predictions?”

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Anonymous Coward (user link) says:

Requires a breadth of understanding

Hmm. So concepts of Crowdsourcing and Collective Intelligence are too foreign to Andrew. Which actually isn’t all that surprising.

To understand and implement a successful user-generated content strategy needs multiple-talents: an understanding of sociology, business, computer science, mass communications and mass behavior for example. There’s an art and science to making it all work. It may also help to dabble in brew making too.

DemonstrateYourPositionBetterMike says:

Mike: you're doing a lot of what you accuse Andrew


How about a bit less name calling and a bit more illustrating WHY you disagree with Andrew.

Your opinion that Andrew is an idiot would be better positioned if you demonstrate, specifically, why he is an idiot–instead of browbeating the guy for 3/4s of your article.

More steak, Mike. Less Sizzle.

tleaf100 says:

Keen idiot wanted

i also have never heard of most of keens “winners” ,but then being british we no nothing about anything.
But we do need a new village idiot/scarecrow,anyone got an email address for mr keen ?
read one of his articles a few months ago,glad i not the only one who thinks he is a pile of pony poo.
p.s can i have ten trillion dollars on same bet,will need that much to pay off such a successful high flyer like keen after he has invested all his dollars in such a bunch of “winners” ..

kaloa says:


wow, you are a nasty one. instead of mudslinging, why don’t you attempt to debate keen on the issues? seems any time someone from “the other side” challenges your free-is-good worldview, you start tossing slop. keen’s hardly the dunce you’ve caricatured. i’d love to see the two of you debate in a public forum. w/o mudslinging

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