Bad User-Generated Content

Among the adjectives that we can apply to user-generated content (UGC) are bad and unfavorable. In the previous post, I argued that we should be careful to distinguish the two, and wenjt on to discuss unfavorable UGC.

This post is about bad UGC and Web 2.0. There is an argument that goes something like: UGC is bad; Web 2.0 = read/write web = UGC; hence Web 2.0 is bad. UGC is bad because there’s a lot of bad UGC.

If you think that there is too much content on the web, what do you do? Writing a blog post wouldn’t make much sense. But that’s just what Scott Karp did last month, on his “quite well-regarded” site (the description is due to Mashable Paul, via whom I saw the post).

Karp puts the web in a long line of technologies that pollute as they diffuse: more cars produce more exhaust fumes, more cellphones mean that we’re more likely to find ourselves forced to overhear other people’s conversation, more web content… well, more web content is another form of pollution.

Last year, Andrew Keen’s book The Cult of the Amateur raised something of a stir. Keen sees UGC as “an endless digital forest of mediocrity” threatening the precious flora of expert content. I should add that Keen presents more detailed (nuanced, even, at times) arguments that the quote would suggest. For example, last month he posted some Reasons to be cheerful about music, admitting that “the future of music isn’t quite as dire” as he thought and wrote in the past. (His book’s chapters on music are “the day the music died” sides a and b.)

The existence of bad UGC may be important. But that doesn’t make UGC itself a bad thing, and it doesn’t make Web 2.0 a bad web, and bad UGC isn’t the same thing as UGC that’s unfavorable about our favorite organizations. I certainly don’t think that Web 2.0 is bad, although I do think that it needs better tools for searching and filtering web content, user-generated and otherwise.

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