Putting The “We” in WEB

Who fumbled the web? That’s a question I’m asking, mainly at a site called Fumbling the Web. The story so far: if any one organization can be said to have fumbled the web, it’s Yahoo; but that would be a gross oversimplification. So, if FtW turns into a book, many chapters may focus on a single organization, and how it fumbled some aspect of the web.

Who fumbled the web? We did. (That’s at least one chapter, and probably a thread running through FtW.) We’ve been doing so for over a decade, and seem likely to keep doing so. Now, about the “we” in web…

The post title was on the cover of Newsweek (with exactly that punctuation and capitalization, although I’ve changed such things elsewhere in this post). The issue was dated April 3, 2006. The cover showed the founders of Flickr, looking as happy as you’d expect given that Yahoo had just paid (an estimated) $35 million dollars for their business.

Bradley Horowitz, then of Yahoo, sounded like a happy acquirer.

[T]hey had millions of users generating content, millions of users organizing that content… people not on the payroll actually building the thing.

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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.

Unfavorable User-Generated Content

One of the good reasons for organizations to be aware of user-generated content (UGC), such as blogs, is that UGC includes conversations about organizations and their products. Of course, some of the content is unfavorable.

A recent report from Jupiter asserts that organizations are not doing enough to monitor the conversations and counter unfavorable content. The title of the report is When Good Social Marketing Goes Bad, and I saw it via Sarah Perez’ piece When User-Generated Content Goes Bad.

It’s a pity that both titles include the word bad. The UGC in question may well be excellent, pointing out flaws in a product or organization. That’s why I’ve adopted the word unfavorable from the subtitle of the report: “Combating Negative User-Generated Content.”

Such unfavorable content isn’t new or surprising. One of the most powerful examples in Naked Conversations (1st ed. was in 2006) is that of Kryponite, and the UGC showing the way in which some of its bike locks could be opened with a pen.