The Cult of the Amateur: Everybody is Gutenberg in Web 2.0!

with 6 comments

Web 2.0 City by eBoy.comWhile browsing through the Virtueel Platform website, I came across the Anti Web 2.0 Manifesto (Adorno for Idiots) by Andrew Keen. The manifesto pinpoints in a very accurate way my sceptical, pessimistic thoughts on the whole Web 2.0 affair we’ve been living in for quite some years now (and perhaps also the up and coming semantic web). Like Andrew Keen’s book The Cult of the Amateur (a phrase he borrowed from fellow Web 2.0 criticist Nick Carr), as he admits himself, this blogpost is biased. Very much so.

If anyone can create a puddle of mud in a swamp, it is still amateuristic. You might say to me: ‘Hey, but you’re a blogger! Blogging is web 2.0!’ Sure, guilty as charged! But therefore this post is about awareness and not about creating fear. With that being said, does Web 2.0 provide us only with amateurs or do we still have time to foster real talent? One might think that Esmee Denters, a recent YouTube phenomenon from the Netherlands, might be such an example. But there are probably quite some vocalists out there who can do the same trick (although I do admit that she has a beautiful voice). Her marketing trick however is that the fans, who followed her from the beginning, share the idea that ‘they’ve know her from when she wasn’t famous’. It is no surprise that the slogan that goes with the product is ‘You Made It Happen’. To be precise, it was famous record producer and musical entrepeneur pur sang Billy Mann who made ‘It Happen’. It’s a variation of a classical egocentric quality of humans: Who didn’t brag about that guy or girl in highschool who is now a famous politician, musician, etc.? I know him/her! (…but I wish it was me)

In the Anti Web 2.0 Manifesto, Keen places himself as the opposite of Chris Anderson by stating that: ‘Digital utopian economists Chris Anderson have invented a theoretically flattened market that they have christened the “Long Tail”. It is a Hayekian cottage market of small media producers industriously trading with one another.’ Once again, one might not have to agree, one is perhaps not keen on agreeing instantly with Keen but it can’t hurt to think about it. Keen also mentions ‘a particularly unfashionable thought’ by saying that ‘big media is not bad media’ which put forth the likes of Hitchcock and Bono (I’d prefer to say U2 as a whole). They were supported and fostered by big record labels and the Hollywood studios. It is a small step to return to the example of Esmee Denters, who is fostered by major record label Interscope. Denters, a product of the Cult of the Amateur, was made into a ‘professional’ by the record industry.

Can I offer solutions here? No, because it’s an ongoing debate that will linger for a long time. Perhaps it is important to foster talent at the roots, and not let talent foster in the amateuristic puddles of mud. How long will users keep creating content for the Cult of the Amateur, will they lose their enthusiasm when they don’t get positive comments? When will they stop trying and what are the stories of users who stopped trying. The users who got tired of contributing their hard work to the Cult of the Amateur?

My thoughts are that we should foster talent. The professionals in the business are only fostering ‘talent’ at the top of the chain. A participatory culture, wherein the secrets of the industries are laid out in the open usable for the Cult of the Amateur, sounds like a utopia. But deep inside I believe, or hope, it not to be. In my personal utopia, I’d suggest we create places where people can firstly learn and secondly can contribute and are not stuck in their own puddles of mud of the great Web 2.0 swamp which encompasses a fixation on contribution. Let’s discuss new ideas, like Keen suggests in the video below. Below you can see a presentation from Andrew Keen at (what Keen proclaims to be) the ‘belly of the beast’, being Google HQ in Mountain View.


6 Responses

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  1. Good to see you’re back up and blogging! Interesting post – I’m guessing quite a few people are sick of the whole Web 2.0 thing now, particularly as we’re now starting to hear about Web 2.5 and 3.0…


    August 11, 2007 at 5:34 pm

  2. Thanks, the time on my MA thesis was taking a bit of a toll on my blog activity. The people, proclaimed person of the year once by Time, are growing tired.


    August 12, 2007 at 3:58 pm

  3. I always think of Web 2.0 in terms of its role in facilitating the development of global civil society, of which I am pretty skeptical as I am not sure how much power these types of movement have. Its nice to hear a Andrew Keen talk about the democratisation of media without assuming it is a good thing a priori – something you don’t hear that often as everyone seems to be jumping on it as the next big thing.

    I sympathize with the thesis, I am very much looking forward to getting it finished!


    August 14, 2007 at 1:31 pm

  4. […] Publications ← The Cult of the Amateur: Everybody is Gutenberg in Web 2.0! […]

  5. Great post, Twan. As much I like a dose of skepticism, it is hard to take seriously someone who cites Adorno every few lines and then heaps praise on Hollywood for resisting the evil web-2.0-guys. The faults of the Web don’t translate into virtues for the dinosaurs.

    Also, by giving such a horrendously snide and smug appearance in interviews (especially a while back on the Colbert Report), Keen arguably feeds the flames of techno-utopianism (see angry reactions all over the web) and makes it harder for other, more nuanced Web critics to put their two cents in.


    September 11, 2007 at 6:35 pm

  6. Very, very true. The means Keen uses to reach his goal are stripped from any nuance. The ‘fun’ thing is, that this was his purpose. But this methodology of creating should be questioned, because the ‘more nuanced Web critics’ could be more occupied now with questions of methodology instead of putting a focus on valid criticism. A shift of focus perhaps? From a focus on the techno-utopianism towards criticist methodology?


    September 19, 2007 at 11:54 am

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