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Is Web 2.0 citizen journalism having a positive or a negative effect worldwide?

Background and context

The emergence of the Web 2.0, with such things as blogs and wikis has seen the proliferation of "citizen journalism". As it has become increasingly easy for ordinary citizens to participate in the production of content online, a massive and exponentially increasing body of content has been emerging, with an increasingly dedicated crowd that some describe as amateurs in the fields and issues they engage in.

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Yes

"The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional. We see it in their unalloyed praise of Wikipedia, and we see it in their worship of open-source software and myriad other examples of democratic creativity. Perhaps nowhere, though, is their love of amateurism so apparent as in their promotion of blogging as an alternative to what they call 'the mainstream media.' Here's O'Reilly: 'While mainstream media may see individual blogs as competitors, what is really unnerving is that the competition is with the blogosphere as a whole. This is not just a competition between sites, but a competition between business models.'" - Nicholas Carr 10/03/05

  • The argument here is that supporters of Web 2.0 such as O'Reilly are framing the Web 2.0 as a distinct, and presumably superior business model to that of "mainstream media", instead of, say, a complimentary system. The complaint is that this may create a cult-like loyalty among the amateur media, and possibly also that this would lead to polarization and antagonism between professional and amateur media.

"The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of what Dan Gillmor calls 'we, the media,' a world in which 'the former audience,' not a few people in a back room, decides what's important." - Nicholas Carr 10/03/05

  • "we, the media" reflects a desire on the part of Web 2.0 thought leaders to incite a kind of revolutionary Web 2.0 movement that could possibly be defined as reflective of a "cult of the amateur": Dan Gillmor, the director of the Center for Citizen Media, coined the term "We, the media". This particular terminology appears to be a play off of "We, the people" from the Preamble to the United States Constitution, and seemingly attempts to move into a similar revolutionary light. It is possible that Gillmor's choice of words involves an attempt to frame the emerging Web 2.0 as something of a revolutionary movement of a much more decentralized mass-media (perhaps, "amateurs") that seeks to displace the more established Media, or at least to undermine it. In this way, the statement "we, the media" may reflect the emergence of a "cult of the amateur".

Wikipedia is "committed to amateurism" and against the application of credentials: Donna Bogatin, ZDNet, 9/21/06 - "This arguably dysfunctional community is extremely off-putting to some of the most potentially valuable contributors, namely, academics. Furthermore, there is no special place for academics, so that they can contribute in a way they feel comfortable with. As a result, it seems likely that the project will never escape its amateurism. Indeed, one might say that Wikipedia is committed to amateurism."

"one of the biggest challenges of today: in our celebration of the amateur, we kind of forget what it means to be professional."John August, "Professional Writing and the Rise of the Amateur",

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No

The Web 2.0 "amateurs" do not distrust "professionals", they just compete with them: Nicholas Carr, a real journalist, writes, "the promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional."[1] Richard MacManus responds in his own article, "Well I for one don't 'distrust' professionals. Web 2.0 for me is about amateurs having the tools and opportunities to compete with professionals. Never in our history has it been so easy for 'amateurs' (and I dislike that word) to publish to the Web - and via social software and networks stand a real chance for their voices to be heard."[2]

The distinction between "amateurs" and "professionals" is artificial:

  • Point that good "amateurs" are often becoming "professionals" in their fields, making it impossible to define these two groups as contiguous over time: Richard MacManus, "There is no cult of the amateur, Mr Carr", 10/18/05] - "'The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional.' [Carr]...My counter point: The best of these scruffy little amateurs will eventually rise to professional status and write/create for professional publications, or create their own professional brands and businesses." - This constant flow of good amateurs into the field known as professional media makes it hard to describe amateur media as cult-like and distrustful of professional media. If this distrust were real, then it seems unlikely that such a feeder system from amateur to professional groups would exist. On the contrary, amateurs may have a high esteem for professionals in their field of work, respect them, and aspire to become professionals in that field themselves one day. This would make sense if we view a "professional" as simply superior in their craft to an "amateur", which is an appropriately strict reading of the two definitions.
  • "A lot of the 'professional' media is staggeringly unprofessional" and a lot of amateur media demonstrates "professional" characteristics, making it impossible to categorize old media as "professional" and the Web 2.0 as a "cult of amateurs": John August 3/1/06 wrote the above quote in reference to what many view as the failure of the "professional" media to live up to sound standards of professionalism. The following are the criteria August lays out for "professionalism" that he contends is violated by much of "professional" media: 1. Presentation, a.k.a. “Giving a shit” 2. Accuracy 3. Consistency 4. Accountability 5. Peer standards. August cites a number of instances in which he believes a "professional" journalist violated these criteria. When "professionals" violate standards of "professionalism", it may be possible to say that they have acted as "amateurs". Similarly, a Web 2.0 "amateur" may be capable of writing or submitting content through a process that fits all of the above criteria of "professionalism". As such, any attempts to categorize "amateurs" and "professionals" may inherently fail to approach the more important categories of "professionalism" and "amateurism".
  • Nicholas Carr, "What Will Kill Citizendium", 9/20/06 - "The degree or certification is no more the essence of expertise than a wedding ring is the essence of love. The degree or certification is a trivial adornment. The expertise is what’s real - it’s what abides."

One cannot pin-down specifically when they become a "professional" and leave "amateur" status, that it is, rather, a process of evolving one's knowledge and actions so that they could be characterized as "professional": If we use August's 5 criteria for professionalism above, it becomes clear that "professionalism" is something that necessitates an individual adopting serious terms for their engagement in the world. Yet, this adoption would not happen over night. The process of moving into accordance with August's criteria of professionalism would take much time, througout which the individual might be seen as becoming more and more professional, but never arriving at a definitive threshold where the individual would make a final step in moving from being an absolute "amateur" to becoming an absolute "professional". Any definition of the Web 2.0 as characteristically housing "amateurs" and the old media as housing "professionals" might falsely assume that an individual's "step" into a title of "journalist" would place upon them the characteristics of a "professional". Therefore, it may be argued that Web 2.0 should not be argued as strictly a "cult of amateurs" that could only assume "professional" status if they entered in with a professional journal or something.

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Poor system: Is the Web 2.0 "system", by design, a less efficient system than the older systems of information exchange such as newspapers, music labels, and radio?

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Yes

The Web 2.0 undercuts those that innovate, and the benefits that they deserve: "Amanda Chapel agrees with Keen’s hypothesis that amateurs (aka bloggers, youtubers, cluetrainers, etc) threaten '…200 years of copyright protection and intellectual property rights, robbing artists, authors, journalists, musicians, editors, and producers of the fruits of their creative labors.'"[3]

The Web 2.0 allows for too much democracy, trusting too much in the self-regulating side of man: Andrew Keen's "Anti-Web 2.0 Manifesto" - "The future of general media content, the place culture is going, is Voyeurweb.com: the convergence of self-authored shamelessness, narcissism and vulgarity -- a self-argument in favor of censorship. As Adorno liked to remind us, we have a responsibility to protect people from their worst impulses. If people aren’t able to censor their worst instincts, then they need to be censored by others wiser and more disciplined than themselves."

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No

The Web 2.0 is a much more efficient system than the "old model" because it removes barriers to entry, making it possible for those with talents or unique contributions to enter the market and be discovered: Chris Anderson 10/15/06 - "I think the fantastic thing about democracy and the open systems we are talking about today is that they define talent and expertise much more efficiently than the old models did. Let's take cultural and political examples. The old model was that if you wanted to be a filmmaker, you had to go to the Hollywood studios. If you wanted to be a musician and get heard, you would go through the label system. If you wanted to be a published author, you needed to get signed by a publisher. The new model is, "Just go and do it." Everyone can get out there directly without going through these gatekeepers, and most of what is created is junk, but some of it isn't. A lot of people are doing things that maybe wouldn't have passed the threshold or the test of admittance. For instance, MySpace or YouTube are turning out to be tremendously popular, but they are not conventional."

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Poor content? Is the quality of Web 2.0 content poor and untrustworthy? Does "free trump quality all the time"?

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Yes

Blogs undermine a common sense of what is "true" and what is "false": Andrew Keen, "The Cult of the Amateur" (2007)[4] - "Blogs have become so dizzyingly infinite, that they've undermined our sense of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is imaginary. These days, kids can't tell the difference between credible news by objective professional journalists and what they read on joeshmoe.blogspot.com...If we keep up this pace, there will be over five hundred million blogs by 2010, collectively corrupting and confusing popular opinion about everything from politics, to commerce, to arts and culture."

  • "When anonymous bloggers and videographers, unconstrained by professional standards or editorial filters, can alter the public debate and manipulate public opinion, truth becomes a commodity to be bought, sold, packaged, and reinvented." - Keen

"Sports, porn, and beer" are overwhelmingly popular in the blogosphere, and that this is a bad thing: - "much of what is on the web is sports, porn, or beer, and we do shadow that within the confines of what we think is neat. And we think that sports, porn and beer are neat. They are multi-billion dollar industries, and people who like them are going to blog about them."[5] The concern is that content relating to sports, porn, and beer is limited in its cultural value, and yet that this content is proliferating on the web and on Web 2.0. Some fear that because Web 2.0 enables anybody to add content, that a massive body of porn, beer, and sports fan will proliferate the web with more and more content of this nature, perhaps such that it takes up an increasing share of the content that occupies the web. In other words, Web 2.0 may be making the problem worse than it already is.

  • The Web 2.0 is enabling the pornification of the Web: Pamela Paul, "Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, And Our Families", 2005. This book claims that online pornography is proliferating, and particularly in a Web 2.0 capacity. Paul argues that "amateur" pornography has become increasingly enabled through Web 2.0 technologies, and is proliferating as a result. In addition, a substantial chunk of user-generated content, other than the actual pornography itself (ie blog entries on porn sites) is increasing as well.

Mainstream media has major advantages over blogs in the production of quality content: Nicholas Carr, "The amorality of Web 2.0", 10/03/05 - "I'm all for blogs and blogging. (I'm writing this, ain't I?) But I'm not blind to the limitations and the flaws of the blogosphere - its superficiality, its emphasis on opinion over reporting, its echolalia, its tendency to reinforce rather than challenge ideological extremism and segregation. Now, all the same criticisms can (and should) be hurled at segments of the mainstream media. And yet, at its best, the mainstream media is able to do things that are different from - and, yes, more important than - what bloggers can do. Those despised "people in a back room" can fund in-depth reporting and research. They can underwrite projects that can take months or years to reach fruition - or that may fail altogether. They can hire and pay talented people who would not be able to survive as sole proprietors on the Internet. They can employ editors and proofreaders and other unsung protectors of quality work. They can place, with equal weight, opposing ideologies on the same page."

The Web 2.0 is a medium for tasteless content and only the "elite" group is capable of producing culturally valuable material: Andrew Keen's "Anti-Web 2.0 Manifesto" - "The digital utopian much heralded 'democratization' of media will have a destructive impact upon culture, particularly upon criticism. “Good taste” is, as Adorno never tired of telling us, undemocratic. Taste must reside with an elite ('truth makers') of historically progressive cultural critics able to determine, on behalf of the public, the value of a work-of-art. The digital utopia seeks to flatten this elite into an ochlocracy. The danger, therefore, is that the future will be tasteless."

Only "big media" is capable of finding and sculpting prodigious talent: Andrew Keen's "Anti-Web 2.0 Manifesto" - "4. A particularly unfashionable thought: big media is not bad media. The big media engine of the Hollywood studios, the major record labels and publishing houses has discovered and branded great 20th century popular artists of such as Alfred Hitchcock, Bono and W.G. Sebald (the “Vertigo” three). It is most unlikely that citizen media will have the marketing skills to discover and brand creative artists of equivalent prodigy."

"Unchecked technology threatens to undermine reality and turn media into a rival version of life, a 21st century version of 'The Castle' or 'The Library of Babel'. This might make a fantastic movie or short piece of fiction. But real life, like art, shouldn’t be fantasy; it shouldn’t be fiction." - Andrew Keen's "Anti-Web 2.0 Manifesto" Donna Bogatin, "Wikipedia and its ‘bad seed’: Is Web 2.0 a friend of true knowledge?", ZDNet, 9/21/06

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No

Counter argument: "consumers" demand quality content more than free content, and that this is becoming increasingly so:

  • Quality content will always rise to the top, regardless of whether it is amateur or professionally created: - "It is true that Web 2.0 is changing the economics of creative works, but quality will always rise to the top."[6] In other words, the emergence of decentralizing technologies will not change the human historical trend toward better content and higher levels of quality demands.
  • Readers are more concerned with their own critique and determination of quality than they are about whether content is free: "people these days are far more critical and active in their judgement of content quality. When I read the Wikipedia, I always do so with a critical eye. Likewise when I read blogs. Likewise when I read the NY Times (e.g. the Times' fluff piece about Inform.com the other day). It's not a question of free vs quality, it's a question of: what is my judgement of this piece of content, whether free or paid for."

Some forums are designed to vet for quality content, while others are designed to allow for "voice" with few quality controls, and that both have their place; neither is "better": Michel Bauwens, "Responding to Andrew Keen’s Anti-Web 2.0 Manifesto", P2P Foundation, 4/27/07 - "I would indeed affirm that and I mean indeed everybody, has something interesting to say, but it depends crucially on what topic, and on the context of exchange. There are processes where we want to select for quality, and others in which we want every participant to have hir or her say, either because they are impacted by a decision, and have a moral right of input, or because 'together we know everything', and we want to design for such a process of collective intelligence. There are many design tools and facilitation processes that can guard against dumbing down and lowest common-denominator results. This is a practical matter, not an objective trend towards lack of quality."

The production of "quality"-content from Web 2.0 P2P forums depends on how these systems are constructed, that there are "good" and "bad" system designs, and that better and better system designs will emerge to help channel the community toward higher levels of content quality: "Peer to peer processes are based on the principle of equipotentiality...Good participatory systems allow this to happen through self-selection first, then through communal validation. A problem can arise with the second process of distributed quality control. Massification of judgment can lead to a bottoming effect, but not necessarily. It can be configured in such a way that either affinity groups or experts can play a privileged role in the validation process."

  • If there are "good" and "bad" system designs for vetting bad content, then it might be expected that the market will reward these good systems, and that they will become more common. Systems such as Wikipedia, Digg, and Slashdot are often argued as "good". If this is true, they have certainly been massively rewarded for being "good" systems. As such, they might have created an incentive to produce other "good" systems that produce "good" content.

"The advantage of a broader participation is that there is a greater quantity to select quality from." - Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation, 4/26/07 - The basic notion here is that quality and talent are widely dispersed commodities. By democratizing participation through technologies that allow engagement by anyone, anywhere, and at anytime, it may be more likely that good quality and talent can emerge. This does not necessarily mean that bad content does not emerge in addition. It might be the case that the same proportion of good to bad content is maintained. But because more content and engagement is enabled through Web 2.0 technologies, the point here is simply that the absolute amount of good content is increased.

  • As a result, the question may simply be how to design systems such that good content is incentivized, picked out of the crowd, and elevated to the top.

Individuals are more inclined to commit serious contributive effort to something they are knowledgeable or constructively-passionate about, setting a good stage for quality content creation:

  • "Open-source" technology may be the most compelling proof of this argument. This technology allows anyone from anywhere at anytime to participate in content-creation. Individuals that choose to contribute (sometimes voluntarily) are usually fairly passionate or knowledgeable about their subject. of technologies that "democratize" participation - such "open-source"

There is a "Wisdom of the crowd", "together we know everything", and that even experts have limited and biased viewpoints:

The new model's "long tail" allows for everything to be presented and then for a more accurate determination of what is "actually popular" to be made: Chris Anderson in "Debate 2.0" SFChronicle, 10/15/06 - "In the old model, markets have limited shelf space. You only have room to stock the things that are most popular. Now we have markets that have infinite shelf space that don't have to discriminate between the conventionally good or the things that predictably sell well. We can offer everything and then measure what's actually popular."

The crowd is becoming increasingly more intelligent, expert, and talented, making decentralizing Web 2.0 technologies increasingly capable of allowing the spotting of such things and their exposure: Chris Anderson 10/15/06 - "I think that talent, expertise and wisdom is more broadly distributed than it was in our old models. That, I think, is a form of crowd behavior, but not the whole crowd acting together. But that crowd is very good at spotting merit and elevating it so that it can get the audience it deserves."

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Undermining traditional culture? Are Web 2.0 technologies undermining traditional mediums of culture and information?

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Yes

"this latest, democratized culture, this user-generated content, is actually undermining many of our most valuable institutions, including movie studios, music labels, newspapers and publishing." - Andrew Keen 10/15/06

Ads are increasingly being wound into or next to content as the primary means of revenue generation, and that the presence of such ads undermines the value of content: Keen, 10/15/06 - "I think what's happening is that increasingly you have this collapse of advertising in culture so that you have more and more product placement in movies. You have more sophisticated ways of tying brands into music...there will be a music business. There will be a culture business, but advertising will be so central to it, that the value of culture is going to be profoundly undermined. When you buy a piece of music, which in some sense is being paid for by Wal-Mart or McDonald's, then I think its core value is much less than if you buy a disc which simply contains music."

Web 2.0's democratizing and decentralizing effect causes a loss of focused, common culture, which could formally be set by an elite group: Jurgen Habermas, influential European social thinker, 9/3/07 - "Use of the Internet has both broadened and fragmented the contexts of communication. This is why the Internet can have a subversive effect on intellectual life in authoritarian regimes. But at the same time, the less formal, horizontal cross-linking of communication channels weakens the achievements of traditional media. This focuses the attention of an anonymous and dispersed public on select topics and information, allowing citizens to concentrate on the same critically filtered issues and journalistic pieces at any given time. The price we pay for the growth in egalitarianism offered by the Internet is the decentralised access to unedited stories. In this medium, contributions by intellectuals lose their power to create a focus."

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No

Web 2.0 technology is enabling market and democratic forces to be excercised more efficiently, and since these forces are long-term success-stories, Web 2.0 technologies are here to stay: Chris Anderson 10/16/06 - "Technology is nothing other than an enabler of individual power. The tools once reserved for professionals are now in the hands of everybody. A lot of people just speak to each other directly without going through intermediaries and having messages diluted or distorted. I broadly believe in democratic principles. I broadly believe in market principles. I think that the three most powerful forces of our time are evolution, democracy and capitalism, all three of which are very much individualistic, sort of enlightened self-interest and individual agents working autonomously. History suggests that they are the least bad of the available models. They tend to reach more optimal, but not perfect, solutions. So, if you believe in democracy and if you believe in markets, then you believe in technologies that help them work more efficiently. That's very much what we are seeing today."

  • The extension of this argument is that because Web 2.0 technologies better enable these long-term forces of the markets and democracy, that they are consistent with these long-term forces, and are thus likely to be long-term themselves.

The "free" content of Web 2.0 is not very different than the mostly free content of tv, radio, and newspapers; ads are where these business make their money: Chris Anderson, Author of "the Long Tail", 10/15/06 - "People misunderstand free. Most media is, in fact, already free. Television is free to air. Radio is free to air. Newspapers are basically free. What newspapers sell is advertising. The nominal price we charge for products, which by the way you are losing money on, is simply to qualify the reader or someone who is inclined to read the advertising. So, we're essentially already in a world of free content."

The music industry is actually doing fine: Chris Anderson, 10/15/06 - "Andrew [Keen] suggests that music revenues are declining and actually that is not true. CD sales are in decline, but if you include digital singles sales including ring tones and then include ticket sales for live shows, the music business has been relatively flat and actually rising of late."

Web 2.0 will not replace other, more traditional mediums of culture and information, but will simply be an addition on top of these mediums: "Web 2.0 is a Tool Set, Not a Cultural Shift" 4/3/07 - "Apocalyptic generalizations about technology, such as Keen's, inevitably share the same weakness: they mistakenly assume one technology will supplant another. But how often does this happen? Did radio kill print? Did TV kill radio? Did the Web wipe out its predecessors? Keen's concern about the rise of pseudo-authors is misplaced. Professional authors will continue to thrive in the Web 2.0 world. Traditional publishers will thrive, too. The masses will still gobble up pulpy fiction and self-help guides and biographies, and the great wheels of one-to-many commerce will continue to spin. The "expert" will still have his/her place."

"The fact is that most user-created content on the Web is not challenging the authority of a traditional expert. It's working in a zone where there are no experts or where the users themselves are the experts. The most obvious example of this is in the prominence of diary-style pages like those on LiveJournal or MySpace. These people aren't challenging David Brooks or George Will; they're just writing about their lives and the lives of their friends. The overwhelming majority of photographers at Flickr harbor no dream of becoming the next Annie Leibovitz. They just want to share with their extended family the pics they snapped over the holidays." - Time, "It's All About Us"

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Economics? Is the Web 2.0 bad for our economy?

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Yes

"The consequences [of Web 2.0 and certain intellectual property reductions] are the end of professional creativity. We need to protect an entertainment/information economy in which creative souls -- writers, musicians, movie makers -- are all financially rewarded for their work. CULT OF THE AMATEUR reveals a Web 2.0 economy in which Google is making a fortune and most creative artists are struggling to be paid for their work. THE CULT OF THE AMATEUR argues that the abolition of copyright protection will force authors to achieve monetary reward for their work by selling themselves (their "brands") rather than the product of their creative labor. Thoughtful creative souls will, therefore, be metamorphosized into salivating PR hucksters. Not a pretty sight, I'm afraid."

  • If thoughtful creativity does indeed lose-out from the existence of the Web 2.0 movement, then it could be argued that economies will subsequently lose-out in the long run, because incentivized-creativity and economic production tend to go hand in hand.
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No

"Web 2.0 Is A Gift, Not A Threat, To VCs"

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Anonymity: Is anonymity, which is fairly common in the Web 2.0 a bad thing?

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Yes

"The very anonymity that the Web 2.0 offers calls into question the reliability of the information we receive." - Andrew Keen[7] - The presumption here is that reliability of content depends on the attachment of content to certain reliable sources. When a source is anonomous, it is more difficult to determine if he or she can be trusted in the presentation of reliable facts, quotes, and so-forth. Usually, a reliable source is one whose name has built up trust through a long history of strong editorial processes, fact-checking, and oversight. Readers cannot be assured that an ananomous source has any of these basic editorial checks, making it difficult for readers to trust the material that any anonymous source has presented.

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No

Present and source here evidence that the general public or particular groups within the general public say "no" to this main question.


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Scholars and journalist stances: where do the main scholars and journalists stand?

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Yes

Andrew Keen, "THE CULT OF THE AMATEUR: How Blogs, Wikis, Social Networking, and the Digital World are Assaulting our Economy, Culture and Values." (2007).[8]

Nicholas Carr, a real journalist, has a blog post - Web 2.0 is amoral - where he argues that "the promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional."[9]

Jürgen Habermas, "perhaps Europe’s most influential social thinker, was awarded the Bruno Kreisky Prize for the advancement of human rights [March '07]. In his acceptance speech, he spoke about the Web 2.0 threat to intellectual life in the West".[10]

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No

Chris Anderson, "The Long Tail"[11] - Argues that we are on the verge of a cultural renaissance, that the digital revolution will provide people with more viable avenues to become professional writers, musicians and film-makers, and that the world generally benefits.


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