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Donnacha DeLong argues that “Web 2.0 is rubbish” in an article in The Journalist, the National Union of Journalists’ magazine. The article argues against wiping out traditional media and replacing it with citizen journalism, which is not a position a lot of people hold. He concludes:

There are those who claim that Web 2.0 democratises the media. It would make everyone equal, yes, but should they be? It’s like saying anyone can play for Manchester United. In one of the main examples given to explain Web 2.0, Wikipedia replaces Britannica Online. Is that the kind of democracy we want – where anyone can determine the information that the public can access, regardless of their level of knowledge, expertise or agenda?

Oh sigh. This commits two fallacies.

First, it equivocates on “equal.” No one argues that all blog posts and all bloggers are of equal value. That’s why we have blogrolls. Hell, that’s why we have links. But, we all (well, all with economic means, physical access, etc.) have an equal ability to post. Equal access to post != equal value of posts.

Second, Donnacha ignores the social dynamics, as if Wikipedia (for example) were nothing but a series of posts by random individuals. In fact, Wikipedia results from a complex social dynamic and set of processes designed to move articles towards encyclopedic goodness. We can argue about whether those processes work and whether Wikipedia is reliable, and so forth, but Donnacha ignores those processes altogether. In fact, the processes are designed to keep all entries from being treated as equal.

Donnacha acts as if the Web were as weak as its weakest link because we can’t tell the difference between weak and strong links. In fact, the Web at its best is stronger than its strongest links, because those links get tempered through the exposure to multiple points of view. Of course the Web isn’t always at its best, and Donnacha is right to remind us of that. But perhaps this is Donnacha’s third fallacy: Citizen journalism is not “everybody writes what they want and we have to read it all as if it were all of equal value,” just as Wikipedia isn’t just a big blank scratch pad with publicly available pencils. Citizen journalism is founded on the idea that while many people can contribute, we need ways to surface what is of value. Everyone working in the field of citizen journalism understands Donnacha’s objection. Donnacha’s complaint isn’t a criticism of citizen journalism. It is citizen journalism’s starting point.

The fact that Donnacha’s credit at the end of the article reports that “He represents new media journalists on the union’s National Executive Council” is a bit scary. Indeed, veteran journalist Roy Greenslade resigned from the National Union of Journalists because of its attitude toward new media. Laura Oliver has an article about Roy’s resignation here. (Thanks to Richard Sambrook for the link.) [Tags: web2.0 donnacha_delong national_union_of_journalists citizen_journalism citizen_media wikipedia roy_greenslade ]

8 Responses to “Is the Web as weak as its weakest link?”

  1. on 28 Oct 2007 at 1:27 pmChristine Madsen

    Hi David,
    Technically I would agree with your response, as Donnacha doesn’t really address either of those points in his post, but I think that you are committing an equal fallacy. Popularity does not equal quality. Blogrolls are a pretty straightforward example of popularity. The “social dynamic and set of processes” found in Wikipedia is indeed complex, but it is not designed to move articles toward goodness, only toward popular consensus. [I am very tempted to insert something here about how the last US presidential election shows us that popular consensus is clearly not always a move toward goodness, but I will refrain.]

  2. on 28 Oct 2007 at 3:56 pmDavid Weinberger

    Christine, you’re right that the various dynamics don’t guarantee quality emerges. But I don’t think popularity is the only metric used. When I put someone on my blogroll, I’m not doing so because she’s popular. And Wikipedia doesn’t subject articles to popular vote; it expects rigorous argument and has an escalation procedure that does not involve assessing popularity at all. Google’s Page Rank algorithm certainly weighs the popularity of a page, but that’s not the only thing it considers. That’s not to say that these processes always works or ever work, but it’s not mere popularity that’s being posed against the expertise of traditional authorities.

  3. on 28 Oct 2007 at 5:20 pmMark Murphy

    Christine’s “Popularity does not equal quality” comment kinda assumes there’s *something* that *does* “equal quality”. Donnacha DeLong thinks it is editors and publishers, but if that were the case, every book on Amazon would have five stars, JK Rowling wouldn’t have had to fight to get the first Harry Potter book published, etc. Truth is, editors and publishers are as fallible as anyone and so make errors in judgment that affect the “quality” of the published works.

    Besides, what is “quality” for one person is not the same as “quality” for another person, so what editors and publishers think is “quality” will, at best, only be “quality” for some niche. Given enough editors and publishers, you can cover all the niches. All movements like “Web 2.0” are doing is increasing the number of editors and publishers, to cover more niches, even if some of those niches are rather tiny.

  4. on 30 Oct 2007 at 11:34 amKonstruktors Notes

    Finally Some Critical Writing About the Web

    After writing the previous article ‘What is Wrong with the Tech Journalism’ and thinking more about the portrayal of the Web by off/online journalists, I have finally found a few great articles that try to critically assess the otherwise hyped “u…

  5. […] publishing versus journalists November 1st, 2007 — techxplorer This morning I read this post by David Weinberger which in turn is talking about this post by Donnacha DeLong. The theme of […]

  6. on 01 Nov 2007 at 9:51 pmjonathan bystedt

    Isn’t the real ‘gatekeeper’ of media, both new and old, public opinion factored over time? After all, the reason both Encyclopaedia Brittanica and Wikipedia exist is that people find them useful. The wheat is seperated from the chaff through a process of public debate and discourse, and it has always been this way. I see both sides in this debate having an exaggerated sense of their own importance.

    Really, there is nothing new under the sun…

  7. on 12 Nov 2007 at 4:52 amIan Watson

    It’s quite amusing to hear journalists rubbishing Wikipedia on the grounds that it contains errors. The traditional, and still highly favoured, source of information for many journalists is the cuttings file, ie cuttings from old newspapers, which are notoriously error-prone. It is not unusual to find a ‘fact’ recycled over and over because the original cutting got it wrong.

  8. […] everything is definitely miscellaneous except, uh, wikipedia is rather highly structured and extensi… […]