Posts about Internet

The metered internet

I’m getting a preview of Time Warner’s doomed idea to charge internet access based on usage.

At the hotel here in Munich, I’m getting criminally overcharged for internet access by the hotel and Swiss: They’re charging me 27 euros for 24 hours to get supposedly unlimited speed (ha! I tested and it’s slow; I can’t even watch a YouTube video worth a damn and it almost took longer to download On the Media than to listen to it) and downloading. They’d charge me a bit less if I agreed to getting lower priority for my packets — the hint is that at the slower speed, I couldn’t be able to use Skype or watch videos — and an unspecified limit on my bandwidth. Being forced to pay a premium to get acceptable service makes me mad enough; not getting acceptable service makes me resent them even more.

It’s not as if cable and telephone companies care about being resented, but this is sure to make us hate them even more. And it moves in exact opposition to the history of internet usage since the mid-90s. That’s when I say that Tom Evslin, then head of AT&T Worldnet, made the internet explode when he set flat-rate pricing of $19.95 a month. Then the peole didn’t care about the ticking clock; they became addicted to the internet; the internet exploded; and we have Tom to thank for that. And since then, whenever we have had more bandwidth, we have found more good reasons to use the internet more and bring more value to it. On the internet, more is more.

Now we have Time Warner and Swiss to thank for trying to put a meter back on the internet. It only makes us hate them more.

The new metrics of campaigns

Polls are as discredited as they should be. So I’m thinking about writing my Guardian column next week about all the new metrics we have to take the pulse of the nation on the internet. Please help me out with numbers you follow.

None of these is representative or certainly scientific. And many of them can be manipulated — which is just the point of them; they put metrics in the hands of movements that use them to make themselves known: witness Ron Paul’s devoted cult and how they played YouTube like an organ. I speculated after Iowa that one reason for Obama’s success there was the campaign’s ability to organize a critical mass of young supporters in the social services.

The new internet campaign metrics also let us sense trends that aren’t so manipulable, if we know where to look.

Among these metrics (many tracked by TechPresident):

* Mainstream media coverage: Here‘s Daylife’s track of Clinton v Obama v Edwards in the last 30 days. It shows Clinton coverage is ahead in coverage until a surge in Obama’s around Iowa with a dropoff in Edwards’. This kind of analysis is possible now that all the coverage is being gathered and analyzed. Before, we couldn’t so easily measure the perspectives and prejudices of media coverage; now we can. Last April, I used cruder measures to show that the MSM narrative emphasized Obama while the polls still gave more attention to Clinton.

* Google searches: Here, in a chart representing December 2007 in the U.S., we see Clinton generally ahead of Obama but with her falling and then showing a resurgence. What do searches indicate? I think they can at least measure interest if not affection or affiliation.

* AdWords demand: You can get an idea of the market value for a keyword on Google AdWords. Clinton shows an average cost-per-click of $2.30-3.15 vs. $1.04-1.30 for Obama and $1.02-1.27 for Edwards. I’m not 100 percent sure how to interpret this — that is, what factors influence this (such as relative traffic) — but there is higher demand for the Clinton keyword. That’s a market speaking.

* Blog mentions: OK, we’re not representative but there are lots of us and what we say can be tracked via Blogpulse and Technorati. The other day, I tracked the “change” meme in the Obama campaign here. This chart shows Clinton ahead of Obama and Edwards until Iowa and now they’re even.

* Textual analysis: We get to analyze the candidates’ language as well. In this post, I took the transcript of the Democratic debate in New Hampshire and used Tagcrowd to find out that they used the word “change” more than “health” or “economy” or “iraq.”

* Web traffic: This Alexa chart shows Obama solidly ahead in traffic to his site. Compete shows Clinton and Obama leapfrogging each other with a spurt in Obama traffic pre-Iowa.

* Video traffic: TubeMogul adds up YouTube views and shows Obama way ahead with 9.5m vs. 4.6m for Clinton and 4.5m for Edwards (on the GOP, Ron Paul beats them all with 10.5m followed by Huckabee with 4.8m — a surprise to me — Romney with 3.8m, Giuliani with 1.8m, and McCain with 1.2m)

* Microblogging traffic: Obama as 6,667 followers on Twitter, Edwards 4,167 (and his final post came two months ago), Clinton has a big 223 (not her medium, apparently). That is, two of the three said it’s not worth it.

* Social sites: TechPresident has been doing a great job tracking the candidates’ friends. On Facebook, Obama has long been ahead with 235k vs. 71k for Clinton and 35k for Edwards (on the Republican side, Paul is ahead with 72k and Huckabee comes in next with 40k). MySpace: Obama has long led with 225k vs. 162k for Clinton and 52k for Edwards (on the GOP side, Paul is again leader with 114k vs. 41k for McCain, 33k for Romney, and 28k for Huckabee).

* Donors: Of course, we always have money. A recent AP story said that Clinton raised $24 million in the latest quarter vs. $22.5m for Obama and $4.5m for Edwards (the Washington Post said that Clinton and Obama each raised more than $100m in 2007). The other important story is the number of donors. Obama was doing a great job getting lots of small donors — who, as I said here, became invested in the campaign. But USA Today said that for July to September, Clinton exceeded him, 100k to 93k.

* Prediction markets: NewsFuture’s market has a dead heat for the Democratic race — Obama 50% to Clinton 49% (on the Republican side, McCain leads at 44% with Giuliani next at 25%). By the way, whoever wins that race, NewsFuture’s predictors give the Democrats a 65% change of winning in the fall. InTrade is more complex with lots of contracts that get a market value. For the nomination, Clinton’s contracts are on top at 56.8 over Obama at 40.8 and Edwards 1.5. For the November election, Clinton’s contracts are selling for 37.2 vs. Obama for 25.0, McCain 17.6, Giuliani 6.5, Huckabee 4.4, Edwards 0.5.

* Odds: Linesmaker‘s rundown in another market: Clinton 7-5, Obama 2-1, McCain 7-2, Giuliani 8-1, Romney 15-1, Edwards 30-1, Thompson 50-1 — and Michael Bloomberg 5-1.

What other metrics do you know of and follow?

So what does all this tell us? Who the hell knows? The truth is that there is no reliable predictor — certainly not the polls. But there are many ways to try to sniff out trends and many ways to organize people to make those trends happen.

Obama, the internet victor?

I wonder whether, quietly, Barack Obama is to become the first candidate elected by the internet.

It’s not as if he has been all that aggressive in his internet strategy. That is, he has been no more and probably less disruptive in his online tactics than Howard Dean was. But I wonder whether it is the internet that has brought together the factors that are making him victorious.

First, the higher turnout among young people in Iowa — and, it appears, New Hampshire — is being credited as a key factor in his win(s). It has been said plenty of times that young people may get excited about a candidate but they don’t show up. Now they’re showing up, not only to vote but to jam public events that show the mo’. What’s different this time? It could be some magic potion of Obama as Pied Piper, but I think the change may well be the internet. He spoke to young people on their turf and they responded. They made it a point to befriend the bejesus out of him on MySpace and Facebook — they made that their own crusade — and I think media and political strategists thought that was cute but didn’t understand the full power and impact of that. It’s significant that one of Obama’s advisers is a founder of Facebook, Chris Hughes.

This leads to the second factor: the organizing power of the internet. To hell with the phone bank and campaign office downtown. And to heck with rallies, for that matter. The internet is the greatest organizational tool ever and both the campaign — and, importantly, the citizens themselves — used it to organize supporters to get out and support.

Third, of course, is money: It’s not just that Obama raised a helluva lot of money. It’s far more important, of course, that he raised it from a helluva lot of people. But what’s really important in that is that those people felt invested in Obama and his campaign. Yes, he got lots of money to pay for commercials. But what he really got was citizens with an equity stake in his victory. That wasn’t being done before Howard Dean showed how to raise money online and Obama made brilliant use of it.

There are, of course, other factors. The fact that older voters — like me — are the ones favoring Clinton shows that we hold nostalgia for the Clinton years, but young people have no fond memories of the era; they’re too young. I thought that Clinton ran a flawless campaign at the start but now it turns out to be flawed. I do think the media have from the start made Obama their darling and the mo’ was there for him to grab. See my post in April showing how the coverage of him was out of proportion to the polls. You could argue that the media were merely more in touch than the polls but I don’t think so; I believe Obama’s rise became a self-fulfilling prophecy that only he could screw up — and he didn’t.

It would be unwise to count Clinton out yet. She is smart and experienced and tenacious. And Obama is inexperienced and can mess this up. But as a Clinton supporter, I’ll concede the trajectory here.

My point is that as we analyze this fairly incredible and rabid shift in power between the two candidates, I haven’t heard the internet being given the credit I think it may deserve. And that’s not because he ran the campaign on the internet; no one will call him the internet candidate. It’s because he used it to speak to the right people and in ways that weren’t noticed or understood by big media. What do you think?

Myhoo

I am fascinated by the speculation/rumor, which Staci Kramer so ably sums up, that News Corp would sell/merge MySpace into Yahoo for 25 percent of the company while Yahoo — now Myhoo — would outsource its search business to Google, probably making more in search than it could on its own. (More from this Times and that Times.)

This could be a brilliantly cagey move even for brilliantly cagey Murdoch, for it gives him an at-least 20x return on his MySpace investment in only two years ($580 million for MySpace now bringing in more than $10 billion in Yahoo equity) and gets him out of managing MySpace, which could be tough as Facebook gains speed. (Murdoch also becomes the rescuer — depending on your perspective — of old-media companies from Wall Street to Silicon Valley — Dow Jones and Yahoo both being old-media. But note that he was still too smart to buy newspaper empire Tribune Company; that’s just too old.)

For Yahoo, this would focus them, I believe, as a social media company. They’d be out of the search business. They’d still have services — email, Flickr, Del.icio.us, chat, personalization, rss — but those should become aps in a larger social world of MySpace and beyond. Their content could also become modules to be distributed socially. So suddenly what I said yesterday doesn’t sound so crazy:

OK, here’s what I’d do with Yahoo: I’d pull a reverse Facebook, a Zuckerberg with a twist. Facebook opened itself up as a platform for people to come in and do things there. I’d open up Yahoo as a platform for people to export instead. I would turn absolutely every — every — piece of Yahoo into a widget any of us could export and use on our own sites. I’d take all the functionality there and enable people to enrich their own sites, to build on top of it. . . .

I would argue that this would not work if you could do all this only at Myhoo. We should be able to use these widgets anywhere — on our blogs, on major news sites now needing to focus on what they do best, on our own local social networks, on advertisers’ sites, even: anywhere. This becomes Yahoo turned inside out, the exploded portal. It is CBS’ audience network, user-as-distributor strategy to its limit. It takes Google’s strategy of turning itself into aps and widgets (a la AdSense) that can be used anywhere and one-ups them. You see, all this is possible as soon as Yahoo widgetizes itself to be used on MySpace; then those widgets can — or should — be used anywhere. So this becomes Yahoo’s own answer to the question: WWGD? This also starts to show Google’s limits: It doesn’t own social as it owns search and advertising. Orkut didn’t work (outside India and Brazil). Facebook and MySpace are ahead and they fight it out to be the organizer of people and our connections.

The odds of this happening: about 0.1 percent. News Corp. could be nimble enough to pull it off. But Yahoo is, witness the peanut-butter manifesto, just too large and lumbering and, well, old, at 14 years of age, to move decisively. But that was fun to contemplate anyway.

Yahoo’s big mistake

Yahoo made the mistake too many other media companies made: It thought that the internet was a medium. It’s not. The internet is a place. It’s a means, not a medium.

I’ve said it often before and I’ll say in once more: Yahoo is the last old-media company. It controlled content — made or licensed — and spent money to market to bring people in to see it and then forced ads down their eyeballs until they left. Meanwhile, Google distributed itself anywhere and everywhere. The ad on this page is the pioneering commercial widget of the internet; it makes this page part of Google without Google having to make, market, or pay for it. Google is a platform. Yahoo is a portal. Google is a network. Yahoo is a destination. Google is a tool. Yahoo is a thing.

Yahoo hired a media man in Terry Semel and he gave them just what they wanted, the two legs of his old business’ stool: content and distribution. Listen to him here, two years ago:

Yahoo ‘is all about content,” he says. . . . He says media companies should look to Yahoo as a distribution platform.

I’ve also said this, too, before and will say it once more: We debated for decades whether content or distribution was king but it turns out that neither is. The community is the kingdom. The question companies should be asking on the internet — the question Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg answered — is what they can do to help that community do what it wants to do. Zuckerberg thinks of Facebook not as a media or content company but as a software company. Software enables us.

So now Semel is out as CEO. He took Yahoo from its first life as a directory and did, indeed, turn it into a media company with considerable traffic and real ad sales — that was his job and he did it well. But that wasn’t sufficient. Being a media company isn’t sufficient. Semel couldn’t get Yahoo into the next life. Oh, yes, he bought Flickr and Del.icio.us and OddPost, in the hopes that you could buy some Web 2.0 and it would average out the 1.0 in you. But all that does is get you to 1.1. It takes more than that.

So now Jerry Yang is in charge. I met him years ago, in the early days of Yahoo, in a business meeting, and he said then that Yahoo’s job was to get you in and out of the service — and onto what you really wanted — as soon as possible. Well, that sure changed. In the Semel era, and even before, the job became to get you in and keep you in as long as possible.

But the job should have nothing to do with getting us to Yahoo. It should be about Yahoo getting itself to us. Can Yahoo — can Yang — blow itself up and splatter across the web, a la Google? I don’t know. I fear that Yahoo is just the next AOL: the next has-been. Now you may say to me, well, Jeff, you talk about the web being about tools, functionality, and community, and doesn’t that describe AOL at its height? Yes, except that AOL didn’t see that as its business; that was just the cherry on the sundae and the ice cream to them was distribution: a closed network. Again, AOL, thought like a media company, only the other half of media: more distribution than content. AOL never knew where its real value lay. It was in the people. The community. I said long ago that if AOL cut itself up and let us all use and even pay for any part of it, it could have exploded. Instead, it demanded that we come into its closed world. And it failed. I stopped using AOL a decade ago because I had so many other, better, more open alternatives.

I haven’t used Yahoo either in ages, maybe years. I complained that they shut off my email and killed my identity — my identity — because I didn’t follow their rules and use it enough. I can’t remember the last time I went to Yahoo. And it didn’t come to me. When I last tried to use Flickr they yelled at me for not having a Yahoo identity (well, I would have one if you hadn’t killed it). I don’t need Yahoo. It needs me.

What would I do with Yahoo? I’d probably sell it. Just as newspaper companies are now huddling with their former enemies, Monster and Hot Jobs, so may media companies want to take over Yahoo and grow old together. Microsoft never could figure out its media strategy — when it never should have wanted one; it should have been the company to figure out the web of tools first — and so they could stumble off together, blind leading blind. AOL and Yahoo might as well merge. Cable companies might forestall their fate as closed networks while playing with Yahoo; spurned by TV networks now distributing themselves freely online, the MSOs need a younger wife. But all that only forestalls the inevitable shrinkage of Yahoo as a media entity.

OK, here’s what I’d do with Yahoo: I’d pull a reverse Facebook, a Zuckerberg with a twist. Facebook opened itself up as a platform for people to come in and do things there. I’d open up Yahoo as a platform for people to export instead. I would turn absolutely every — every — piece of Yahoo into a widget any of us could export and use on our own sites. I’d take all the functionality there and enable people to enrich their own sites, to build on top of it. . . .

On second thought . . . naw, nevermind . . .

A question for the candidates

Here’s my question for the candidates in the CNN/YouTube Democrats’ debate:

I say I’m worried about the digital divide — between America and the world. The U.S. has fallen to 25th place in broadband penetration worldwide. Our broadband access costs, on average, 12 times more than Japan’s and 7 times more than South Koreas, yet Japan’s is 12 times faster than ours and Korea’s 9.5 times faster. So I ask the candidates: Will you pledge today to assure all Americans affordable — open — high-speed internet access and how will you do it? This is a necessity for our economy, education, culture, and future.

After the page

In my Guardian column this week (nonregistration version here), I argue that we need to explode the home page — and our notions of the page and the site, for that matter. This is about the new architecture of content and media and the internet. The column is a shorter version of the post below:

* * *

After the page

It’s time to ask what comes next in the design of online news sites: What is the next home page? What is the next page, for that matter? Do we even need either anymore?

Every online site I know puts undue effort into its home page, even though in some news sites as few as 20 percent of users ever end up there. The rest, the majority, come directly to pages deeper into these sites instead through search, links, and bookmarks. Or sometimes they don’t go to the sites at all but read their content via RSS feeds or email or hear or watch it in podcasts.

And now that ajax, Flash, et al can make pages endlessly dynamic, infinitely deep, and utterly individualized, it is time to rethink the page itself. After all, Nielsen just decreed that it will stop measuring page views — because, with ajax, the page is being made into a meaningless unit of media. Instead, Nielsen will measure audience and engagement.

But engagement with what? Where? I’d argue that in Google’s distributed model — which makes this very page part of the Google empire, thanks to its ads here — even the site is an outmoded concept that is being kept alive artificially by the measurements that advertisers understand. That already-antiquated standard of measurement — who’s the host with the most? — forces sites to stay big — too big — under one brand and address, when I’d argue that they’d be better off breaking themselves up into a score of more viral — that is, more directly linkable — sites, brands, and addresses. That is, do you really want to have to dig into NYPost.com to find Page Six? Do you want to have to mine washingtonpost.com to find Howard Kurtz’s bloggy articles?

Finally, note that many news sites have now come to a common visual voice and grammar: Compare the recently redesigned Guardian, Washington Post, USA Today, the New York Times, the Times of London, the Telegraph, News.com.au; they are all graphic cousins with equal proportions of white space and blue type. They all look good and work well because they learned from each other. They have settled on a common if unspoken standard of the home page. Have we now arrived at the end of this process? Will the home page — like the newspaper page — now look essentially the same for decades to come? I hope not.

It’s time to break out of the old page and its now-common interpretations. But to what? I see a few possible models for a new architecture of the home page, the page, the site — hell, of the web itself. These models are not mutually exclusive, nor are they comprehensive.

THE VIEWER: So imagine if a site had only one page. You come to that and you can get anything you want there without ever clicking off to another page. Yes, this marks the welcome death of the click and its delays and uncertainties. Now you can get many things on this infinite page. It is a gigantic menu of media. Over here, I’ll put a video of live sports. Then I’ll replace it with a video of a news story. Up with it comes a list of related links and background. Over there, I’ll put a feed of headlines from elsewhere. Down there I’ll have discussion about what’s going on in what I’ve just pulled together. In another dimension of media, I have a separate soundtrack — perhaps my friends talking about the game, maybe music, maybe news. When something new happens in any of these, it will pop to the front and alert me; when it goes stale, it fades into the background. It can all be about one thing — every angle on a story — or it can be about many things and can morph from one view to the other. (And of course, somewhere in all this, there’ll be some new forms of advertising to support it but one hopes that is relevant to me more than my content.)

But, of course, why should all this come from just one source? Why couldn’t I get these things from any number of sources? It’s my screen, right? Who’s in charge of this page: me or the media outlet? That’s going to be a crucial question. But even if it’s the media outlet that gives me this — as it can today, on a page — it would be wise to give me the opportunity to include anything I want from anywhere in it. And that means that every media outlet must make itself ready to be included in anyone else’s page. Widgets gone wild.

FEEDS: Almost all media is a feed. Certainly news is. So’s broadcast. So’s adverting (a feed of commercials, a feed of billboards, a feed of classifieds). When I was at my last real job, as I’ve mentioned here before, I wanted to rearchitect my news sites around feeds: feeds of our headlines; outside headlines; blog headlines; prospective searches (that is, tell me when something new on a topic comes across the sources I specify); classified ads (but just the ones I want); photos; podcasts; vodcasts… and on and on. None of this is static, of course; it’s all fresh and dynamic.

Once you have everything made feed-ready, this allows a site to very easily construct new pages with any of these feeds on them. It means, for example, that a local news site can automatically construct a town page with feeds of inside and outside news and ads and more.

But then it’s a very small step to making this personalized: a page with my feeds on it. And then it’s just another small step to taking this out of the page and into a new application: a new browser — AKA, an RSS reader. This can feed any device, live or on demand. All it needs is for media to convert everything they do into feeds. (There are lots of sites I never read anymore because they don’t have feeds.) Those feeds can be raw — Dave Winer’s river of news — or they can bring smarts with them: prioritization, context, comment, ratings, rankings, freshness, expiration….

NETWORKS: But let’s not assume that media organizations own all content in the future. They don’t already. They will, I’ve been arguing until everyone around me is blue in the face, that wise news organizations must learn to work collaboratively. So coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting, for example, will not be just what has been brought onto a news site but also a collection of links to witness-reporters’ own sites with their own live news, soon even live video.

But this, too, can be a two-way pipe. The witness-reporter’s content can be made into widgets and feeds and included on a news site (with branding, attribution, vetting, caveats). Or the media organization’s content can be included on the witness-reporter’s site. Or everything can be inside our user-controlled space: a new browser or aggregator or reader.

Consider, too, that advertising and sponsorship will be networked as well: Google is not Google.com but every other dot com with Google on it. The web and its support becomes massively distributed.

SHOWS: Maybe I want you to make a show for me; maybe I want a more passive experience: Feed me. But I don’t want to be fed what everyone else is fed. See Dave Winer’s request to get news without the story he has tired of. See also Facebook’s news feeds, which Mark Zuckerberg says are algorithmic, giving you news the system thinks you want based on your network, your stated preferences, your use, its smarts.

Now mash all this together: In one corner of my screen, I have a show; Along the side, I have lots of feeds. On the other side, I have dynamic, constantly updated widgets. This stuff comes from anywhere and everywhere — from my own network of news sites, from friends, from friends of friends. It can be fed through any device. In fact, it may not even have a screen; what if it knows I’m in my car and can only talk to me? when the system knows my only tether to the net is a phone, it sends me just what it knows I need to know and when I get back home it catches me up on what I missed. While at home, it projects what I need to know on screens or walls, and This isn’t just beyond the home page, it’s beyond the page, the browser, the screen, the computer.

And if I haven’t blown your brain enough — I keep trying — consider that I may be adding myself into this, bookmarking, tagging, annotating, saving. And all that adds more information to the information; my friends can get feeds of what is fed to me and all our feeds together become a kind of passive Digg. My act of consumption become acts of creation. The antisocial act of watching becomes a social act of sharing.

OK, let’s get real. But this is real — today. Any news site can do any of this today. It can make feeds and widgets and shows on what we still know as pages and it can operate inside larger distributed networks. Importantly, none of this requires what we have always thought reinvention required in the past: new systems, new backends, new infrastructure, millions of dollars and lots of consultants and deadlines that never come. You can do most any of this today with a little bit of coding — html, ajax, Flash (but not too much now), RSS — on what we still archaically call web pages. Now.

Many years ago, in about 1995, when I saw the odious Pointcast — the screensaver that ate office networks and gave you news when you least needed it, when you want to the bathroom — I left the demonstration telling my boss to go nowhere near investing in or using it. I went back to my office and worked with my team to deliver every bit of Pointcast’s value using nothing more than a refreshing web page that once a minute checked on the latest from the AP wire and included it. Newsflash, we called it, was dynamic, extremely popular, and elegantly simple. Now we can do much more.

So someone needs to break out of the sameness that has become news home pages, pages, sites, and services and start the next wave of reinvention.

Who will it be?

* * *

YET MORE: See also Seth Godin lighting dynamite under the home page:

Do you really need a home page? Does the web respect it?

Human beings don’t have home pages. People make judgments about you in a thousand different ways. By what they hear from others, by the way they experience you, and on and on. Companies may have a website, but they don’t have a home page in terms of the way people experience them.

The problem with home page thinking is that it’s a crutch. There’s nothing wrong with an index, nothing wrong with a page for newbies, nothing wrong with a place that makes a first impression when you get the chance to control that encounter. But it’s not your ‘home’. It’s not what the surfer/user wants, and when it doesn’t match, they flee.

You don’t need one home page. You need a hundred or a thousand. And they’re all just as important.

: Here’s an E&P feature about three recent newspaper redesigns.

Your advice: Should I debate?

Andrew Keen and his publisher have asked me to debate him about his book, The Cult of the Amateur, in New York in June. I’m asking your advice because I’m torn.

The problem is that Keen’s book is the worst of link bait. It’s link whoring. Or should I say talk-show prostitution? It’s frilly lace tempting those who want so much to dismiss this change. He tries to push every internet button he can. Like others, Keen wants to be the contrarian’s contrarian. But that only makes him a double negative. It makes him a curmudgeon, a conservative trying to hold onto the past, a mastadon growling against the warm wind of change. Now I’d be fine having an debate about what the change means and what’s good and bad about it, but Keen makes it all bad with sloppy generalities and blanket insults — like the very worst blog. It’s simply not a good book or a compelling argument.

Do we give this attention? Do we play wack-a-mole with these tiresome arguments? Or do we just ignore it with the sure knowledge that it will go away in an act of self-extinction?

To give you a few examples from the start of the book (which I’ve not quite finished):

Keen summons up the T.H. Huxley infinite monkey theorem*, of course casting the internet — us — in that role: “Except in our Web 2.0 world, the typewriters aren’t quite typewriters, but rather networked personal computers, and the monkeys aren’t quite monkeys, but rather Internet users.” Just by using this new tool, we are ruining the world. How? “But what had once appeared as a joke now seems to foretell the consequences of a flattening of culture and author, creator and consumer, expert and amateur. This is no laughing matter.” Oh, yes, he’s serious about this. No sense of fine British irony here. He pounds his typewriter with a sledgehammer.

Keen says the internet is used to “publish everything from uninformed political commentary, to unseemly home videos, to embarrassingly amateurish music, to unreadable poems, reviews, essays, and novels.” But nothing else? No reporting? No fact-checking? No new talent making new video? No thoughtful reviews? No new independent music? No new tools for education? This is the most troubling aspect of his book: He acknowledges nothing good about the internet and we who inhabit it. That’s either blind or intellectually dishonest. Of course, there is good and bad here. I acknowledge the bad on the internet — the unbearable blogs, the flaming fart jokes, and worse, the people who use the medium as their outlet for hate — just as I remind its opponents of the bad books, movies, songs, and, yes, newspapers produced by the old media world. But in either case, does the bad negate all the good? Of course, not. I argue that media old farts and the curmudgeons who feed them pay too much attention to the bad and miss the good, and that is a waste. That is playing deaf.

But to Keen, we are the ruination of everything and we’re too stupid to realize it. “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.” Hearing your neighbor talk is now corrupting and confusing and Keen knows the difference but we do not. This is his unbearable snobbishness.

He predictably goes after Wikipedia and its articles, “none of them edited or vetted for accuracy.” That’s innaccurate. They are vetted by thousands — as newspapers now can be. He says that Wikipedia is “a more trusted source for news than the CNN or BBC websites” but provides no citation to back up that generality. Introduce me to the people who say that. I’ve never heard it. The book is filled with such as that — like, oh, the worst Wikipedia article. Oh, but Keen might have done well to have looked up a few facts on Wikipedia himself. A few pages later, he makes the cliched reference to cults and Kool-Aid when Wikipedia would correct him: Jim Jones’ poison was mixed with Flavor-Aid. Grape, to be exact. I know because I covered the story. I was on rewrite taking the first stories from Guyana. I’ll vet that. It’s in Wikipedia. Go look it up.

It’s also no surprise that Keen goes after social sites. “It’s hardly surprising that the increasingly tasteless nature of such self-advertisements have resulted in social networking sites becoming infested with anonymous sexual predators and pedophiles.” And a lot of happy marriages. The priesthood is also infested with its share of anonymous predators and pedophiles, but I don’t hear Keen railing against them. This is the worst of tabloid generalization: If one thing is bad, it is all bad. Paint the entire world with the same dark brush. That is the essence of the book’s intellectual dishonesty. There’s more that I may choose to annotate in later blog posts.

Ah, but here’s his real point, is essential conservatism: “But our cultural standards and moral values are not all that are at stake. Gravest of all, the very traditional institutions that have helped to foster and create our news, our music, our literature, our television shows and our movies are under assault as well.” Keen is trying to pass the full-employment act for old institutions — even, at one point in his book, including ad agencies! Now, of course, the old institutions do and still will contribute incredible value. But now we have the means to contribute more, to find more talent, to check their work, to hear more voices. I celebrate that. Keen dreads it: “The monkeys take over. Say good-bye to today’s experts and cultural gatekeepers — our reporters, news anchors, editors, music companies and Hollywood movie studios. In today’s cult of the amateur, the monkeys are running the show. With their infinite typewriters, they are authoring the future. And we may not like how it reads.”

Keen is not just an elitist, he is authoritarian to the point of Stalinism. At the end: “Can we really trust society to behave properly in the Wild West culture of the Web 2.0 revolution? I would argue that we are easily seduced, corrupted, and led astray. In other words, we need rules and regulations to help control our behavior online, just as we need traffic laws to regulate how we drive in order to protect everyone from accidents.” Of course, we already have those laws and they govern life online. That’s a red herring. It’s the gatekeepers he wants, the experts anointed by institutions not by us ignorant masses, the authorities.

If you can’t trust society, then you don’t truly believe in democracy, free markets, reformed religion, art, education, or journalism. Why bother with us if we’re such a bunch of ignorant monkeys?

And why bother arguing with that? So I’ll do just what Keen would apparently abhor: I’ll ask you, the vast zoo of amateurs, whether you think I should take this on in an evening. I’m not handing over my authority; I’ll decide what to do. But I do value your opinion. So tell me what you think about the cult of contrarians.

* CORRECTION: Within an hour after I posted this, I got this email from Sam Huxley:

While my great-great grandfather is highly regarded for many things, unfortunately the infinite-monkey theorem isn’t one of them. In fact if you scroll down the Wikipedia entry you linked to it refers to the TH attribution as a common misattribution- I checked it out as it is the first I’d heard of it. Also, I would pass on the debate as I fail to see how magnifying such an outlandish opinion does anyone but him good.

I thanked Sam and asked him whether I could quote his email. Here is what the Wikipedia entry says:

In his 1931 book The Mysterious Universe, Eddington’s rival James Jeans attributed the monkey parable to a “Huxley”, presumably meaning Thomas Henry Huxley. This attribution is incorrect. Today, it is sometimes further reported that Huxley applied the example in a now-legendary debate over Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species with the Anglican Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, held at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford in June 30, 1860. This story suffers not only from a lack of evidence, but the fact that in 1860 the typewriter itself had yet to emerge.

So Wikipedia is right and a helluva lot more detailed at that.

And note how this correction came: thanks to the internet and its openness. Who would have known that Sam Huxley would read a blog post and point me to correct information — at Wikipedia? And isn’t it wonderful that the technology allowed me to correct that mistake within an hour of publication. I’m going to bet that Keen’s book may already be published and even if not, trying to fix it in an old print book will be difficult and expensive. All that only demonstrates the superiority of this new medium. But that’s another discussion.