When I read the title of Andrew Keen's book "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy" a few months ago my attention was immediatelly cought. Somebody actually had the nerve to claim that the 2.0-isation of the world is causing the end of our civilisation. The comments spoke about a controversial and thought provoking book, so it didn't take long before I was on www.azur.be to buy the book.
When it landed on my doorstep a few days later I was immediatelly fascinated. Well written, some intelligent ideas and the writer raised a number of subjects I have been feeling uncomfortable with for some time. Like for example "How can one be sure that what's in Wikipedia is accurate?"
But once you get past the first page, the only strong point left is "well written". The remainder of the book basically collects all kind of things going wrong in the world, to then find a way to blame the internet for that. And that then leads to the conclusion that because consumers have found back their voice and power (through the internet as a means of communication) will lead to the end of the civilized world.
My conclusion: a lot of bullshit! But this is mainly a missed opportunity to start a conversation about real problems. Nobody disagrees that it is rather annoying when a person with bad intentions uses his people-power to change history in Wikipedia to his own advantage, or when a good blog is messed up with useless comments of a frustrated idiot.
The heart of the matter is that thanks to the new means of communication that the internet has given us, everybody can now do what used to be the privilege of mass media or people with a lot of money. The advantage back in the days was that those (mass media & rich people) were limited in numbers, so you always knew where stuff came from. Newspapers in Belgium used to be a nice example of that, "De Morgen" was made by left-wingers and De Standaard was written by conservative catholics. Today those lines have blurred, but more importantly, a lot of sources of information have been added. Blogs and podcasts, Youtube, Wikipedia and even that e-mail about a girl gone missing of which you do not know whether it's another hoax or not.
The problem is that most of these new sources are anonymous. You know who wrote a blogpost, but comments are often written without leaving a trace. The controversies about Wikipedia always go back to some anonymous nitwit who has adapted an article or an ambitious student pretending to be a Harvard professor.
Remember the internet fuckwad theory? That's what it's all about:
So the solution is simple, in theory that is. For years discussions have been going on about an "identity layer" that is missing on the internet. Everybody can surf and communicates as good as anonymously. Although an IP address allows for identification, in practice it can hardly be used. And no matter how many times we log into all kinds of websites, it takes five minutes to create yourself a new identity. Your home banking tool may be secure, but a Facebook or Hotmail account is fixed in no time without real verification of who you are.
If there would be one or more generally accepted system that allow users to identify themselves once, to the be "logged in" automatically no matter where you go, then we would no longer surf anonymously. So you come to a new site, and immediately get all kinds of extended features that now require you sign up once again. And if people can surf fully identified with the same comfort as they do today anonymously, it'll be so much easier to build rich platforms for interaction.
A lot of people have been working on this idea, and the most interesting idea for managing identity I found is OpenID.
Identity is the key to a flourishing 2.0 society where communication is open and free. Oh and the book, don't buy it.
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