Interesting little case study this, of the way our modern media works, and just how connected our worlds are.
It all starts with a fire, affecting the offices of a company I know. Fortunately being an IT company that practices what it preaches, the team there had backed up all their data over a broadband line to the MD’s house. That last sentence alone is pretty telling of how far we have come in terms of data speeds in the last five years — that backing up a whole IT company’s files is realistic over a home broadband line. But it is what happens after this that gets more interesting.
The company’s PR agent sees the opportunity to make some capital out of this, and having struggled to get the interest of the media in his client beforehand now returns to them with the story of the fire. So far so traditional — but good — PR. But next the PR posts the whole episode on his blog, then contacts his blogging chums (including yours truly), and asks them to link to it to raise the blog’s profile. Of course his mobile number is posted at the bottom should any journos come across it and want to speak to his client. Clever.
I don’t know whether this will work, but it is an interesting example of the constant manipulation of the web, and the tools and algorithms that govern a site’s popularity and search ranking.
It reminded me about an article in Sunday’s Observer where Web 2.0 naysayer Andrew Keen received some fairly hefty coverage. Having read Andrew’s blog he doesn’t exactly agree with his portrayal in the article, but he is genuinely against the ‘cult of the amateur’ as he calls it. He seems to have two issues. Firstly that in the online world, people can be totally self-defining, or as he puts it “we are what we broadcast ourselves to be”. The lack of checks and balances on our online personas is ‘infantilising’. Secondly that the open ability to post and edit on blogs or sites like Wikipedia devalues or bypasses genuine measures of achievement; i.e. you have to be qualified to be a doctor, be published to be an author etc.
I’d like to read Andrew’s book before I start laying in to his theories, but my immediate reaction is a negative one. The online world that we inhabit today is an infant, not infantilising. It is an embryonic community where the rules are still being set, and like any society, those rules will need to be constantly refined to accommodate changes in technology and culture. While manipulations of the system like the attempt above are today possible, and even legitimate, the chances are that the evolution of the system will make them more difficult and less acceptable. And at the same time the experts today disenfranchised by disintermediation will rise to their rightful positions as they become more acquainted with the technology, and the rules are put in place to grant them the respect they deserve.