Monday, May 21, 2007

Living with the Anarchy of Web 2.0

Caroline McCarthy has finally decided to weigh in on the Engadget story from last week, in which the release of an unfounded (and false) rumor sent the Apple stock price on a ride that wrenched the guts of shareholders, if no one else. Ms. McCarthy wrote a "think piece" for CNET, which seemed appropriate since, like many others, I first encountered the story on the CNET News Blog. My initial reaction (written, I must confess, immediately after reading the News Blog post) was to think less about the Apple shareholders and more about what this story was telling us about the Web 2.0 world, where everything happens at "Internet speed" without very much (if any) regulatory intervention:

However, as it was introduced, this is really a story about consequences, particularly the consequences of a world that now moves at Internet speed. Ellen Goodman wrote about this sort of thing in news reporting last month in her piece entitled, "The Benefits of Slow Journalism;" but I would guess that she does not share very many readers with CNET.

Certainly, if Ms. McCarthy was aware of Ms. Goodman's column, she gave no indication of it, other than applying "slow journalism" practices in preparing her own comments. While Ms. McCarthy used this as an opportunity to warn us about "the era of gullibility 2.0," I think she missed out on some important points (which, to be fair, also were not addressed by Ms. Goodman):

  1. The whole premise of the blogosphere is that anyone can play, no matter how uninformed one may be of petty details like professional standards (let alone the world as it happens to be when you look closely at it).
  2. By lauding this premise, Web 2.0 evangelists make a virtue out of taking action without giving any consideration to consequences.

To some extent the "lesson" from Ms. McCarthy's piece is as inevitable as it is familiar:

Let the reader beware!

This would be good enough were not that, in the broader context of the Web 2.0 vision, the "reader" is not necessarily an active participant. The most recent example is the owner of that house in Tacoma that got trashed due to a bogus Craigslist item.

It does seem as if there is some element in human nature that tends to ignore consequences, unless it is just a more general aversion to "inconvenient" thoughts. In many ways this is become the windmill that I am most fixated on challenging. On my last blog I used the "consequences" tag twelve time; but on this one, as I write this post (and before I tag it) the count is already up to 85, the most recent being yesterday's reflection on Jimmy Carter. I doubt that I shall ever vanquish the windmill; but, if I can get a few more people to start using the word in their respective working vocabularies, then I may be able to take at least a little satisfaction in my efforts!

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