The Authorities Speaking

Responding to Robert McHenry:

If this is the authorities speaking, bring on the amateurs.

I mean, really. What sort of understanding of Web 2.0 is this column intended to represent?

Perhaps the understanding represented in the Britannica article? "In particular, many of the most vocal advocates of the Web 2.0 concept have an almost messianic view of harnessing social networking for business goals."

Um.... what?

The article reviews Web 2.0 without managing to touch on any of its essential features, things such as AJAX, APIs and REST. Neither does it manage to address things like tagging and folksonomy. And it barely mentions things like social networking, user generated content and the wisdom of crowds.

Perhaps if McHenry had some idea *what* he was looking for he would be in a position to talk about it. Instead we get a criticism so generic it can be applied to things as diverse as Gleem and the 60s.

If that were all, I would have just left this. But we are treated in addition to an offensive and ignorant stereotyping of people in South America and New Guinea. Perhaps McHenry is relying on Britannica's 1890 edition for information about the dark continents.

And we are finally treated to pseudo-sociology. "Most people seem to behave most of the time as though they are confident that someone else is in charge."

I would like to see the study that supports this (of course there is none; he made it up).

It is likely that they think someone else is in charge, because - empirically - someone else *is* in charge. Very few of us are Prime Ministers or CEOs, which means that very few of us are actually in charge.

Whether they have confidence in those people is a different matter. Mostly these people are not interested so much in leading us as in looting us.

I sincerely doubt that Adler was "a more thoroughgoing democrat" than I, or at least, this argument fails completely to convince me of that.

I am one of those who "gabble" about the gatekeepers. I rail against them precisely because I believe everybody is educable. But where I differ is, by 'educable' I do not mean 'can be like Adler'. I believe people can choose their own way and their own culture, without having some self-proclaimed experts telling them what is literature and what is crap.

Which returns us to Web 2.0.

On the basis of, well, nothing, McHenry has decided that Web 2.0 belongs to the category of 'crap' rather than 'literature'.

As though - what? Literature could only be produced through things that are not Web 2.0? That literature could only be produced by the elite, not the "educable" masses?

McHenry huffs about "Western ideals... especially the ones about liberty and democracy and consent of the governed and all that sort of thing."

If Web 2.0 is genuinely a means of allowing the "educable" masses to express themselves, or even to govern themselves, then it is the *instantiation* of those ideals. Hardly the antithesis.

I think that McHenry would quiver in terror at the thought of those "educable" masses actually seizing the reins of power without first being subject to an appropriate indoctrination program.

For otherwise, he might face the terrible prospect of being governed by people with a current and detailed knowledge of culture, technology, politics, law and sociology (ie.: who’s on “American Idol,” what’s the deal with the iPhone, will Fred Thompson declare, should Scooter Libby be pardoned, and, yes, whither Web 2.0).

The horror! The horror!

Update (June 26): this response, which remained on the Britannica site for most of yesterday, has been removed from the site today.

Update (July 26): I received this in my email yesterday: "We just noticed this post on your blog (as a result of the post by Rita Kop that mentioned it). I've talked to all of our blog administrators, and none of them recalls seeing your comment at any point, so I don't know what happened here. We almost never take down a comment once it's gone through moderation, and only then if there's found to be something highly objectional about it. If the text of your comment was the same as the post on your blog, there's no reason why we would have blocked it. If you'd like to resend it please do, and I'll make sure it gets posted promptly. Best, Tom Panelas
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc."

Update (August 3):
Okay, it's up there:
By the way, by any chance did you compose the original comment in Word and paste it in? We've discovered one or two other instances of disappearing comments, and we're trying to troubleshoot it. Corrupted characters orginating in MS Word *may* be at the root of those, though like evolution, at the moment that's only a theory.
We of course want to make it so you can compose in anything you want and paste it in, so we're working on that.


  1. It is baffling that Britannica has taken down your comment (and my comment commenting on the removal). It links in with your other posts on knowledge and truth and how important it is to Britannica to show more than one point of view. They clearly only want to show that one idea matters, rather than all 'ideas matter' as they imply in their logo.


Post a Comment

Your comments will be moderated. Sorry, but it's not a nice world out there.

Popular Posts