Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Person Of The Year: You, Asleep At The Wheel And Letting The Pundit Drive



It's terribly fashionable to be "you" in this day and age, an era of rising grassroots power on the Internet. Even TIME thinks so.

YouTube is a $1.65 billion hit. Wikipedia is God, the Bible, or both. MySpace and Facebook and Friendster and LiveJournal and Xanga and....well, you get the emo-soaked point.

But is this really an egalitarian revolution? Hell, is this even a revolution at all?

The ability - rather, the power - to control so many resources is unprecedented in history. What centuries ago used to be relegated only to monks is now in the hands of most men, women and children.

But is anyone actually doing anything more than signing up for it? And for the minority that actually contribute - do we care what they say?

MarketWatcher Bambi Francisco explains it perfectly:

Today, however perilous it may be, businesses are relying more on the audience, or the user -- to use the au courant term -- to tap into their self-absorbed, I-am-somebody, navel-gazing inclinations. Turn your readers into writers, is one of the mantras of Wikia, a wiki-hosting service.

Self-absorbed. Navel-gazing. Opinionated pundits. Volunteer experts.

Is anyone even raising their hand? BloggersBlog doesn't think so. And when they do, does it matter?

WikiMaster Jimbo Wales has said that Wikipedia, in reality, is vetted by a small percentage of the total users of the site. "There is this tight community that is actually doing the bulk of all the editing", he explained at the Oxford Internet Institute. "It's a group of around a thousand to two thousand people."

So maybe the power's there, but few uses it. After all, for every five comments on Gawker, how many people do you think read the entry and formed an opinion in the back of their head?

It seems only the persisent (or extreme) make the cut. That's not to say Wikipedia, for example, doesn't have fabulously detailed and structured articles added by historians or scientists - but for every one of those, there's ten Jon Bon Jovi pages with haphazard, cut-and-paste trivia that eschews any kind of context or definition.

And that's only that small percentage who actually contribute. Check out Church of the Customer's fabulous analysis.

So really, is this a grassroots revolution? Or is this another pop culture phenomenon gone awry - a new tech-version of a hippie minority putting a non-representative face on the largely apathetic masses?

I think the latter. I may not have articulated my point well enough, but it comes down to this: The Person of the Year isn't "you." It's "them." We have the power to -- we're just too busy and amused watching a minority use it.

I wonder what Steve Outing thinks about this.

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