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Monday, 10 December 2007

Doris Lessing on the Internet: it has "created a world where people know nothing", writes Asher Moses in The Sydney Morning Herald. But Moses leaps to the defence of the Net:

  • "Lessing ... barely acknowledges the internet's positive side"
  • "She said little about the opportunity for internet users to freely browse reams of information they may otherwise not have the time or know-how to seek out"
  • "She also ignored the fact that blogging has given a voice to millions who would otherwise be writing little or nothing at all"

Lessing says the Net has "seduced a whole generation into its inanities" and in a way she's right, but the real issue is not what we see on the Net. It is, rather, that the Net allows us to see what was previously obscure: most people are happily ignorant.

Moses also quotes Andrew Keen, a Net pundit whose ideas have appeared before in the newspaper. A book, The Cult of the Amateur, that purports to lament the poverty of most that is available online, actually points to a solution. Rather than fewer dilettantes, we need more.

In fact, a reason for the poverty of most blog posts and Web sites is not that they are produced by amateurs. The issue may be that those who actually possess the most knowledge are put off by the tribalism and savagery of much commentary. Especially in blog comments, these two aspects of online behaviour are to be regretted.

Putting forward an idea that diverges from the orthodox position of any blog (every blog has its own ideological banner, be it liberal, conservative, religious right, or anarchist), is sure to attract flames. And because people say online what they would hesitate to say face-to-face, the burden is on the dissenter to either expect flames or to go elsewhere.

Which may simply mean they refrain from commenting on blogs, which is a result that cannot be good for the quality of online content.

There is no evidence that, for example, book sales are suffering due to the advent of the Internet. The reverse is likely true.

But the fact remains that a strong online brand is essential if you want to attract numerous visitors to your site. This is why, despite early fears that the Net would decimate their readership, newspapers such as the one Moses writes for, are experiencing a significant rise in the number of hits per month.

In short, the communal experience most surfers treasure may end up being the downfall of many sites, as their readers realise that, in the end, the quality of the content is what matters. The challenge for established brands is to ensure that their content meets the expectations of their target demographic.

I expect fragmentation to continue. This will mean that blogs will become more specialised. This has certainly happened in the magazine world. Once upon a time, magazines were eclectic. They were also, at the same time, largely the province of a small elite. This is now no longer the case.

Whether there is room for generalist blogs is a matter of speculation. Some are already there, such as 3 Quarks Daily. This blog aggregates items from numerous sources, mainly online newspapers and magazines.

In the realm of lit blogs, a few maintain the frequency of posting required to sustain themselves. Most people have half-a-dozen or so favourite sites they visit daily.

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