Evolution is driven by selection and attrition. The adapted ones flourish and the others wither away into oblivion. That also means that new and improved versions (of our genetically previous us for example) are build upon the DNA of the already improved version. And that is a Good Thing. As well as being the main reason we evolved in creatures that created Internet, Blogging and Youtube.
One of the nice aspects of the days before the Internet was that a lot of mechanism were available to filter talent so we will not be pestered by people incapable of the content they are pestering us with. In order to make a movie you had to go to a academy and before somebody gave you a budget you had to prove you have the talent by showing previous work, e.g. work done as an assistant to somebody else.
Also, quality costs money. Well, in most cases anyhow. You can not imagine a movie like Schindlers list, Moulin Rouge or Forrest Gump made on a shoestring budget. Talent costs money. High level camera’s costs money. There are of course the proverbial exceptions: El Mariachi from Robert Rodriquez (7000 dollar budget) and maybe The Blair witch project (or was this the first example of Internet hype?). But normally big budgets show through the quality of the movie and increases the chance of a good evening.
At the moment all filters have been removed for producing content. A camera can be bought for a few hundred euro’s, everybody wants to be a star and once uploaded to Youtube, you and me can watch it (or have to plough through it in order to find interesting work). According to Andrew Keens and this book “The Cult of the Amateurs” this will kill our culture. Everything will gravitate to mediocrity because we do not have filters to prevent the amateurs from publishing.
As you can imagine lots of comments are heard from the blogosphere. People like Jeff Jarvis, Dave Winer and others are scolding him for placing doubts on the Great New Future that we are entering (though Clay Shirky has a much more balanced opinion). Where all people have numerous ways to express themselves and democracy will set us free. Problem is that with all those people expressing themselves, who will listen? Who will risk the time and money to produce quality content and will we find it? If you look at Wikipedia it is obvious that much information is in there because people first found it in serious media like encyclopedia’s and copied it or wrote it from recollection. When Wikipedia has starved the encyclopedia’s: who will do the research needed to separate fact from fiction? We might end up as the monkey behind the typewriter (or the “improved” version behind Microsoft Word).
One of the things we have to realize is that our filters from production side are gone. We now have to create the filters on the consumer side. Youtube is a million times crap and a few diamonds (and everything in between). And my kind of diamond may not be yours…. Research into the mechanisms to filter content are only just beginning. Number of views is a very basic mechanism. We need much more advanced mechanism based on who did the tagging, how does his profile look like me, did he stop looking after 3, 15 or 300 seconds. And much, much more. The amount of noise we have to filter is not ten times as loud but a million or more times as loud. This I think is one of the most important directions for research.
An important one I think is that our current structures to create quality are under pressure. When there are numerous producers most will all barely make a living. As consumers we get our niche content on the long tail but won’t we miss the high quality content? Music selling three times a month may be a business model for Rhapsody but it is no viable business model for the artist. Who is going to support the journalist that has to do deep and extensive research (who would uncover Watergate)?
I love the Internet, I (to my surprise) love blogging, I love Youtube and fact that many can express themselves. I love the freedom that “zero cost” distribution means for the availability of niche content. But beware of the Evangelists who only look at the positive side of this.
As a colleague of mine, Rogier Brussee, always says: people remain people, in real life and on the Internet. Same goals, same dreams, same motives. Good and Bad. The difference is some limits are removed that we have in normal life are not there on the Internet, for the good as well as the bad guys. For this we have to create new modes of organization. Like the reputation mechanism on E-bay, Karma on Slashdot and others.
Evolution as a society means adapting ourselves to a new reality, the good and the bad sides. Turning a blind eye to all the negative aspect means that (human) nature takes care of the attrition of all the wonderful possibilities that there are because many people will stop using them. Only the fittest survive. And that is a Good Thing!