Clay Shirky wrote a much-linked-to essay last year about how weblogs were "amateurizing" publishing, a process that was having some fundamental changes on the price – and quality – of the words we read.
Shirky warned bloggers not to expect payment for their posts:
"The search for direct fees is driven by the belief that, since weblogs make publishing easy, they should lower the barriers to becoming a professional writer. This assumption has it backwards, because mass professionalization is an oxymoron; a professional class implies a minority of members. The principal effect of weblogs is instead mass amateurization.
... Weblogs fix the inefficiencies traditional publishers are paid to overcome one book at a time, and in a world where publishing is that efficient, it is no longer an activity worth paying for."
Now UK blogger Tom Coates has extended Shirky's argument, claiming that weblogs are a symptom of a wider phenomenon: "the mass amateurisation of (nearly) everything."
While I think Coates has stretched the idea a little too far, some of his points are worth exploring. He agrees that the internet has amateurised the process of putting words into the public domain (publishing), AND the process of getting the information in the first place (research). Other media tools like camcorders, animation software and music-making equipment are leading to other forms of mass-distributed, amateur-produced content:
"Hard-rocking poorly-animated kittens that once roamed e-mail newsletters (http://www.b3ta.com) are now showing up in adverts and credit-sequences, pop-songs written on home computers are reaching the top of the charts, weblog commentators in Iraq are getting columns in the national and international newspapers, music is being hybridised and spliced in the home for competitions on national radio stations."
Incidentally, I found an error in Tom's post. At first I thought this ironic – a spell-checker would not have registered the mistake (a "their" used instead of "there") but a professional sub-editor would have corrected it. I emailed Tom to let him know about the error – then realised that *I* was performing the sub-editing role.
Perhaps the blogosphere will eventually evolve so that the services traditionally provided by professionals – such as research, sub-editing, editing, etc. – will eventually be provided by the wider blogging community.
I think we are already seeing the beginning of professional qualities *emerging* from the blogosphere, in the way that "more important" content gets linked to more often and subsequently gets viewed more often.
And, in a sense, we are each editing one another’s ideas...