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Andrew Keen is a former entrepreneur who has since recanted his enthusiasm for Silicon Valley and come out as an outspoken opponent of Web 2.0. Keen is no stranger to controversy. His 2007 book “Cult of the Amateur” argued against the wisdom of crowds and he is known for incendiary commentary, like the time he likened Web 2.0 to a communist society or when he told Stephen Colbert that the Internet is worse than Nazism. In case you were wondering, here’s his definition of blogging: “It’s all about digital narcissism, shameless self-promotion. I find it offensive."

Keen now writes at The Great Seduction, twitters @ajkeen, and speaks on a variety of topics. This week, Keen wrote that Facebook’s infusion of $200 million from Russian investors signaled “the final act of the Web 2.0 tragi-comedy.” Econsultancy caught up with him via phone while he was in Alabama this week (“studying the natives”) to discuss the death of Web 2.0 and what comes next.

Do you think that the formation of this "cult of the amateur" had anything to do with mainstream dissatisfaction with the "experts"?

I think there’s a strong cultural strain of fear and hostility towards experts and professionals. It’s a historic phenomenon, but it’s getting more and more prominent. With the Internet, the little people have the means to challenge the authorities. It’s another kind of rebellion.

You've declared Web 2.0 dead. What do you think killed it?

I think the experiment’s ended. Five years ago there was an optimism that there would be a simple transition from a professionally run media to the idea that anyone could create content and be paid for it. It simply hasn’t happened. YouTube, the third or fourth most trafficked site on the Internet still isn’t making money. The guy who ran Fake Steve Jobs – a real journalist by the way, made a public confession that he was getting out of it, because he wasn’t making any money. Web 2.0 as a business model doesn’t work.

Why do you think Facebook is doomed?

It is a narcissistic product that devalues the notion of friendship. The fact that Facebook is run by a 20-something with no business experience is a hint that it is a hubristic product that will end in tears. The only people willing to conform to their shady valuation is a Russian group. They're rolling the dice on a public offering in the future at some point. But it’s still not clear what Facebook’s business model is. We’re not in the 1990s. You can’t do that anymore.

Twitter doesn’t have a business model yet either. But you’re active on the service and have spoken positively before. How is Twitter different?

The difference is that Twitter is real time. Facebook is still based on a static version on the web and still reflects the narcissism and inanity of Web 2.0. Twitter is a bridge product. It stands between 2.0 and the future. It’s not claiming to be something that it's not, and it doesn’t fetishize friendship. It’s an open system and doesn’t make any presumptions about its users.

But isn’t Twitter more evidence of democratizing the web? Shouldn’t you hate that?

No. Democratizers believe that when you flatten a network, everyone’s empowered. I think the reverse. It’s an increasingly small oligarchy on Twitter. There’s a small group of people who have an immense amount of followers, which is an honest mirror on the way the Internet works. It offers a good example of how experts and professionals will use the technology to promote themselves in the future.

What about Twitter’s value as a news service?

It’s not a news service. When Twitter breaks news in real time you don’t know what to believe what not to believe. News services can use it. CNN is doing a good job with that.

And how about Twitter’s lack of a business model? Does that bother you?

What’s good about twitter is they’ve turned away from advertising. They could have slapped ads all over it and I think that would have failed. Twitter has to monetize its power users and emerge with a more conventional business model. Web 2.0 is all based on advertising. But ads on the Internet don’t work. Especially in respect to user generated content. Why would you spend lots of money connecting your brand to content that is dodgy that you can’t control?

What about Web 3.0? What comes next?

Clearly what comes next is a feeding frenzy on these real time services. Though we’re not entirely clear what form it will take. It just depends on what the consumer’s ready for. The interesting thing about Twitter is not the technology. It’s not innovative. It’s just that everyone’s ready for it now.
 
Final question. Why do you misspell your last name?

Ah. You’ve got the Irish spelling. I’ve got the Jewish one.

Meghan Keane

Published 29 May, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

721 more posts from this author

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Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Small Business Guest AccessSmall Business Multi-user

Andrew certainly has some strong opinions on what the future holds for the social web and hence "no stranger to controversy".

I'd like to home in on Andrew's comment about blogging "It's all about digital narcissism, shameless self-promotion. I find it offensive". Yet a fan of Twitter (a micro-blog). Here are a selection of Andrew's recent posts:

  • my Brazilian Job: doing live video #talkshow at 2.00 pm...
  • my interview @keanesian of econsultancy just went live...
  • Here's video of my presentation...
  • my Word of Mouth NPR interview today...

Are they comments of self promotion? Are they offensive? 

Sorry, I couldn't stop myself writing this...I'm one of the "little people" or maybe an "amateur" taking advantage of this social medium. I struggle with such strong opinion about the future. Who should be bet on at tomorrow's FA Cup Final?

about 7 years ago

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Ciaran

It’s not a news service. When Twitter breaks news in real time you don’t know what to believe what not to believe. News services can use it. CNN is doing a good job with that.

Except of course that it was an amateur who set up that account because CNN didn't see the potential. Keen makes many good points but his constant need to shock and cause a stir devalues a lot of what he says.

Of course it also ensures a steady stream of attention and, I assume, associated work for him.

about 7 years ago

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Christopher Rose

I couldn't help wondering all the way through this article ablout the blatant hypocrisy of a "former entrepreneur", and therefore some kind of amateur; surely that is digital narcissism of the worst kind?

Self serving nonsense such as slagging off blogging whilst being a blogger and precious little about the actual future of the web at all equals just another blowhard in my book.I was reminded all the way through this piece of the TV show, "Grumpy Old Men"!

As to the Cup Final today, my head says probably Chelsea, my Northern heart says Everton. I just hope their defence is better than the shocking performance of Manchester United the other day. I still can't believe the soft goals given away by Vidic and Ferdinand or all the rubbish in the media about Barcelona.

about 7 years ago

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Graham Jones

As a psychologist who specialises in the way people use the Internet I have followed Andrew Keen's ideas with interest, though little agreement. Like many people who make controversial claims, he ignores evidence that is contrary to his view. For instance, he says that Facebook devalues the notion of friendship. However, the few studies we have of online social networking show us the reverse is the truth. For example, the most active people in online social networks are the most active socially offline. Furthermore, studies show that people use Facebook and other social networks to deepen existing relationships, rather than extend their acquantances.

Whilst Mr Keen is clearly entitled to his views, he reduces the value of the point he makes by simply appearing to "lash out" without taking into account the actual evidence.

True, Facebook may one day whither and die due to lack of financial support. But it's biggest investor is Microsoft which is hardly run by a "20 something" with no business experience - though I do believe that is how it started and has done very well as a result. So the model Mr Keen dismisses actually appears to be a good one. And besides there are several companies that were run by experience business people that are no longer what they once were - GM, for instance, or Lehman Brothers. Experience doesn't always equal correct.

And yes, YouTube has yet to make money. But that doens't mean it is doomed to failure. It just means that Google has to work hard at working out how to make money from it. After all when Google began they had no idea how to make money out of search and the perceived "wisdom" at that time was that search was going to have to be free and that it could not be monetized. Mmm $12bn last year wasn't it for Google? Seems they worked that one out OK.

about 7 years ago

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Simon Drake

Amateurs vs Professionalism is not a fad, it has been going on since we were hunter gatherers. It's a basic battle of ego and stature, and by luck and wit some people have the upper hand.

These days some people have most of the followers on Tweeter, while most of us don't, BUT:

Some people are elevated to fame by making outlandish claims and getting publishing deals through connections, based on privelage, location or what ever else etc, and others just write blogs and have a day job.

If I'm an Amateur, and I enjoy interacting with other Amateurs, does that make me/us/Web 2.0 & Co, lesser beings?

What do the elites and professionals have to fear except for a cut in their lunch & income from amateurs eating into it?

about 7 years ago

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Jeremy Swinfen Green

There is a huge amount of common sense in what Andrew Keen says. He may state his opinions strongly but I suspect that is only because so many people state opposing opinions strongly: only last month I was at a conference where an advocate of social media said "advertising is dead; it's all about dialogue now". (I think I first heard someone say that around 1995.) Making these sort of claims isn't helpful: I think most reasonable people would agree that while social media have their uses, they don't spell the end of advertising as we know it.

Similarly with UGC: it's great to have some (I read the letters page of the Times avidly) but it's pretty thin as a content experience if that's ALL you have.

And whether or not Facebook devalues friendship, he's right that the business model is very unclear (it's hard to deny though that some people "collect" friends on facebook, and that does seem to me to be devaluing the notion of friendship). I would take issue with him about Twitter though (but then I can hardly work my mobile phone). Oh, and I'd disagree when he says that advertising online doesn't work. Some does; some doesn't. Depends how you plan it (yes, a lot of brands are going to struggle to make UGC work for them - but some have and others will.

Overall though it's really good to have someone saying "well the Emperor may not be totally naked but his nickers are pretty see through!"

about 7 years ago

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Alan Offord

If "web 2.0" really is dead as Mr. Keen suggests, then I'm looking forward to seeing what rises, phoenix like from, it's ashes. I find the web's ability to consistently defy anyone's attempts to predict it very exciting.

I've heard talk of a Twitter Elite before and I hate the thought that something as open as this platform has so managed to be so far, could become segregated. Some users should attract more followers than others, because they have something interesting to say.

On the subject of Twitter as a new way to get your news; do people trust things they see on Twitter posted by "real people" over a news channel. Is it that they think they are getting something before anyone else?

Just a thought.

about 7 years ago

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Lucy

Oh people that don't like social networking just don't know how to enjoy it, and therefore don't get anything out of it. I'm thinking it's not that much of a stretch to imagine Keen has no friends.

*meow*

about 7 years ago

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bilgicity

tenks

about 6 years ago

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Fragman

Similarly with UGC: it's great to have some (I read the letters page of the Times avidly) but it's pretty thin as a content experience if that's ALL you have

about 6 years ago

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