About the Author:    Andrew Keen is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur whose writings on culture, media and technology have appeared in top national dailies of the world. He is the founder of and Chief Executive Officer of He is also the host of the acclaimed internet show, AfterTv and frequently appears on radio and television. Keene lives in Berkeley, California.



About the Book: Cult of the Amateur is a two hundred and forty-two (242) paged book, which is divided into eight (8) chapters, with further notes and acknowledgments/index. It was published in the United States of America in 2007 by Doubleday, an imprint of the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. With the ISBN Serial No: 978-0-385-52080-5.



Andrew Keene compares the pre-internet age, with today’s technology world where he draws an analogy of T.H. Huxley’s scenario of infinite monkeys empowered with infinite technology seemed more like a mathematical jest than a dystopian vision.

Keen emphasizes the consequences of a flattening of culture that is blurring the lines between traditional audience and author, creator and consumer, expert and amateur. In the Cult of the Amateur, Keen reveals the world of Web 2.0 where amateur internet users are likened to monkeys. These amateurs with less talent in the creative arts, rather than creating masterpieces for online consumption, are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity. He gives examples such as wikis (Wikipedia), blogs, YouTube, search engines (Google) and many more. He explained that blogging has become an obsession, such that a new blog is created every second of every minute of every hour of every day.

See: The Internet_

The nature of blogging according to Keen is centered on the personal lives of individuals which exemplifies their amateurism. He affirmed this by stating that the New York Times reports that 50 percent of all bloggers blog for the sole purpose of reporting and sharing experiences about their personal lives. The number of blogs has increased exponentially since then. Blogs have become so dizzyingly infinite that they have undermined our sense of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is imaginary.

The emergence of social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter has led to the images (1)proliferation of amateurs.  More interestingly, old media is facing extinction due to the activities of individuals on the internet competing with mainstream media for the audience attention. As traditional mainstream media is replaced by a personalized one. Amateurs are creating contents through wikis (Wikipedia), blogs, YouTube and generating advert revenue. Similarly, the profits of major mainstream media like newspaper companies (New York Times Company) in the world have plummeted as a result of the technologies of Web 2.0. Some of these companies faced financial challenges in such a manner that they at one point laid off their workers. The rise of YouTube has posed a major threat to the sales of movies by Hollywood, thereby reducing their revenue.

In the Cult of the Amateur, non-professionals have become experts, authors, producers, editors, and cultural gatekeepers as the audience crave for more and more information. As the nature of audience interest determines the type of content generated.

CHAPTER ONE – The Great Seduction

In this chapter, Keen’s  analysis of the concept of Web 2.0 generally describes him as a pessimist who sees nothing good in Internet revolution. He thrashed the subject matter on the ‘Cost of Democratization’. He stated that “because democratization, despite its lofty idealization, is undermining truth, sourcing civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience and talent, it is threatening the very future of our cultural institutions.” This he referred to as “the Great Seduction”.  He argues that those of us who want to know more about the world, those of us who are the consumers of mainstream culture are being seduced by the empty promise of the “democratized” media. “For the real consequence of the is less culture, less reliable news, and a chaos of useless information.”

Keen provided many instances to prove that the internet rather to be a blessing to humanity, has negatively affected us culturally, economically and intellectually. According to Keen, what the World Wide Web (WWW) is giving us today is a ‘superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment’. Before this, Keen had described how he left the family of the internet geek to become an ‘Unbeliever’ of the Internet cult due to his experience in the FOO camp. Keen explained that the Web 2.0 revolution has left content creation to amateurs who have no professional qualification to understand the nitty-gritty of news production, article writing, and moviemaking. This according to him has in all ramifications relegated experts in this field to the background.

Internet Cult of Now

However, Keen’s definition of whom an ‘expert’ is vague. He sees an expert as someone who possesses an academic qualification in a particular field or subject matter. While according to the English dictionary, an expert is a ‘person with extensive knowledge or ability in a given subject’. On the Web 2.0, there are a lot of the so called ‘amateur’ who possess extensive knowledge in what they are doing without having an academic qualification. Are these people also amateur? This goes a long way to prove right Keen’s subjective analysis of the Web 2.0. From Keen’s choice of word in this chapter, one is likely to see a contradiction in his inability to present an argument and stick with it without diversion.

Keen’s comparison of the internet users with the “Infinite monkey concept” intensively reveals the deliberate misrepresentation present in his book. Even when Keen tried to praise some of the beneficiary features of the Web 2.0, he ended satisfying his “unbeliever ego” he has on the coming of the Web 2.0. According to the Monkey Theorem, “if you provide infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters, some monkey somewhere will eventually create a masterpiece”. But Keen argued that instead of creating masterpieces, these internet amateurs are creating an “endless digital forest of mediocrity”. This is also not true. One cannot deny the fact the Web 2.0 has led to more fact been available to users. Information is being quickly denied and confirmed via Web 2.0. Day in day out, masterpieces is being created on the internet. Duo, Keen maybe right in some of his argument, however his stance on the use of the product of Web 2.0 like Blog, MySpace, Wikipedia, YouTube and his comparison of the traditional media to these Internet site is somewhat out of place. According to him, the traditional media has professional gatekeepers who edit content before publishing making the content generated a perfect example of artistic presentation, while in the Web 2.0, everybody is a content producer, an editor and a publisher producing propaganda as true information. Keene may have forgotten to tell us that the issue of false information, rumour and propaganda started and spread wide with the use of these traditional media. These media aided the spread of propaganda and false information without giving the people the means to resist it.

However, even though Web 2.0 has its own share of blame here, it has made lot of false information and propaganda to be busted than the traditional media who has the so called ‘expert’ as gatekeepers. Therefore, Keen’s  qualification of the Web 2.0 as comprising ‘amateur writers, amateur producers, amateur technicians, and amateur audience” further shows the author personal bias in the whole book who sees nothing good in the internet revolution.


CHAPTER TWO – The Noble Amateur

Keene started this chapter with the remark that “every revolution on behalf of some seemingly noble abstraction. And the Web 2.0 revolution is no different. The noble abstraction behind the digital revolution is that of the ‘noble amateur’. He stated that the first time he heard the phrase ‘noble amateur’ was in 2004 at a breakfast with friend of O’Reilly. Keen, in quoting this friend, stated that “noble amateurs would democratize… the dictatorship of expertise.” He further quoted him by expressing that “the Web 2.0 was the most awesomely democratic consequence of the digital revolution.

Keen believes that the ‘noble amateur’ is at the heart of Web 2.0’s Cultural Revolution and threatens to turn our intellectual traditions and institutions upside down. He argued that in one sense, it is a digitalized version of Rousseau’s noble savage, representing the triumph of innocence over experience, of romanticism over the commonsense wisdom of the Enlightenment.

user_generated_content_02He defined amateur as a hobbyist, knowledgeable or otherwise, someone who does not make a living from his or her field of interest, a layperson, lacking credentials, a dabbler.  He points out that on today’s internet amateurism, rather than expertise, is celebrated. Keen explained that the Oxford English Dictionary and the Encyclopaedia Britannica, two trusted reference volumes upon which we have long relied for information, are being replaced by Wikipedia and other user generated resources. Using a clear contrast, he stated that the professional is being replaced by the amateur, the lexicographer by the layperson, the Harvard professor by the unschooled populace.

Keen criticized that Wikipedia allows absolutely anyone (amateurs) to add and edit entries on its Web site. He likens the concept of democracy to what is obtainable in the contemporary Web 2.0 revolution where everybody is free to their views and opinions. He further revealed that Wikipedia’s entry for the word amateur as “virtuoso” and a “connoisseur”, which has been amended by other editors more than fifty times since June 2001. He criticized Wikipedia’s editors, stating that they “embrace and revel in the commonness of their knowledge.” And he ironically pointed out that “on Wikipedia, two plus two sometimes does equal five.” In this chapter, Keen takes a full scale attack on Wikipedia. He provided example “Essjay an avid Wikipedia contributor who had edited thousands of Wikipedia articles under a false identity. He claimed that he was a tenured professor of theology with four academic degrees, as his profile claimed. On the contrary, he was a twenty-four year old high school graduate from Kentucky named Ryan Jordan with no academic or professional credentials. Keene made reference to the comments of Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia on the issue. He quoted Wales in an interview with The New Yorker; “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it”. Keene stated that Wales is himself a graduate school drop-out from both the University of Alabama and Indiana University. He raises a critical question, “how does Wales know who’s right?”

Keen sub-divided this chapter into three parts, they are namely: – ‘Citizen Journalists’, ‘The Liquid library’ and ‘A Burrito in Every Hand.’

Citizen Journalists

Keene points out that “Citizen journalists” are also members of the amateur. He argued this point by stating that “the amateur pundits, reporters, writers, commentators, and critics on the blogosphere carry the banner of the noble amateur on Web 2.0. He emphasized that citizen journalism is a euphemism for what is referred to as “journalism by nonjournalists”. Keene makes a sharp contrast between professional journalists and citizen journalists. Where the former, acquire their craft through education and firsthand experience of reporting and editing. While the latter have no formal training or expertise, “yet they routinely offer up opinion as fact, rumour as reportage, and innuendo as information.”

Citizen smartphone journalism
Citizen Journalists

One leading champion of citizen journalism, Dan Gillmor, author of the crusading “We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People,” argues that the news should be a conversation among ordinary citizens rather than a lecture that we are expected to blindly accept as truth. But the responsibility of a journalist is to inform us, not to converse with us. (Keen, 2007:63)

On the blogosphere, publishing one’s own “journalism” is free, effortless, and unencumbered by pesky ethical restraints or bothersome editorial board. (Keen, 2007:47) Keene pointed out that despite the contributions of citizen journalists in bringing news and information; they do not simply have the resources to bring us reliable news. He argued that they lack not only expertise and training, but connections and access to information.

Liquid Library

There is no doubt that the presence of the internet has contributed to the fall of intellectual property rights. These rights include that of writers and publishers. This is being attributed to Kelvin Kelly whose aim is focused at “digitalizing all books into a single universal and open-source free hypertext—like a huge literary Wikipedia” (Keen, 2007:57). Keene is against giving the online amateurs the privilege of remixing, indexing, annotating, reassembling and analyzing the “Liquid Version” (Online Version) of the book. He believes that if it is being altered, then it will lose it taste, “Is Crime and Punishment still Crime and Punishment if you remove the scene where Raskolnikov murders the pawnbroker?” (Keen, 2007:57).

The Cult of Amateur according to Keene threatens the world of design, fashion and advertising. Efforts that are being appreciated with a huge among of money have folded due to the presence of amateurs. Professionals no longer get royalties and rewards for their creative work and effort. However, the amateurs who are not wise give out their creative efforts for a small penny. According to Keene (2007:61), “Companies have come to realize that not only is the amateur ad cheaper, but consumers have come to see it as rawer, less polished, and somehow more “real” or true than an ad prepared by a professional agency.” Companies deceive them to design different things all in the name of completion and end of using their creativity to sustain their businesses and earn profit.

Keene argues that what the Web 2.0 gives us is an infinitely fragmented culture in which we are hopelessly lost as to how to focus our attention and spend our limited time.

A Burrito in Every Hand

In this segment, Keen argued that the cult of the amateur threatens the world of design, fashion and advertising. He stated that in an argument with design maven Joe Duffy, founder of Duffy Designs in October 2006, they argued about the democratization of the art design, that “anyone can and should be a designer.” He points out that companies like Wal-Mart have begun to calculatingly play to our false assumptions about the “realness” of the amateur, getting free advertising in the process. (Keene, 2007:61)

Keen points out that amateurs are celebrated by large companies as part of a marketing ploy, especially where amateur advertisements are used by this companies as commercials. He gave example of companies like Nike, MasterCard, Toyota, and L’Oreal that have run similar user-generated marketing contests. Keene further affirmed that a whole user-created “advertising platform” is even being pioneered by an Atlanta-based company called ViTrue, enabling consumers to create, produce, and upload their own video advertisements. And in relation to this, Keen wrote that one of ViTrue’s early customers is the fast-growing restaurant franchise “Moe’s Burrito in Every Hand” is being produced by amateur videographers (the creators of the best ad will Moe’s burritos for life).

Keen revealed that these “campaigns manipulate our sensibility while undercutting the work of traditional advertising agencies and the talented people they employ.” He therefore inferred that we are giving away our time and our creative output to corporations like Wal-Mart or MasterCard in return for free burritos.


CHAPTER THREE – Truth and Lies

This chapter categorically revealed some new revelation about the internet. It emphasizes the fact that each day that passes, there are questions concerning the reliability of truth and the accuracy of the information the masses get from the internet. It posits that in the digital world’s continuous stream of unfiltered user-generated content, the journalistic ethical considerations regarding truth, reliability, credibility among others becomes an illusion. This is largely due to the democratization of the Web 2.0. This chapter is further sub-divided into nine (9) parts. They are:

Can you believe it?

In this segment, Keen revealed the nature of truth in the Web 2.0 style with well-researched evidences and annotations such as the mock news cast on YouTube of popular German news show in September 2006, which was a fraud. Another cited example was in November 2006 congressional elections in the United States YouTube in a campaign advertisement for Vernon Robinson. The video was a distasteful attack on Brad Miller, Robinson’s Democratic opponent. When criticized for mud-slinging, Vernon Robinson claimed that the video had never been approved for distribution. He claimed that someone out it on YouTube. On the contrary, these scenarios were basically for political propaganda purpose. In Keen’s words, “Is this a valid excuse for defamatory campaign tactics and blatant distortion of truth?”


According to Keen, “the viral, editor-free nature of YouTube allows anyone from neo-Nazis, to propagandists to campaign staffers to anonymously post deceptive, misleading, manipulative, or out-of-context videos. Keene referred to this as the “future of politics in a Web 2.0 world. He emphasized that the supposed democratization medium of user-generated content (UGC) is creating a tabloid-style ‘gotcha’ culture, where one thoughtless throwaway remark overshadows an entire platform, and lifelong political careers are destroyed by an off-the-cuff joke at the end of a long campaign day. (Keen, 2007:67)


Furthermore, Keen stresses that when information on politics and policy is so easily skewed or distorted, it is the electorates, who lose. From his analysis on the use of YouTube as a medium for political propaganda, Keene points out; “the YouTubification of politics is a threat to civic culture. It infantilizes the political process, silencing public discourse and leaving the future of the government up to thirty-second video clips shot by camcorder-wielding amateur with political agendas. (Keen, 2007:68)

The truth about 9/11

In this part, a true life account of three would-be filmmakers in the United States was examined by Keene in pointing out the use Web 2.0 technologies by amateurs to trash history about an event that cost thousands of American lives, provoked a global backlash against Islam, and instigated two wars.  These filmmakers produced an eighty minutes movie titled Loose Change. The documentary which was originally conceived as a fictional story that claimed the 9/11 terrorist attacks were organized and carried out by the Bush administration. The documentary provided a different and distorted version of the events in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. According to Keene, “the movie,  Loose Change rose to the number-one spot on Google Video’s “Top 100” by May 2006, generating ten million viewing in its first year alone.” He emphasized that “that’s tem million people being fundamentally misled about one of the most cataclysmic events in America history. This was in spite of the fact that the 9/11 Commission discredited the claims made by the documentary in its final report. Keene explained that the “report took two years to compile, cost $15million and was written by two governors, four congressmen, three former White House officials, and two special counsels.” He therefore raises a fundamental mind-boggling question; “So whom do you trust? Three twenty-some-thing amateurs with no college education or a team of experts that included America’s brightest and most experienced elected officials and investigators?”

See Loose Change:

Scammers and Spammers

images (2)

Scamming and spamming are not words that are alien to internet pundits in the world. However, the revolution of Web 2.0 technologies has given a large and open playing field to online fraudsters.  Keene gave examples of events that have taken place such as the “e-mails from the Nigerian entrepreneur who promises a million-dollar return on a ‘small’ investment in his oil company, or from an unknown address claiming to be from your credit card company asking to verify your card number.” Keene also added that spammers seize control of innocent computer networks, turning them into botnets by programming them to automatically send out spam that will then appear to be from a trustworthy source. (Keene, 2007:70)

Sex, Lies and the Internet

Keene explored the concept of anonymity in the present-day internet of Web 2.0 where individual internet users manipulate and frame facts for their personal benefits. He gave an illustration of an event in September 2006 of a Seattle-based techie, James Fortuny who posted an ad under an invented female identity in the “casual encounters” section of Craigslist, the virtual marketplace for one-night stands and anonymous sex partners. According Keene, “Fortuny received 178 responses and proceeded to post them on his Web site including the men’s names, photos of them naked, even the identities of their wives.” Fortuny referred to his action as a ‘petty prank’, nonetheless, the reputations, careers, marriages and families of these individuals were badly affected. In the words of Keene, “this case underscores the dangers inherent in an editorless medium where the only rules are that there are no rules”. He added that in irony, “the very people who seek anonymity in the Web 2.0 were done in by it. Hence, “the Web’s cherished anonymity can be a weapon as well as a shield.”

According to Keene, that fact is that rumours and lies disseminated online can tarnish reputations and ruin careers.

In contrasting online journalism with traditional media, Keene stated that “antidefamation and libel laws protect people from these kinds of vicious character assassinations. But due in parts to the ‘anonymity’ casualness of most Web postings, these laws have been hard to enforce in the digital world. He further added that “the owners of traditional newspapers and news networks are held legally accountable for the statements of their reporters, anchors, and columnists, encouraging them to uphold a certain standard of truth in the content they allow in their paper or their air.”  “Websites owners on the other hand, are not liable for what is posted by a third party.

On the contrary, Keene questioned the anonymity claims by some Websites owners on the premise of “protection of free speech.” He buttressed that as long as the owners if Websites and blogs are not held accountable, they have little encouragement or incentive to question or evaluate the information they post.

He provided a story on a lawsuit file by a Pennsylvania lawyer named Todd Hollis against defamatory messages against him on a site called He won the lawsuit in a bid to clear his name; however, his reputation was tainted due to the publicity surrounding the suit.

Keen pointed out the fact that with no one to step in and question the veracity of information in the digital world, mistakes, lies, and rumours multiplying like germs. In a contrast, he emphasized that before the Web 2.0, our collective intellectual history has been one driven by the careful aggregation of truth, through professionally edited books and references materials, newspapers, radio and television. But as all information becomes digitalized and democratized, and is made universally and permanently available the media record becomes an Internet on which misinformation never goes away.

Talking about lies, Keene stated that “on the Web, rumours and misinformation from even a single source can spread with frightening speed. He also wrote that it is impossible to stop the spread of misinformation, let alone identify its source. Future readers often inherit and repeat this misinformation, compounding the problem, creating a collective memory that is deeply flawed.

See:  Andrew Keene – The Internet is not the answer – The Next Web.

Lonely Guys and Sock Puppet

Keene revealed that fake identities on the Internet have, in fact, become so widely adopted. They have been given their own term: “sock puppet,” meaning the alter ego through which one speaks on an online community or posts on a blog. Hence the sources of information are of unknown origin and often lead to mistrust. He gave two examples of a couple of puppets called Mikekoshi and sprezzatura. These names are the moniker or identities in which these individuals created online. With these new identities, online bloggers are post without fear of the implications of their contents. According to Keene, this is different in traditional news media, where there is no such thing as anonymity. Articles and op-eds run with bylines, holding reporters and contributors responsible for the content they create.

Keene stated that “Sock puppetry (both literal and figurative) is rampant on YouTube as well. In fact, the lies on YouTube are so well told that they have become detective stories in their own right. He provided a good example of YouTube’s lonelygirl15.

See: Lonelygiel15:

Keene writes that all this points to a fundamental flaw with our user-driven content. He added that we are never sure if what we read or see is what it seems. The user-run Internet not only allows, but encourages, the invention of false identity.

The Blogosphere and the Bazaar

In the Blogosphere and the Bazaar, Keene highlights the arguments of some people that the Web 2.0 and the blogosphere represent a return to the vibrant democratic intellectual culture of the eighteenth-century London coffeehouse. However, he emphasized that some of the notable intellectuals of that era such as Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, and James Boswell did not hide in anonymity while debating one another.

In further analysis, Keene writes that “Trust is the very foundation of any community. Every social contract theorist from Hobbes and Locke to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, recognizes that there can be no peaceful political arrangement without a common pact. And, as anthropologist Ernest Gellner argues in his classic Nations and Nationalism, the core modern social contract is rooted in our common culture, in our language, and in our shared assumptions about the world.”

In reference to Gellner, Keene writes that “Modern man is socialized by what the anthropologist calls a common “high culture.” Our community and cultural identity, Gellner says, come from newspapers and magazines, television, books, and movies. Mainstream media provides us with common frames of reference, a common conversation, and common values.”

Keene further cited Benedict Anderson, in Imagined Communities which explained that modern communities are established through the telling of common stories, the formation

Library of Babel

Keene draws insight from a short essay written in 1939 by Jorge Luis Borges titled “The Total Library,” where he predicted the horrors of the infinite library, one that has no center, no logic. Instead, it is a chaos of information, “composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries.”(Keene, 2007:84)

Keene affirmed that Borges’ “The Total Library” is today’s Internet, anonymous, incorrect, chaotic and overpowering. “It is a place where there is no concrete reality, no right and wrong, no governing moral code. It is a place where truth is selective and constantly subject to change. The experience of surfing the Internet is akin to wandering around the hexagonal galleries of Borges’ Library of Babel”. He stressed that truth is elusive and always one click or Web site away.

web3Keen also wrote about the challenges of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs which are constantly faked, hidden, or hacked by spammers. Hence, they can become the tools of corporations, political propagandists, or identity thieves. (Keene, 2007:84)

He revealed that newest phenomenon on the Web are “splogs”, a combination of spam and blogs. Generated from software that allows users to create thousands of blogs per hour, splogs are fake blogs designed to mirror the real blogs in a sneaky ploy to trick advertisers and search engines and drive traffic and thus pay-per-click revenue.(Keene, 2007:85)

Keen further stated that “a first cousin of splogs are flogs. Floggers are bloggers who claim to be independent but are actually in the pay of a sponsor, like the three Edelman PR staffers who, in 2006, attacked Wal-Mart critics while posing as grassroots “Working Families for Wal-Mart” bloggers. (Keen, 2007:85)

TiVo and Tea Parties

Keen pointed out that before the Web 2.0, independent media content and paid advertising existed separately, in parallel, and were easily distinguishable from each other. However, on the Web 2.0, this is no longer obtainable. According to Keene, “one reason for this is that new Web 2.0 technologies enable advertisers to transform what appears to be traditional content into commercials. He provided an example of the controversial new technology called “in-text” advertising, which allows companies like Microsoft and Target to sponsor keywords in traditional editorial articles so that when a reader moves their cursor over an underlined word, a pop-up ad appears.

He emphasized that “this blurring of lines between advertising and content is partly due to our growing distrust in marketers and advertising. He referred to YouTube as a long commercial break dressed up as democratized media.

The Wisdom of the Crowds

In the Web 2.0 world, the crowd has become the authority on what is true and what is true and what is not. Search engines like Google, which run on algorithms that rank results according to the number of previous searches, answer our search queries not with what most true or reliable, but merely what is most popular. (Keen, 2007:92)

Keen also argues that the search engine is a quantitative historical record of previous requests. So all the search engine offers is a ranking system that feeds back to us the “wisdom of the crowd. He also wrote that “In terms of links clicked on and site visited, Google is an electronic mirror of ourselves

Keen argues that Google search engine can be easily manipulated or corrupted with a term he refers to as “Google bombing” which involves simply linking a large number of sites to a certain page, can raise the ranking of any given site in Google’s search results. Keen ironically pointed out that “anyone with a bit of tech savvy can rig the supposedly democratic Internet by repeatedly hyperlinking or cross-linking certain pages that they want to show up first in Google searches. He affirmed that these ‘bombers’ are attempting to corrupt the collective “wisdom” stored in the Google algorithm.

From these points, it is obvious that Keen clearly goes against the democratization of the Internet which is further boosted by the technologies of Web 2.0. to him, individual knowledge have become a central basis for information sharing and knowledge evaluation exhibited by Google Search engines.

Keen points out that rather than user-generated content, what Google bombing represents is another kind of UGC, that is ‘user generated corruption’. Hence Google bombing has become a popular strategy for trying to sway popular opinion. (Keen, 2007:94) He  also revealed that social news or social bookmarking sites like Digg, Reddit, Delicious, and Netscape which rely on the collective behaviour of other users to prioritize the articles they display, also limit our access to fair and balanced information. He added that this sites track the reading habits of their users and make recommendations based on aggregated preferences of the entire community. Keen in citing The Wall Street Journal’s research reveals that these sites reflect the preference of the few rather that the “wisdom” of the masses. (Keen, 2007:94)


Keen stressed that “when our individual intentions are left to the wisdom of the crowd, our access to information becomes narrowed, and as a result, our view of the world and our perception of truth becomes dangerously distorted. He concluded, “with Web 2.0, the madness is about the crowd falling in love with itself.



CHAPTER FOUR – The Day the Music died (Side a)

Keen shifts his focus to the effects of the digital revolution on the Music industry. He gives example of Tower Records (originally opened in April 1968), an independent music store that closed down owing to this reason. Keene emphasized that between 2003 and 2006, 800 independent music stores closed down for good. He stated that “the independent record store is becoming an endangered species…ironically, the one record store that seems to be thriving today is the three-dimensional Sony BMG store on, where all virtual  citizens seek to re-create the vitality of a real-life record store.” (Keene, 2007:100)

Keen argued that “the sad truth is that with the demise of the physical record store, we may have less musical choice, fewer labels, and the emergence of an oligarchic digital retail economy dominated by, iTunes, and MySpace. This may partly be true, but not entirely, in the sense that Keene’s argument comes from an observation during a period when Web 2.0 technologies was having its minimal effects in the music industry. Today, despite the challenges of digital piracy, more record labels and sprouting up and their financial gains have been rewarding. Most artistes use iTunes and in selling their record albums online to internet users.

Toy at the Bottom of the Cornflakes Box

Keen quoted Gerd Leonhard a music futurist where he expressed that “Music will be a utility like water,…because right now only two out of ten people are buying the music they are listening to”. Keene contrasted Leonhard assumption to a joint 2006 report by European (IFPI) and American (RIAA) researchers, where he argued that “forty songs are actually downloaded for every legal music downloaded.” According to Keene, that adds up to 20 billion songs illegally downloaded in 2005 compared to a lead digital market of 500 million tracks, resulting in a paltry $1.1 billion in revenue. (Keen,  2007:106­)

Keen raised a critical question regarding the future of music, where wrote; “As a free ‘come-on’ to other stuff? Rather than a utility like electricity or water, music in the Web 2.0 revolution may become equivalent to the plastic toy found at the bottom of the cornflakes box.”

Keen further revealed that Digital piracy and illegal file-sharing from service like BitTorrent, eDonkey, DirectConnect, Gnutella, LimeWire, and SoulSeek have become the central economic reality in the record business. According to him, (Keene,  2007:107-108) this is “why there are now 25 percent fewer music stores in America than there were in 2003…it is why in the first half of 2006, shipments of CDs and other physical music formats in America were down 15.7 percent from the first half of 2005.”

Keen also argues that one problem faced by music artistes is “that even strong Internet visibility and popularity don’t necessarily generate money”. He gave an illustration with the band The Scene Aesthetic, a rock band which have had a successful online presence on MySpace and YouTube with no financial returns. Keene reemphasized Leonhard’s claim that “music is as popular now as it’s ever been”. But he criticized him by stating that “internet fame doesn’t equal dollars”.  He stated that “the sheer volume of music online, and the ease with which it can be downloaded for free is snuffing out the careers of budding artists like The Scene Aesthetic. With so many songs available for free, or for 99 cents from iTunes … why would anyone pay $15 to $20 for a CD? As a consumer, why buy an album when you can cherry-pick the one or two songs you really want?” Keene further asked the question “With fewer and fewer people buying the physical albums, where is the money for the record industry and the recording stars?” (Keen, 2007:111)

See the Scene Aesthetics:

In nutshell, Keen’s stance may partly be true, but not entirely, in the sense that his argument comes from an observation during a period when Web 2.0 technologies was having its initial effects in the music industry. Today, despite the challenges of digital piracy, more record labels and sprouting up and their financial gains have been rewarding. Most artistes use iTunes and in selling their record singles and albums online to internet users.


CHAPTER FIVE – The Day the music died [side b]

This chapter amongst others centres on the arguments of Keen on how Web 2.0 has made many authors of creative works and some media station/companies to go bankrupt and end up downsizing their workers and reducing the quality of their productions as a result high rate of   digital piracy and un-functioning nature of intellectual property law which was powered tremendously by technology of Web 2.0 technology. He further discusses this chapter under four sub-headings: ‘Hollywood in Crisis’, ‘When the Ink Bleeds Red’, ‘Where is the Money?’ and ‘God is dead’.

download (1)

According to Keen “on the Web 2.0, digital piracy is becoming the norm”. Similarly, Keen quoted  Kevin Kelly on the influence of the Web 2.0 in our today activities “ the real magic will come as each page in each book is cross –linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before” (Keen, 2007:116). This is the case and manifest in online environment where many creative works of arts are accessed even downloaded by user without paying any nothing and zero acknowledgements to the right or original authors. In extension, this act has led many authors to seize from production due to financial constraints and some still in the calling have reduced the qualities of the work un-like before.

Hollywood in Crisis

Keene also observed as former member of Silicon Valley that “the internet is a huge moral hazard for people in general and it equally a huge economic hazard for the serous provider of the content”. Yes of course, for those who pirate authors’ works on the internet is moral to them while for those active producers of contents or works that are pirated, internet is of great economic hazard to them. Meanwhile, Keene noted in his argument that “the digital movies piracy which involve free movies download and the growing popularity of amateur  video site like YouTube and veon-video are coursing a decline in box-office revenue and sole of DVD”. Keen is very right base on this observation this is because since the revolution of Web 2.0 on how we receive media products, many conventional media companies have lost their advertising revenue to online media and even the sale revenues have continue to be dwindling on a daily basis. This is because, the conventional customers and advertisers have enrolled into online world to place advert and receive the media contents with ease and in varieties.

To support this observation, Keene reported some research findings on the influence of Web 2.0 on the conventional media. Thus, according to research finding of Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in 2006 as reported by Keen, 90% of revenue of movies companies have been pirated by digital revolution which led many of this companies to downsizing their staffs and reducing the rate of production. (Keen, 2007:118-119)

In the same vein, Keen emphasized that “the worst is still coming since the technology still makes it possible and easier to download movies from the internet”. Of course more dangers and destructions are yet to come since individuals can still seat down in his or her bed room and download with ease over 1millon of movie free from internet and 1.5 million of music within a week without zero payment and acknowledgement of the original authors of the works.

Furthermore, according to Keen “there was a time, not so long when if we wanted to watch TV, we do turn on our TV sets.  Now, we do turn on our computer, flip open our cell phone, switch on our TiVos or plug into video iPod”. Exactly, this is because Web 2.0 revolution has make us to forget our conventional way of receiving factual information about our society which are more valuable and cherish-able. But now we value online media pass our conventional media of information.

More so, Keen noted that “as the circulation continues to drop, advertisers are shifting their dollars to an online environment where they can reach a large and more targeted audience”. But keen forget at point that, not all these advertiser like the services of online media that is why they still patronizing the conventional media for advertisement placement couple with the fact that not all audiences of media have metamorphosed into online world we take note.

Where is the Money?

Keen raised an important observation when he said that “the primary aim of Web 2.0 companies like Google, YouTube and many others is in advertising dollars not in establishing a rich culture legacy which is the main objective of conventional media” (Keen, 2007:135). Of course Keen is right because, rather than leaning more about our cultural value, Web 2.0 companies are busy giving us immoral cultural contents and encourage cyber crimes amongst the participant that are in contrary to our cultural value in order to get more dollars and naira from advertisers instead of promoting and attaching more values to our cultural value like conventional media used to do before this revolution we should think about it. Furthering on this point Keen noted that “Google as a part of Web 2.0 companies is a parasite; it creates no content of its own. It sole accomplishment is having figured out an algorithm that links pre-existing content to other pre-existing content on the internet and charging advertisers each time one of those links is clicked. Intern of value creation three I nothing there a part from its links”. Obviously with regard to activities that take place in online environment Keen is very critical and right about this as a former member and observer of Silicon Valley activities and this is not only the case in the western world rather is an issue in third world nations like Nigeria.

In a nutshell, Keen is really right based on his criticism leveled on Web 2.0 technology, which has the main course of digital piracy, inactive nature of intellectual property and passive nature of many conventional media with the regard to production of conventional content for their conventional audience.


CHAPTER SIX – Moral Disorder

This chapter is further sub-divided into five parts; ‘When Yours is Mine’, ‘Betting the House’, ‘Sex is everywhere’, ‘Online addiction’ and ‘Our second Lives’

Keene alluded to “the Judeo-Christian ethic of respecting others’ property that has been central to our society since the country’s founding is being tossed into the delete file of our desktop computers. The pasting, remixing, mashing, borrowing, copying, ‘the stealing’ of intellectual property has become the single most pervasive activity on the Internet. (Keen, 2007:142) And it is reshaping and distorting our values and our very culture. The breadth of today’s mass kleptocracy is mind-boggling. Keene gives example about cases of illegal downloading of music and movies which has become a norm in society of the amateur. He cited the case of Brianna LaHara who was a filed a lawsuit in 2003 for downloading online music copying and sharing it illegally among her friends. According to the story, LaHara was ignorant of the fact that record companies where running at a loss owing to act of multiple distribution of online songs. Keene considers this as one of the mistakes of the ignorant amateur.

Keen further argued that “Web 2.0 technology is confusing the very concept of ownership, creating a generation of plagiarists and copyright thieves with little respect for intellectual property”. He also stated that “…they are also stealing articles, photographs, letters, research, videos, jingles, characters, and just about anything else that can be digitized and copied electronically.”

Keen cited a study conducted in June 2005 by the Centre for Academic Integrity (CAI) of 50,000 undergraduates revealed that 70 percent of college students admitted to engaging in some form of cheating; worse still, 77 percent of college students didn’t think that Internet plagiarism was a “serious” issue. Keen inferred that this disturbing finding gets a grave problem in terms of Internet and Culture. Keen also revealed that even the clergy are turning into plagiarists with sites like, and offering easily downloadable transcripts of sermons. Keene ironically highlights the moral disorder brought by Web 2.0 revolution, where he stated that “it’s just so easy to use other people\s creative efforts; even our priests, whom we expect to be paragons of virtue, are doing it”.

Keen criticized Stanford University law professor, Lawrence Lessig who argued that legal sharing and reuse of intellectual property is a social benefit. He countered by stating that “Lessig wants to replace what he calls our “Read-Only” Internet with a “Read-Write” Internet, where we can “remix” and “mashup” all content indiscriminately.

The Web 2.0 culture grew up celebrating file sharing; and now it has provided, on a mass scale, the tools that make cheating and stealing so much easier and so much more tempting. (Keene, 2007:145)images

On Betting the House, Keene thrashes Internet gambling which has led to a massive addiction with the development of sites like PartGaming, SportingBet, BetonSports and He stated that it has quickly become a national disease. He gave an example of Hogan in 2005, who robbed Allentown Wachovia Bank of $60 billion that was bet on online poker alone.

Keen stressed that  “Online gambling is prohibited in the United States under the 1961 Federal Wire Act. Yet, until the summer of 2006, not a single site had ever been indicted and the industry thrived, generating around $6 billion of revenue in America in 2005. Businesses like BetonSports,, SportingBet, and PartyGaming grew up overnight, basing their computer servers offshore in tax-free Costa Rica, Gibraltar, Antigua, and the Channel Islands, where they were largely ignored by American law enforcement.”

On Sex is Everywhere, Keene argued that “the ways in which Web 2.0 is compromising our morals  and our values is most evident in the realm of pornography.”  In a report by Internet Filter Review between 1998 and 2003, the amount of internet pornography mushroomed 1,800 percent from 14 million to 260 million pages. (Keene, 2007:154-155)

Keen explained that “the Web 2.0 twist to this explosion of addictive smut is the rise in user-generated pornography. He revealed that “amateur porn sites that subsist on user-generated contents like voyeur-web, or Pornotube, a rip-off of YouTube that posts thousands of new amateur pornographic videos weekly, are the most highly trafficked sites on the Web.” He further argued that the ubiquitous sex on the Internet and the hypersexual content of online social-networking sites is accelerating kid’s sexual and social development in very dangerous ways. He provided a mind provoking proof by citing an Interview by the online sex magazine Nerve, who published an interview with a thirteen year old eighth-grade girl named “Z” about Internet pornography. Her replies were shocking as they were also clear examples of the dangers of the Web 2.0 revolution.

Keen further argued on the level of Internet addiction which have been boosted by social networking sites.

From Keen’s viewpoint, it can be observed that the Internet has done a great harm to our preserved and highly revered culture. Consequently, promoting moral decadence and a gradual decline in societal values as a result of the Web 2.0 revolution.


CHAPTER SEVEN – 1984 (Version 2.0)

In this chapter, Keen tell a story an AOL user #711391 who exposes her life details on the AOL’s Search engine. It was the story of a woman who was struggling to maintain her sanity in the face of despair. According to Keene, she opened her heart to Web 2.0 technology,  where she fed 2,393 personal questions about herself between March and May into the Search engine. Keene pointed out that “little did AOL user #711391 know that she would become one of the first casualties of a digital surveillance culture in which our deepest fears and most intimate emotions can be broadcast, without our knowledge or permission, to the world.”

Keen explained that “the online magazine slate describe the release of her entries as a flagrant invasion of fundamental individual rights. It was the magazine claimed, “Orwellian”. He termed this as ‘Welcome to 1984, version 2.0’. Keen revealed that “our new Orwellian age got its public screening on the evening of Sunday, August, 2006, when AOL leaked the search data of 658,000 people (including the AOL user #711391)”.

Keen explains that this was a clear intrusion into individual privacy perpetrated by the Web 2.0 revolution. He also provided another example of the a breach in the database of MSNBC in February 2005. This led to the exposure of over 163,000 financial records and resulted in close to 800 cases of identity theft. Keene provided more examples Second Life Database, Department of Veteran Affairs, and MasterCard which at one point mistakenly leaked the details of their customers or were hacked by fraudsters.

Keen further argues that “what is in many ways more shocking than the amount of stolen information on the Web is the amount of private information traded legally on the Internet each day.” He stated that in the Web 2.0 world, where each and every one of these searches is readily available to corporations or government agencies, the right to privacy is becoming antiquated notion. (Keen, 2007:173)

Keen, in his argument, reveals how Google and AOL acquire detailed information from its users. He wrote; “through the innocently named cookies-tiny parcels of data embedded in our Internet browser that establish a unique ID number on our hard disk and enable Web sites to collect precise records of everything we do online.” He stated that “these cookies transform our habits into data. They are goldminers for marketers and advertisers. They record our site preferences, they remember our credit card information, they store, what we put into our electronic shopping carts, and they note which banner advertisements we click on”.

Commenting on this, Keen stated that “The age of surveillance is not just being imposed from above by the aggregators of data.” He inferred that it is also being driven from below by our self-broadcasting obsession. He added that “Web 2.0’s infatuation with user-generate content is a data miner’s dream. The more we reveal about ourselves on our MySpace page, in our YouTube videos, on our blog, or on the blogs of others, the more vulnerable we become to snoops, blackmailers, voyeurs, and gossips.

He also revealed that, the Central Intelligence Agency CIA, is now investing in Web 2.0 technology, with what he referred to as ‘Spy-blogging’ which involves the spooks sharing one another’s research, aerial photographs, and secret videos.

Keen also admitted that the confessional nature of user-generated culture is resulting in a cultural explosion of personal, sexual, and political self-revelation. According to him, this democratized, user-generated media, where everyone gets to spy on everyone else, represents the collective implosion of our privacy rights. (Keene, 2007:176-177)

He also commented about on the next Web 3.0 which according to New York Times which is likely driven by “intelligent” software that can use information from the Web to intuit our future decisions and intentions. According to Keene, “The ultimate search engine would understand everything in the world. It would understand everything that you asked it and give you back the exact right thing instantly.”

In a nutshell, Keen in this chapter highlights the exposure of people’s privacy by search engines, online Web sites and the vulnerability that user-generated contents create in the Web 2.0 world.



Keen starts this chapter with a series of questions which requires carefully, planned answers backed by strategically decisive actions. He pushes forth his argument in the Cult of the Amateur by seeking ways to proffer solutions to the identified challenges created by the Web 2.0 revolution and its developing technologies such as Wikipedia, the blogosphere, YouTube, MySpace and so many others. According to Keen,  “How can we channel the Web 2.0 revolution constructively, so that it enriches rather than undermine our economy, culture, and values? What can we do to ensure that our most vibrant traditions, celebrating knowledge and expertise, fostering creative achievement, sustaining and supporting a reliable and prosperous information economy…aren’t swept away by the tsunami of the cult of the amateur?”

Keen affirmed that he is neither antitechnology nor antiprogress. He explained the relevance of Digital technology, which gives us the means to interact globally and share knowledge  in unprecedented ways.

He stated that Wales and Sanger created Nupedia in 2001 they founded Wikipedia. Kevin Kelly told Silicon Valley’s TED Conference in February 2005, ‘‘you can delay technology, but you can’t stop it’’. He argues that “Web 2.0 participatory media  is reshaping our intellectual, political and commercial landscape.”

See Ted Conference 2005:

In the use of Web 2.0, Keen explained that our challenge, is to protect the legacy of our mainstream media and two hundred years of copyright protections within the content of twenty-first century digital technology. “Our goal should be to preserve our culture and our values, while enjoying the benefits of today’s internet capabilities. We need to find a way to balance the best of the digital future Sergei Brin and Larry owns Google, Steve Chen and Chad Hurley at YouTube.” (Keen, 2007:185)

In discussing the solutions to the challenges posed by Web 2.0 revolution, Keene focused on three focal points, namely; ‘Citizendium’, ‘Crime and Punishment’ and ‘Bringing it All Home’.



Keen explained that Sanger, one of the pioneers of Nupedia and later Wikipedia alongside Jimmy Wales was responsible for checking amateurs who posted and reposted thousands of entries a day. After two years he had enough of anonymous anarchist like “The Cunctatator’’ on Wikipedia control and quality. The lesson Sanger learnt was that an open-source Encyclopaedia like Wikipedia could only function effectively if it reserved some authority to screen and edit its anonymous contributions. Sanger also understood and drew from his experience at Wikipedia, that “the democratization of information can quickly degenerate into an intellectually corrosive radical egalitarianism. He learned that fully democratic open-source networks inevitably get corrupted by loonies. Hence, the Knowledge of the expert does trump the collective “wisdom of amateurs. (Keen, 2007:186­)

According to Keen, Sanger realized a problem and how to implement it, which is not just its technology so he went away on how to incorporate the voice and authority of experts with the user-generated content. And he returned with a solution that incorporates the best of old and new media, which he called Citizendium, which was launched in September 2006, he describes it as an experimental new wikiproject that combines public participation with gentle expert guidance’’. According to Keene, Citizendium is an attempt to fuse the strengths of a trusted resource like the Encyclopaedia Britannica with the participatory energy of Wikipedia. “On Citizendium, experts in specific subjects have the power to review, approve, and settle disputes about articles within their intellectual specialty.” Keen expressed that “What is so refreshing about Citizendium is that it acknowledges the fact that some people know more about certain things that others…If in Web 2.0 pioneer like Larry Sanger can come to recognize this, maybe there is hope after all for the user-generated Web 2.0.


downloadCitizendium is a platform that deals with websites that allows both a professional and online users to sell any kind of products which can enable an online audience to subscribe. Keen further explained that Larry Sanger is not the only Web 2.0 pioneer who has come to his senses about the inferiority of amateur content. He cited other pioneers such as Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, the founders of the original file-sharing service Kazaa and online telephony company Skype.

In 2007 the former Macromedia Chief Technology Officer Jeremy Allaire, had raised $60 million in venture capital. Also YouTube, were designed to enable professional creators of video content to deliver high-quality interactive content to both the personal computer and the television. This development gave Keen hope that Web 2.0 technologies can be used to empower rather than overshadow the authority of the expert that the digital revolution might usher in an age in which the authority of the expert is strengthened. He gave an example of a site called iAmplify. According to Keen, this site allows professionals to sell audio or video downloads that offer instruction and expertise. (Keene, 2007:189)

Keen intelligibly asks the question; “so is the future of iAmplify or MySpace? Is YouTube or Joost? Wikipedia or Citizendium? The question is ideological rather than technological…We can and must resist the siren song of the noble amateur and use Web 2.0 to put trust in our experts again.”

 Crime and punishment

Keen commenting on this aspect states, “this is where morality comes in; Reynolds is looking at how the society can behave in the Wild West culture of Web 2.0 revolution?” He is of the opinion that users of online products are easily seduced, corrupted and led astray. In other words, we need rules and regulations to help control our behaviour online, just as we need traffic laws to regulate how we drive in order to protect everyone from accidents.

Online gambling is prohibited in the United States under the 1961 Federal Wire Act, which forbids the use of wire communication (including the internet), some online gamblers have been arrested such as David Carrutuers at DFW Airport, King Pin, Peter Dicks, the chairman of SportingBet, a few months later, dealt a swift blow to the illegal online betting business. With its CEO sitting in a Dallas courtroom in his prison issued orange jumpsuit and facing a twenty-two-court criminal indictments. (Keen, 2007:197)

On September 30, 2006, congress passed the unlawful Internet gambling enforcement act, which created new criminal penalties for banks and credit card companies that process payments to online gambling companies. And in January 2007, indictments were handed down to four major investment firms for underwriting the initial public offering of online gambling operation. The number of online casinos has been reduced. According to the Economist Magazine, the 2006 legislation proved enough to cripple an industry already reeling from the earlier arrests’’ (Keen, 2007:197)

Keen revealed that gambling is not the only internet activity that would benefit from more regulation. I feel we need to same uncompromising crackdown online fraud, identity theft, and led stealing to intellectual property.

In February 2006, Massachusetts congressman EDMarkey introduced a bill requiring search-engine companies to delete any information about visitors that is not required for legitimate business purposes. This bill will go a long way to ensuring that our children are protected from harmful content, at least while on school grounds.

Bringing it All Home

Keen stated that “today’s Web 2.0 world, children are spending more time online and it depends on parents whether to allow it or not. It is important to put their computer in the family room, rather than allowing them go online in the privacy of their bedrooms. This will help you to monitor the amount of time spend at MySpace and other sites that can monopolize their time at the expense of homework, exercise or interacting with friend in the real world. (Keen, 2007:202)

Therefore, the help of products like Net Nanny, Cyber sitter and Smart Alex, (Keen, 2007:203) for example, parents can program their child’s internet browser to block specific sites or images, restrict chat and instant messaging to a ‘‘safe list’’ of friends, limit time online, control downloads and block private information like phone numbers and addresses. Keene emphasized that “let’s not be remembered for replacing movies, music and books with you! Instead let’s use technology in a way that encourages innovation while preserving professional standards of truth, decency, and creativity. That’s our moral obligation because it’s our debt to both the past and the future.”


Keen. A, (2007). The Cult of the Amateur: How today’s Internet is Killing our Culture. Published by Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, USA.

Keen, A. (2006-02-15). “Web 2.0: The second generation of the Internet has arrived. It’s worse than you think”. The Weekly Standard. Retrieved 2008-08-20.


External Links

Video Links


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s