The arc of knowledge dissemination on the Internet is traced by a surprisingly ponderous pendulum, one that has yet to reach the end of its second full swing. Period Web 2.0 has been defined by quality search and the spread of social networks, along with enough streaming audio and video to lighten the darkest fibre. But the geometrical increase in available information can be largely characterized as a thousand places to check the schedule of a train that was late twenty years ago and will be late again tomorrow. It's fashionable to see the Internet as a technological marvel that redoubles in merit with the regularity of Moore's Law, but the assembly line generation of search fodder challenges both the gatekeepers (Google et al.) and the humans seeking enlightenment.
I suspect that there will be a special place in The Pit for internet article writers who work from templates. They are responsible for all the sites populated with variations on: "Ten rules to write a great book," and intentional misspellings "10 rules to right a great book," ad infinitum. Sometimes I get stuck treating the casualties who mistake them for a resource and try to launch a publishing business based on bullets - bullet points that were written in a 21st century collaboration between a clueless writer and a sophisticated content generation program.
The three R's of bad article writers are Rehash, Rewrite and Reduce. All three types of plagiarism lead to the introduction of errors and exaggerations, but worst of all is reduction, which creates a false impression of authority without leaving the telltale signs of charlatanism. It used to be that an imposing edifice was key to instilling respect and even religious awe into the hearts of men. But modern man has found something even more imposing than monumental demonstrations of organized labor, capital expenditure and genius. Today's converts are won at the point of anything resembling a PowerPoint slide.
When the author of a new web resource wins past the front line of paid article writers, the hired guns of content spam, he's likely to run smack dab into a volunteer corps, hundreds of millions strong. Volunteer content generation sites, often disguised as social networking sites, run the quality gamut from WikiPedia to a million flavors of "Answer questions for bonus points." Taken as a whole, the content generation capabilities of social networks represent the industrial age of the Internet, an explosion of mass production at the expense of the individual artisan. Think of social networking content as the equivalent of asking a stranger on the streets how to find a particular address. Not so bad. Now think about asking a stranger on the streets for business advice. Now consider the results if you can only hear the advice of the stranger who yells the loudest.
Experience teaches long-time discussion list participants that the definitive comment is the one most likely to be exactly wrong. Psychologists or philosophers may know the reason that uncertainty manifests itself online as statements of canon law or unimpeachable truth, I can only observe that it does. It's no longer a surprise to find something I've written referenced as the authority to carry a point of argument that directly contradicts the text. No doubt somebody will reference this very blog post to argue that top ten lists produced by internet article writers are the very height of the information age. After all, I did say something about the upswing of a pendulum.
Perhaps contrary to popular belief (I've never seen a poll on the subject), I also believe that social networking tends to limit rather than encourage new authors. For all of the advantages of a public space, most authors crave a room of one's own, a place away from the madding crowd to work without interruption when the spirit moves or the bills need paying. Social networking is nothing if not a giant, ongoing interruption, and in many cases, the energy that could be channeled into writing a book instead gets scattered across hundreds of discussions (or thousands of tweets). Blogging has the same negative affect on authors, I could be the poster child:-)