Andrew Keen on the death of Facebook and the future of the web
by Meghan Keane
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.” We 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.