Power to the people, or only certain people?

From mass media to juried art to “me media”, who determines quality or beauty, and how, in each of these areas? Last week, I was at Guidewire Group’s (a.k.a., Chris Shipley’s) new Fall Leadership Forum. In a user-created content session, the hot debate was about “quality” going down as more users contributed. Some people held a strong view that moderation (by other users or experts) was necessary; others that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”… anything else would be elitism.

This reminded me of a debate on Fast Company a few months ago, “Anyone can be a designer — and should be“, and a post from my colleague Adam on Threadless and the “burden” of their popularity. Of course, this is an age old debate on who should be the arbiter of beauty.

I have to admit, I’m surprised that this debate is going on in these circles. These folks are on emerging edge, and, IMHO, this debate feels like we are going backwards… not appreciating and embracing that we now have the Internet, which can help deliver true “me media”… whether I want my “me” delivered based on what the masses want, what experts see, or from my set of defined judges. Why don’t we talk about how to provide the tools and capabilities to let people find their own definition of beauty quickly? Who cares if there are lots of choices, if I can find “me” quickly?

We should inspire and support people in creating things they themselves find are more and more beautiful. And, then, if they are the only ones seeing the beauty… what’s wrong with that? I think on my shirt today would be this related question:

Do you ever doubt your doubts?

So, what do you think? Where are we going with all of this user-created content? Have you thought through your position on this? And if so, did you question your position?

7 thoughts on “Power to the people, or only certain people?

  1. I think we need to convene a conference with noted musicians and composers, the best in the world, to decide once and for all if Beethoven and Bach created beautiful music.

    Nonsense, right? People know it is beautiful without having to be told. The same was true with the “canon” of the New Testament – the council didn’t decide what was inspired, they merely did the same thing the theoretical musicians and composers conference would do: acknowledged what was already accepted.

    The only problem with letting everyone decide for themselves is the paradox of choice: people are unhappy with too many choices, hence the popularity of Oprah’s book list or the NY Times Bestseller list or Google’s search engine.

    If enough people say it is beautiful, then it IS beautiful, no matter what the artists of the day say. How many great artists starved in the streets of Paris during their lifetimes?

    However, you need to get enough people looking at it in the first place.

  2. Jana Eggers says:

    Your last point is exactly my bigger point… how do we solve the problem of getting exposure to enough people that want to see a particular piece of art. I know there are plenty of starving artists that COULD have made money, because there was a market for their art, but didn’t because they didn’t have access to that market.

    I think saying people have problems with choice is a cop out. The real answer is, IMHO, that they settle for Oprah’s book list because they can’t efficiently find “their” book list. Just because Oprah’s list is popular, it doesn’t mean that people wouldn’t be happy with something else.

    Keep posting comments…. I always learn! 🙂 And definitely improve my own thinking on thse topics.

  3. Did you see the Bubblegeneration post on messy, not clean? There is some good thinking there that I think applies here. One nugget:

    What is a basis for advantage is exploding what was clean and streamlined yesterday: unlocking new possibilities for value creation which are messy because interactions at the edge are richer, deeper, riskier, and, ultimately, human.

    Where I hope we’re going with user-created content is toward more independence, interaction, and ideas. I want to choose my own filters and not rely on the ones corporate media sets for me; I want to engage with other people and ask questions; and I want to be exposed to thinking that challenges my own.

    This endless debate (what is art, who is an authority) is a waste of time, IMO. I think moderation isn’t necessary nearly as often as some find it convenient. Elitism doesn’t scale well on the web. Personally, I’m grateful: I can soak up all the beautiful photography I want on flickr (without ever once considering if the photographer is a pro), find amazing handmade crafts on Etsy, and find out about art I’d never otherwise hear of from blogs like we make money not art.

    I want tools that will make it easier for me to discover more that touches me. I want everyone to have access to the same kinds of tools — I just don’t care if we use them to discover the same things. Feed reading is still too primitive 😉

  4. Jana Eggers says:

    This discussion reminded me… an example of someone doing this in the music area is Pandora. I’ve been pretty impressed with what they’ve done. A recent Fortune article also covers this a bit, though I think Slide is a bit off the mark… though interesting in their approach… as they focus on selling versus culling information to find… and I believe there is a big difference.

  5. We need an effective UI and information delivery tool.

    I go back to something I first saw in Daniel Keys Moran’s The Long Run: images. An “image” of yourself that can search for and filter information for the real you. Basically an AI that alerts you to interesting things, learns what you like.

    I think such an image is possible today, in a very limited sense. That is, it could be programmed in a very restricted set of parameters, things it searches out for you.

    Travel is the first thing that comes to my mind in limiting scope. As the image learns what you do when you travel, it can watch as you make travel plans for a certain area and then go out and find similar things for you to do. Still a very tough problem. And the first solution is, imo, solving for “This is like That”.

  6. Jana says:

    You know in my trying to keep these posts brief (and brief not being my strong suit), I left out important things. Chris Anderson, a.k.a., the long tail guy, does cover this idea of better information architecture to support the creativity of the masses (or the long tail to him). He calls this filters and says as you go out on the tail, you need better filters. Now to be clear, he’s talking about personal filters… ones that help you find the stuff in the tail that interests you.

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