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Thoof: The End of Culture as We Knew It, cont.

Mike Arrington features [yet another Web 2.0 startup] over on Techcrunch that aims to change the world — but this one, inexplicably named Thoof (why ask why..?) aims to provide personalized “news” that gets submitted through a Digg-like process that also allows wiki-like tailoring of the news announcement. Think Digg-meets-Wikipedia-meets-del.icio.us-meets-God.Help.Us.

Arrington quotes the site founder on the virtues of his platform:

Historically, news has been delivered in a one-to-many manner, meaning that lots of people tend to get the same news at the same time, but I think this is more of a bug than a feature. People don’t necessarily *want* to be shown the same stuff that everyone else is seeing, but the limitations of the technology somewhat required that this be the case. They would much rather see things that are specifically tailored to their interests, its just that either that option hasn’t existed, or it has been poorly executed.

People don’t necessarily want to be shown the same stuff that everyone else is seeing. [My last post] was about the decline of journalistic standards in a new media world where the economic models that supported time-tested institutions were being dismantled. Indirectly it was about the loss of a common information culture — a shared set of informational priorities that were provided to us through commonly-shared channels. Elite channels, granted. But elite channels that were accountable. In the current gold rush to grab eyeballs in the interest of garnering venture capital, where’s the accountability? Is there even an acknowledgment of value to society beyond the personal enrichment of the investors and the pleasure of the consumers?

This latest example of “let’s build it because we can” lays bare all that’s wrong with the new media culture. It is the definition of expedient greed masquerading as populism — gladly tossing the values of time-tested professionalism (news editing in this case) out the window in deference to audience whims. One cannot imagine the Second World War being won by a population that got their news (or as Thoof founder Ian Clarke calls it, “stuff”) from something like his invention. If Thoof and its ilk contribute to a Balkanization of the culture and the loss of common interests or polity — who cares, so long as it gives people what they want?

The problem, of course, is that people may not realize — until too late — that what they want isn’t necessarily what they need.

UPDATE 6/16, via Matthew Ingram’s [blog], I found my way to the debate on the anti-expertise trends of Web 2.0 over on the Britannica blog: Michael Gorman on [The Sleep of Reason] and Nick Carr’s [response]. Resonates with issues I’m trying to raise here.

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