Tom Coates of Plastic Bag, with a piece that contextualizes weblogs within a broader set of developments … suggesting that the real effect is that users have a new power to create, manipulate and distribute media:
Technically, weblogs are trivial – a reasonable programmer can assemble their own weblog content management system in a couple of hours. It’s nothing but a form on a webpage glued to a database with some templating tweaks. Wherever the animating magic might lie, it’s not there. Instead we have to look towards what weblogs and weblogging software accomplishes. Clay Shirky phrased it one way when he wrote an article called Weblogs and the Mass Amateurization of Publishing. In his piece, he described the way in which weblogging simplifies the concept of “Publishing” to the point that not only is it now so simple that anyone can do it, it’s also so simple that there’s no way of making money out of it. Publishing has come to the masses… This idea – of a form of publishing that’s almost completely lacking in barriers and cost – is fundamental to an understanding of weblogging.
… But it’s not just publishing or journalism that are going through a process of mass amateurisation at the moment. In fact over the last fifteen years or so pretty much all media creation has started to be deprofessionalised. We only have to look around us to see that this is the case – as individually created media content that originated on the internet has started to infect mass media. Hard-rocking poorly-animated kittens that once roamed e-mail newsletters (http://www.b3ta.com) are now showing up in adverts and credit-sequences, pop-songs written on home computers are reaching the top of the charts, weblog commentators in Iraq are getting columns in the national and international newspapers, music is being hybridised and spliced in the home for competitions on national radio stations. The whole of the mainstream media has started to look towards an undercurrent of individual amateur creation because of the creativity that’s bubbling up from this previously unknown swathe of humanity. Mass-amateurisation is EVERYWHERE.
… So where does the weblog fit into this picture? Weblogging software creates a highly effective and simple way of helping people create fully functional – if unflashy – regularly updated websites. In these respects it’s a clear parallel to iMovie and iPhoto – applications that help us make things. And just like the video and photography communities online, there’s a community of weblog enthusiasts who have been empowered by the internet to share tips, insights, new technologies and with whom one can engage in debate. And just like these communities, webloggers are distributing their content online.
I’ve been playing with justifying my intuition that a destination/application like Fotolog — in which ordinary people from around the world post their digital pics, contribute to a fascinating ongoing record and develop their own photography skills — has relevance to my own interests and work. Perhaps this notion of “mass amatuerization”, or “empowerment” if you prefer (which I don’t), is a nail to hang this grab-bag o’messy thoughts.