Interview With Andrew Keen At The Next Web 2009: "Web 2.0 Is F*Cked"

TechCrunch Europe’s Mike Butcher and I just finished conducting a short video interview with entrepreneur and author Andrew Keen about the end of Web 2.0 and the dawn of a new age of individualism, driven primarily by Twitter.

[Mike Butcher writes] The controversial, anti-Web 2.0, figure of Andrew Keen spoke at the Next Web in Amsterdam and outlined some of the themes that he is developing for his next book. Keen is most famous for deriding the ‘cult of the amateur’, as he calls it, or rather the explosion of social media which arose with the new platforms to emerge alongside what became known as Web 2.0.

In a long speech – without notes – he talked about a new age of individualism. With the end of the industrial revolution, “we”, essentially are now “the product”.

He said we are entering a “revolutionary age in which traditional, industrial media is being swept away by individuals.” That sounds familiar to his previous pronouncements.

But his speech hit a crescendo when he practically shouted across the conference hall that “Web 2.0 is fucked! Web 2.0 doesn’t work – it doesn’t generate revenue.” Afterwards, he repeated the charge in the video above.

Keen believes traditional media dies with Web 2.0 and although technology enables self expression, is “not a viable media economy.” In fact he claimed even “TechCrunch, the leading Web 2.0 cheerleaders have come to the conclusion that YouTube [for instance] does not work”, does not create profit. We may have to check that…

But, ironically perhaps for some observers, Keen is now a fully-fledged fan of Twitter.

In fact he called Twitter the “nail in the coffin of Web 2.0”. He said it’s “the future of individual media in the age of the individual… a future when individuals become brands. People with skills are able to sell their skills on the network. I call this real time social media.”

But this is also “intimidating and scary” to him. It is “Darwin and Marx at the same time.” He thinks Twitter is “Feudal” in that those with large numbers of followers behave like barons of old, picking those they favour at random…

My thoughts: Sitting at the back of the conference with my Twitter handle (@mikebutcher) emblazoned on it, it was hard to argue against his view that we are indeed in a new age of the individual! However, far greater societal forces than Web 2.0 have given rise to this (Reagan, the end of the cold War, the rise of the market etc), so it’s equally possible to say this was happening well before Web 2.0 came along. What is perhaps most interesting about Keen is his simultaneous enthusiasm for Twitter and his warning – (there’s always a warning really) – that Twitter also creates huge inequality. In the video I make the point that being @’d by someone Twitter-famous can actually bring me more followers – so in the famous phrase, a rising tide lifts all boats. But he argues that this gives the power to those most followed. That may well be true, but there is a lot of power in having a small but influential or just plain useful following, is there not? This harks back to a previous argument, played out by Scoble and Loic Le Meur recently, about whether the power of Twitter is in the numbers you can pull. Frankly the jury is out and it’s an argument Keen still needs to address if his thesis is to hold water.