December 12, 2007 (PRLEAP.COM) Technology News
BETHESDA MD—The growing popularity of online user message boards and gossip Web sites, sometimes called Web 2.0, is changing business, education, and culture in surprising ways. In the January-February 2008 issue of THE FUTURIST magazine, business trend-watcher Arnold Brown, Web entrepreneur Andrew Keen, and journalism professor Michael Bugeja look at how the participatory Web is altering society as it rapidly evolves.

Arnold Brown, chairman of the firm Edrich, Weiner, Brown, Inc. and a member of the World Future Society board of directors, sees user-run Web sites and message boards taking power away from celebrities, tastemakers, and what he calls “influentials.” But, he says, even slow-moving businesses accustomed to top-down command and control structures can take advantage of grassroots Web activism if they resist the impulse to suppress it.

“Democratization means that power shifts downward and outward,” says Brown, “and businesses increasingly have to recognize this ongoing shift of power to the consumer. Marketing management will thus have to focus more on how to recruit and utilize customers to do more of the selling. Advertising that uses celebrities, such as athletes and movie stars, may become less and less effective. Credibility may increasingly come from people just like us, whose testimony will be seen as more believable.”

Web 2.0 critic Andrew Keen, author the bestselling book The Cult of the Amateur and the founder of the popular Web site Audiocafe, argues to the contrary. Too much user-generated, free content, he says, is threatening not only mainstream media—newspapers, magazines, and record and movie companies—but our very culture. He says that the often offensive nature of much anonymous, amateur content is creating a renewed interest in professional expertise and informed opinion online. Web 3.0, he says, is within reach.

“Third parties—gatekeepers—add value to all media,” says Keen. “They help produce much more truthful content. People will rediscover the value of expertise and authority figures who know what they're talking about, so I hope that Web 3.0, when it arrives, will reflect something new. Rather than the empowerment of the amateur, Web 3.0 will show the resurgence of the professional. Having talked to a number of people who are building their next-generation Internet businesses around proven expertise, I'm more optimistic now than when I first wrote the book.”
Journalism professor Michael Bugeja takes a different view entirely, arguing that our obsession with online networks and digital communities—whether amateur or expert run—is working to the detriment of our real world relationships and interpersonal skills. “The new technologies that now keep us constantly connected also keep us constantly distracted,” he says. “Educators know that wireless technology has disrupted the classroom, with students browsing (and even buying) online during lectures. However, the new challenge is the pervasive unwillingness to do anything about it.”

Digital versions of Brown’s, Keen’s, and Bugeja’s articles can be obtained from the World Future Society Web site, www.wfs.org . Individuals can also pick up the January-February issue of THE FUTURIST for $4.95 at bookstores and newsstands, or write the World Future Society, 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 450, Bethesda, MD 20814. Order online at www.wfs.org .|

THE FUTURIST is a bimonthly magazine focused on innovation, creative thinking, and emerging social, economic, environmental, and technological trends.

Among the thinkers and experts who have contributed to THE FUTURIST are Gene Roddenberry, Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, Richard Lamm, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Buckminster Fuller, Frederik Pohl, Isaac Asimov, Vaclav Havel, Hazel Henderson, Margaret Mead, Robert McNamara, Betty Friedan, Nicholas Negroponte, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Lester R. Brown, Arthur C. Clarke, Douglas Rushkoff, Joel Garreau, William J. Mitchell, and U.S. Comptroller David M. Walker.

Editors: To request a review copy of THE FUTURIST magazine, contact director of communications Patrick Tucker, 301-656-8274 (ext. 116), or ptucker@wfs.org. More information about the World Future Society may be obtained from the Society’s Web site, www.wfs.org .