“It’s bullshit! Crowds have terrible taste… If you let the people decide, then nothing truly adventurous ever gets out. And that’s a problem.”
–Christopher R. Weingarten (@1000TimesYes), #140Conf
Speaking at the 140 Characters Conference — a brazenly opportunistic affair best described as “a meeting of Twitter Early Adopters Anonymous” and the “biggest circle jerk of nothingness” — Weingarten’s rant has been called elitist by some, but it reiterated a point I’ve been harping on for a while now: the “wisdom of the crowds” is overrated.
The mythical “crowds” give us the bland mediocrity that dominates the bestseller lists in books and music, Hollywood’s Box Office and Nielsen’s TV ratings, at local poetry slams and on the crowded shelves of bodegas across the country! Of course, the flip side of that argument is that in every one of those examples, there’s a gatekeeper involved — a publisher, producer, writer, curator, marketer or buyer — giving the crowd what [they think] they want.
Times are changing and appealing to mediocrity isn’t quite as profitable as it used to be; the over-leveraged, over-extended, value-extracting publishers that have thrived on it for years are in trouble because they’re simply too big to change direction. Most of them will be gone or unrecognizably splintered in the next 5-10 years, and good riddance!
Make no mistake about it, however, you are committing an act of rebellion with every new channel you support. The record labels and major networks are starting to realize they cannot make money anymore. Soon they will realize the nagging truth that some of us have been shouting from the town square for years: The artists and the fans no longer need them… YOU are my record label.
–Matthew Ebel, You Are The Revolution
Hyperbole aside, Ebel’s point is a valid one. As has been noted ad nauseum lately, the Internet has leveled the playing field, theoretically enabling everyone to be a publisher, a marketer, a critic and a consumer. The democratization of the gatekeeper’s role hasn’t led to the increased creation nor consumption of quality content, though; quite the opposite, actually.
In a post titled “How We Killed Social Media“, IttyBiz’s Naomi Dunford eloquently notes the deterioration of Digg, StumbleUpon and Del.icio.us, as their increased popularity and influence led to their becoming watered down and useless:
Is this seriously the best of the Internet? The best of the best? The crème de la crème? We added shit to the wine and then wondered why the wine tasted like shit.
Wine-making is an art, and the best, most cherished wines have a unique terroir that trumps both cutesy labels and common grapes. Publishing great content is no different.
I believe the trick, the fabled “magic bullet”, for self-appointed gatekeepers of all kinds, is to be an idea advocate — to represent something specific (terroir), something you have a real passion for; to create and/or curate the best content relevant to that passion; and to offer it in a context that’s most appealing to others who share that passion, empowering them to interact with it, share it with others, and even contribute to it.
There’s a rich and vibrant world at the opposite end of mediocrity, and it represents the real future of publishing — a crowdsourced AND gatekeepered future that leverages the strengths of both into a mutually beneficial, value-ADDED relationship that serves the needs of their unique communities.
“Wisdom of the crowds” be damned.