A Million Webmonkeys Banging Away at a Million Keyboards
Posted by danspira
The thing about online user-generated content (e.g. blogs) is that it’s not just about scale. Yes, a prominent aspect of the phenomenon is that by being so big there is something for everyone. But it’s too easy to then fall into the trap of saying — and stopping — at any of the following statements:
“the signal to noise ratio is really low”
“there are some gems out there, but most of it is garbage”
“most of it is not for me”
These statements all have truth to them, yet, they also feel a bit like the old theory about a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters for a million years and who eventually produce a work of Shakespeare, which is to say, that it’s only as a result of the massive scale of this endeavor that something of value is created. It’s a little different here, in that some of the monkeys are said to have more talent than others, but the implication is the same, in terms of why anyone would be willing to spend time viewing/reading a given space of user-generated content. According to this view, it’s worth it because, eventually, you’ll come across something good.
However, for those who drink a bit more deeply of this stuff there’s an added dimension which has to do with the interaction among the “monkeys” themselves. Any given area of user-generated content is also a place of multi-directional conversation, where memes can evolve, adapt, mutate and graft themselves at an incredible rate. The contributors of the content can evolve too, developing their skills and fine tuning their ideas. It’s as if the million monkeys are now subjected to all the pressures of socialization and natural selection, for a million years. In that case, yes, in fact, you do eventually produce some William Shakespeares.
It’s been about 90 days now, and so far I’m glad I went ahead and posted a blog (thanks for the push, Sean)… although I’m mindful of those writers who have stopped blogging because it dissipates the energy they had for doing more difficult written work. I used to think that by reading blogs and writing occasional notes to myself, that I was keeping myself immersed, current and “in the game,” and that actually posting stuff online was unnecessary to understanding “Web 2.0.” I thought that having an actual blog would mean, at best, that I was making some small, transient contribution to an infinitesimal slice of the Long Tail. But it’s different when you’re actually out here and feeling that evolutionary pressure. I may not merit evolving into a William Shakespeare, but like that primate dude in the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, this little monkey’s gonna get himself a bone club….