This very readable book has impeccable academic credentials: Fraser and Dutta are on the faculty at INSEAD but they wear their scholarship lightly. They consider the effects of Web 2.0 on business and society, and their case studies include FaceBook’s patchy relationship with its users and their employers, the destruction of the music business by the internet, and the 2008 US presidential election. It’s comprehensive and accessible and has a superb bibliography, what more can you want?
Occasionally I disagreed with Fraser and Dutta’s arguments. They use examples from medieval France and the Knights Templar to illustrate the fracturing of hierarchical power structures. Now colour me cynical, but would they have done that if it weren’t for Dan Brown?
More seriously, they are naive about the height of the barriers of entry to online fame and pin a lot of the first section of the book on the unsupportable assumption that online fame is open to all. They talk breathlessly (well, breathlessly for academics) about Joe Nobody from Nowhere obtaining online fame. But that doesn’t mean it’s replicable: the fact that they cannot see how it happened doesn’t mean that there weren’t reasons for it happening. I mean, haven’t they read Outliers? Online fame doesn’t come for wishing as Sandi Thom’s publicists discovered. Exactly the same astonishment was expressed about the working class rock heros of the 60s, but for every Lennon and McCartney there were …. well there weren’t any other Lennons and McCartneys. Which is my point.
They are balanced in their reporting of Web 2.0 evangelists and Web 2.0 apostates. This makes a refreshing change. In fact, they aren’t just balanced on the subject, they delve deeply into why and how corporate and governmental organisations resist Web 2.0. This is the nub of the book, and no-one else is saying just these things in quite this way. But even so, they are reluctant to admit that there are some serious Orwellian implications for all our futures.
So I am not sure why I’m not raving about it. Perhaps because I like books that give me epiphanies. This one was rich and informative but didn’t shift any of my paradigms. They close their arguments down in a rather authoritarian way, which doesn’t set the brain fizzing with ideas. It may just be that their usual ‘voice’ is the de-personalised style of academia. Don’t be dis-heartened by my faint praise: it is much better than I make it sound.
Definitely a must-read, though possibly in paperback, for anyone considering the role of Web 2.0 in any kind of organisation, or who has an interest in the recent history of the internet or in how technology affects individuals and society. Worth it for the case studies and the bibliography alone – everything else is a bonus.
PS – I thought I’d reviewed Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – turns out I hadn’t. That’s easily remedied.
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