Newsweek does UGC drive-by

People keep saying that the blogosphere is rife with poorly-researched or ill-considered commentary, but I keep coming across pieces in the traditional media that are just as bad, if not worse. The latest example is a piece from Newsweek about how “user-generated content” is on its way out, and experts are now on the rise — complete with Jason “I work people to death” Calacanis and his Mahalo people-powered directory as one of the starring examples of same.

Among the others mentioned are, which has been around for at least six years (although the piece justifies its inclusion by noting that its traffic has grown), and Google’s Knol, a service that’s still in beta. Strangely, no mention of Citizendium, despite the fact that the piece contains plenty of criticisms of Wikipedia — which apparently finds itself “in frequent dust-ups over inaccuracies.” And the Newsweek story has the requisite scare quotes from supposed experts, including:

“People are beginning to recognize that the world is too dangerous a place for faulty information,” says Charlotte Beal, a consumer strategist for the Minneapolis-based research firm Iconoculture. Beal adds that choice fatigue and fear of bad advice are creating a “perfect storm of demand for expert information.”

Here’s a handy tip: When someone says that something is “a perfect storm” of something, 99 times out of 100 they are full of crap. And speaking of crap, Andrew “I hate the Internet” Keen says that one of the reasons for the decline of UGC (which is assumed) is that “no one wants to advertise next to crap.” I’m tempted to say that if that were the case, then there would be a lot fewer ads in Newsweek magazine and plenty of other media outlets, but that’s almost too easy. Still — I guess I said it anyway.

The Newsweek piece has plenty of other jewels, including the mind-boggling statement that this new trend of services using experts (which it says could be a “Web 3.0”) comes “during dark days for the ideal of a democratic Web” — a statement that is completely unsupported by any actual evidence, even the anecdotal kind. But probably the worst is when the article refers to a “series of mini-scandals” involving UGC, such as:

Last summer researchers in Palo Alto, Calif., uncovered secret elitism at Wikipedia when they found that 1 percent of the reference site’s users make more than 50 percent of its edits.

Using a phrase like “secret elitism” is a great way to pump something up, but it stretches the meaning of the research the piece is referring to almost to the breaking point. In fact, the study found that while in the beginning a small number of users did most of the work, over time more people have been shouldering the effort. There is still a small group of senior editors — but isn’t that what the Newsweek piece is claiming is the new way to do things anyway? Apparently when Mahalo does it it’s genius, but when Wikipedia does it it’s “secret elitism.”

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