I didn't attend the Web 2.0 Expo in New York last year, and so the exceptional keynote speech of Clay Shirky, a New York University new-media professor, writer, and consultant on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies.
The keynote, "It's not information overload. It's filter failure," is an insightful exploration of Internet economics and an intelligent response to Nick Carr's "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" argument.
If you haven't watched it, you must. It does more to explain the dearth of effective information filters that we wade through today. It has application to open source (180,000-plus projects on SourceForge, but which are useful?), but far broader implications.
You can watch it here:
But here is where he lays out the crux of the problem, which I've transcribed:
The other problem that Gutenberg introduced into intellectual life was the problem of risk. If you owned a printing press, you could make money, if people bought your books, but you could lose money if people (didn't) buy your books. And since you had to print the books in advance, you were taking on all the risk of whether or not those books would sell....This is the problem of publishing.
The economic solution was pretty simple: make the publisher responsible for filtering for quality. There's no obvious reason that someone (who) is good at running a printing press also ought to be good at figuring out (which) books to print.
But the economic logic of print in advance, then sell it--high up-front cost and then recoup when you reach the people--that economic logic has come to mean that the word "publisher" has come to mean two things: people who decide what to publish and people who do the publishing.… Read more