Okay, so it’s time to retire the word “gatekeeper”

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It took a while, but Matt McAlister finally rose to the bait of my post on “The reign of the enthusiasts,” in which I razzed him as a “web2topian.” My point was that many of the most ballyhooed Web 2.0 applications, from Google’s search engine to digg and on down the list, deliver skewed and thus less-than-optimal results because they depend so heavily on the most active, connected members of the Internet community, whose interests and priorities diverge from those of the bulk of Net users.

Matt, who works at Yahoo! and whom I’ve known since he was a chubby little kid with curly hair (hint: he’s not that anymore), didn’t really disagree with that:

The act of hyperlinking to a web page is not a strong enough currency to hold together a market of information as big as the Internet has become in recent years. It’s a false economy.

What does work, he says, are sites like last.fm that track actual user behavior (not just votes or links) to help other users find stuff they might like.

More important, while he agreed that there will continue to be a role for individuals to decide which media projects get funded and to help point people toward the good stuff, he thinks I need to stop calling them “gatekeepers.” There will be “experts,” sure, and what Matt calls “enablers” (I think “tastemaker” is another good name for that type). Some of them might even work for big old media companies. They just can’t keep working in the old way:

If those who call themselves “gatekeepers” want to share their expertise in valuable ways, then they will need to understand how the role of human data helps with distribution of that expertise. If those who aim to be enablers of communities want to be relevant, they will find ways to do that in many of the social technologies that have proven successful in this new world.

I think Matt’s right that this is more than just a question of semantics. Some media enterprises (think The Bond Buyer) actually make more sense as gated communities, so I guess they’ll always need gatekeepers. But the rest of us are playing in a different world now, at least online. Media types who insist on thinking in terms of gatekeepers are merely closing themselves off from most of the possibilities inherent in the Internets.

See, I’m becoming a web2topian too! Although I still think that digg, while the idea behind it is cool (people vote on the news!), is almost entirely useless. Even worse than useless, wrote the estimable Scott Karp a while back:

… mounting evidence suggests that Digg traffic in particular is less like networking with like-minded individuals at a social event and more like getting attacked by a pack of wild dogs, who leave nothing of value in their wake, other than lessons learned on closing comments and crashed servers.

So maybe it’s not so much gatekeepers that we need as wild-dog catchers.

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