One of the fascinating possibilities that blogging has created is low-cost, user-generated news and information about local community. Fred Wilson wrote about this recently (read the trackbacks and comments, too) and his blog crystallized a lot of the thoughts on the topic that had been bouncing around my head for a while.
Bloggers, of course, understand the local community and are prepared to write about it for free. In a sense, blogging allows us to harness and deploy an enormous amount of practical expertise, volunteerism and passion. Hyperlocal journalism is just one implementation of that power. But there are others.
Example – my wife and I are frequent visitors to our local Home Depot – and generally, the staff are very helpful and full of useful information. But occasionally one can’t find support staff or they can’t answer the question. Recently, we were in that position, but the customer standing next to us jumped in and gave us all of the help we needed. He was an expert, and very enthusiastic about what he was doing, and happy to help. Well, blogging allows someone with an expertise like that to put it right at my fingertips, in just about every conceivable area of human endeavour and interest. Imagine – every single niche of human interest, expertised, for free. Just because the people who have the expertise can write about it, want to write about it – for free.
Until the web, we had to rely on ‘professionals’ – the support staff at the Home Depot, or the expert on the home improvement TV show (who broadcasted his topics on his schedule), or the expert author whose books are at the library – for much of the expertise we needed. Given the rarity, this was not without cost. The web brought expertise online, but because there was some cost / learning involved, it was limited. Blogs have lowered the cost even further and brought the power within the reach of, well, everyone, actually. And everyone is an expert at something. Now, all of them have the opportunity to contribute that expertise to any number of interesting endeavours. Like hyperlocal journalism. It’s not so much about being local, or about journalism – it’s about slicing the world into an infinite number of verticals – along any dimension you can imagine (geography, interest, etc.) – and finding voices in each vertical who are willing to get involved.
So, the interesting question is, what happens to professionalism when everyone is giving it away for free? Is this just another implementation of the internet’s power to squeeze margins until they shriek in pain? Once everyone is an expert or can reach and out touch one quickly, what is expertise worth? Presumably what we will see now is a search for a new equilibrium – some comfortable point of balance between what can be contributed for nothing, and what needs to be held back to ensure that expertise continues to have value. And I suppose that is one of the reasons that the idea of a Flat World is so powerful – and so troubling.