Amateur Culture

The Internet has long been a hotbed of amateur culture. With the evolution of the early Web into Web 2.0 – the Internet as a space shared by peers and filled with user-generated content – it became an interactive medium. The open Internet was an invitation to leave one’s mark, and it became a mosaic of individualised content. It marked the start of Wikipedia and wiki culture, in which people could share and collectively fully organise crowd knowledge into neat (and not-so-neat) databases of information, ideas and opinions. Total sharing of content – the Internet as a library on steroids for future generations – was an old Web ideal long before microblogging and social media came to fill a large percentage of online space with vapid personal updates and shouting matches. With personalised Web spaces and blogging platforms, the idea of an Internet of the people became worrisome for many; the fear was that amateur content would displace academic standards of information and education as cornerstones for intellectual standards, debate and progress. The Cult of the Amateur (the term was coined by Andrew Keene in an article and book of the same name in 2007) had the potential to become a mainstream threat, for instance to the traditional model of journalism: it gave a successful blogger making free content potentially the same size audience as The New York Times, a respected media institution with professional writers and researchers and solid journalistic integrity and tradition.

The amateur culture of the Internet has another effect as well: the further democratisation of types of content not traditionally served by media reach in some geographic regions or by clearly audience-targeted pop culture media. Amateurs split the Web into a million niches. An audience of 5,000 interested in a specific hobby or musical sub-(sub-sub-) genre, devotees of a specific crossbreed of cat or dog, and so on, couldn’t be served by the traditional media; the audience spread made it impossible, too expensive, bad business. In the amateur age, the people created their own media spaces to discuss what they wanted with whoever would listen (or read or contribute), whatever their time zone or remote location. Obscure interests had gone global, however small their following.