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Amateurs

2014/04/01
by

There’s a name for people who work for the love of it: amateurs. The word now has such bad connotations that we forget its etymology, though it’s staring us in the face. “Amateur” was originally rather a complimentary word. But the thing to be in the twentieth century was professional, which amateurs, by definition, are not.

That’s why the business world was so surprised by one lesson from open source: that people working for love often surpass those working for money. Users don’t switch from Explorer to Firefox because they want to hack the source. They switch because it’s a better browser.

It’s not that Microsoft isn’t trying. They know controlling the browser is one of the keys to retaining their monopoly. The problem is the same they face in operating systems: they can’t pay people enough to build something better than a group of inspired hackers will build for free.

I suspect professionalism was always overrated– not just in the literal sense of working for money, but also connotations like formality and detachment. Inconceivable as it would have seemed in, say, 1970, I think professionalism was largely a fashion, driven by conditions that happened to exist in the twentieth century.

One of the most powerful of those was the existence of “channels.” Revealingly, the same term was used for both products and information: there were distribution channels, and TV and radio channels.

It was the narrowness of such channels that made professionals seem so superior to amateurs. There were only a few jobs as professional journalists, for example, so competition ensured the average journalist was fairly good. Whereas anyone can express opinions about current events in a bar. And so the average person expressing his opinions in a bar sounds like an idiot compared to a journalist writing about the subject.

On the Web, the barrier for publishing your ideas is even lower. You don’t have to buy a drink, and they even let kids in. Millions of people are publishing online, and the average level of what they’re writing, as you might expect, is not very good. This led some in the media to conclude that blogs weren’t much of a threat– that blogs were just a fad.

Actually, the fad is the word “blog,” at least the way the print media now use it. What they mean by “blogger” is not someone who publishes in a weblog format, but anyone who publishes online. That’s going to become a problem as the Web becomes the default medium for publication. So I’d like to suggest an alternative word for someone who publishes online. How about “writer?”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 2014/04/03 9:03 pm

    Have any objections about me submitting this on my twitter?

  2. 2014/04/07 11:58 am

    Please do so, and thanks.

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