The power of mass creativity or a distraction for good design?

I got two messages yesterday within five minutes of each other that illustrate the dichotomies of web 2.0 and its impact on how I see the 24 Hour Museum’s work as a publisher.

The first was the regular email from the grandfather of web advice Jacob Nielson. I remember when I first brought his book on web design in 1996, I read it from cover to cover and realised that despite being full of what now seems like the bleeding obvious, it was clearly good stuff and still is.

His latest opinion piece was called Web 2.0 ‘distracts good design’ and even got a write up on the BBC. Basically, it takes the view that a lot of all this web 2.0 stuff is a bit of a bandwagon that everyone is jumping on, focussing on UGC, mash-ups and participation before achieving any real stabitily of a core website with good accessible content.

The second message was about the Culture 2.0, international conference in Amsterdam, whose keynote is Charles Leadbeater talking about his new book ‘we think’.

Charles is an antidote to Nielson. A technology optimist who is clearly making his living pondering and exploring the sociological implications of all this new web stuff and its impact on culture (nice idea hey …?).

He has published what he calls the first reader editing book –‘We Think’. He says the basic idea is simple, creativity is collaborative and all the web 2.0 sites are expanding the opportunities for people to participate online. He says “what is striking about Wikipedia, Linux, Second Life, Youtube and many more is the way they take familiar ingredients and combine them to allow people to collaborate creatively at mass scale.”

Well, none of this is new for me but I know that it is for many in the sector I work in who are still grappling with the worry that if they have a website it will mean less real visitors – the cultural equivalent of thinking if you make new friends, it means that your old friends won’t like you – e.g. naive.

I actually liked his idea of a collaborative book because the book is actually about creativity and collaboration. Nice circular referencing. But the comments at the end of a guardian article also ring true and despite being a bit snotty, I kind of agree with.

If fact, I think the truth lies in both Nielson’s reflections and Charlie’s ‘everyone as author’ ideas.

I believe there is definitely something new happening online but it’s for *some* people, in some sites – and youtube, twitter, flickr etc. are testimony to that. But Nielson is also right that for the other online services (most of which are things that reflect something in the real world) they absolutely do need to be focussed, user friendly and well written.

I lesson for the 24 Hour Museum I believe is to do both.