Cheers to Time magazine for naming me its 'Person of the Year.' I can honestly say it's the last thing I expected. Apart from the fact that I've never won anything before, I thought for sure it would go to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this year. Or Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus. But then they don't blog. Or upload cam-phone videos on YouTube.
(Well, President Ahmadinejad allegedly blogs, though there's been debate over whether he has people do it for him. Which, if he does, shouldn't count.)
No matter, because honored as I am, I'm afraid I must regretfully decline the award. I don't deserve it. And, arguably, neither do most of my fellow Persons of the Year known collectively as 'you', for making the Internet truly user-driven. At least, not yet.
For one thing, most Internet users (of which there are over a billion, says Internet World Stats) don't have a blog, or a Second Life account, and we've never uploaded a video.
Take the latest stats from blog-tracker Technorati, which was tracking over 57 million blogs as of Q3 2006. Only 55% of them are active, the minimum criteria for which is one new post every three months (which, personally, isn't my idea of 'active'). The other 45% were one-off, me-too sign-ups abandoned out of boredom or perhaps in favor of another blog host site even cooler than the previous one. Gartner estimates the number of ex-bloggers at 200 million. Do they still get to be on the cover of Time‾
Second Life's numbers follow a similar pattern. Hypesters claim that around two million people have avatars in Second Life, but the majority of them are new sign-ups who only check in once every couple of months, if at all. As of last month (according to the Second Life Herald), up to 120,000 log in each day. Around 36,000 are premium accounts.
Which is why I can't help but feel that praising Internet users for blogging and having a Second Life avatar is like awarding actors with an Oscar just for showing up.
Of course, it's not entirely fair to just point at the numbers, if for no other reason that no one can seem to agree on just what the numbers are. And Time has the sense to acknowledge its own hype, admitting that - if we're going to be honest here - most user-generated content is rubbish, or at least rubbish only your mates will appreciate. For every genuine Web media star or success story, there are tens of thousands of average people who will bask in obscurity forever. But perhaps that's not the point. Perhaps, as Time suggests, the real point is that this is a 'massive social experiment' in progress as we continue to seek - as we have for the last couple of decades - to create a digital society that parallels the analog version and yet takes it in directions we can't possibly go in meatspace.
Indeed, Web 2.0 (if we must call it that), and the user-generated content that drives it, is a genuine milestone of sorts that's undoubtedly laying the groundwork for the way people, the network and multimedia will interact and collaborate with each other in the future.
That alone makes it compelling. Look at the media companies freaking out over YouTube, or parents freaking out over what their kids are posting on MySpace. That is serious drama.
But is it worth putting me on a magazine cover‾ I suppose it is if it sells magazines and generates controversy, which is what Time's Person of the Year issue is all about anyway. I respect that. But it's way premature to declare users as masters of the new digital frontier. Users may be driving the Web into uncharted waters, but most of us aren't pulling our weight.