Public Release: 

A force for democracy -- or information chaos? expert forum spotlights blogging

Economic & Social Research Council

Controversial Internet entrepreneur turned cultural critic Andrew Keen, who says the revolution of interactivity and user-generated content on the internet is leading to 'less culture, less reliable news and a chaos of useless information' is one contributor certain to ignite debate at the two-day conference at the University of York. The conference is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through its e-Society programme.

Innovations such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube - known as the 'Web 2.0' phenomenon - are the focus of a major gathering of Internet researchers, surfers and social commentators, aimed at encouraging social scientific interest in recent dramatic developments in cyberspace culture.

London born and educated, Andrew Keen, who has been based in California since the 1990s, is one of six keynote speakers at the event, at the National Science Learning Centre, University of York on September 5 and 6. The conference is organised and hosted by the University's Social Informatics Resarch Unit (SIRU).

The conference will examine the whole range of 'Web 2.0' activity - from wikis and 'mash-ups' to social networking sites, offering insights into digital technologies and the growth of online communities. Delegates will discuss the issues of privacy and trust, identity and democracy.

While recent Internet developments have received widespread media coverage, the organisers say there has so far been little in the way of sustained investigation by social scientists into 'Web 2.0' . Its practices include 'generating' and 'browsing', 'tagging' and 'feeds', 'commenting' and 'noting', 'reviewing' and 'rating', 'blogging' and making 'friends'.

The conference will include more than 40 presentations by academics from across the world - many already involved in social scientific or cultural research into websites such as MySpace, Bebo, YouTube, Flickr, Second Life and del.icio.us.

Andrew Keen, in his recent book 'The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting our Economy', argues that whilst blogs, podcasts, amateur videos and music may be harmless or sometimes even enriching forms of media, they are destroying mainstream newspapers, record companies and film-makers. Wikipedia, the popular free online encyclopedia, he describes as 'dumb'.

He will go head-to-head with leading authority on innovation and creativity, Charles Leadbeater, author of the forthcoming book 'We-think: the power of mass creativity'. This aims to understand the new culture in which people do not just want services and goods delivered to them, but also 'tools so that they can take part, and places in which to play, share, debate with others'.

Charles Leadbetter disagrees that people are being duped. The more sources of information available, the more critical they can be, he has argued.

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Other keynote speakers will include Professor Scott Lash, of the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, who leads the cultural research programme there, Professor George Ritzer, of the University of Maryland, Bernie Hogan, from Netlab, University of Toronto and a representative from the BBC who will talk about the BBC and Web 2.0.

Audience numbers are restricted for the conference.
Anyone interested in attending should contact: Antonia Luther-Jones, Communications and Events Manager, Department of Sociology email: alj504@york.ac.uk

Or visit the website:
www.eu.socialtext.net/socsciweb2conf/index.cgi?towards_a_social_science_of_web_2_0

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT
University of York Press Office:
David Garner 01904 432153; e-mail dcg501@york.ac.uk

ESRC Press Office:
Alexandra Saxon Tel: 01793 413032 / 07971027335; e-mail: alexandra.saxon@esrc.ac.uk
Danielle Moore Tel: 01793 413122; e-mail: danielle.moore@esrc.ac.uk

Notes for editors

1. The conference 'Towards a Social Science of Web 2.0' is organised by the ESRC e-Society Programme, the Social Informatics Research Unit (SIRU) and the Department of Sociology, University of York, in collaboration with the Taylor & Francis Journal, Information, Communication & Society (iCS).

2. ESRC e-Society is the largest ever academic research programme to investigate the impact on society of digital technologies, particularly the Internet. Run from the Department of Sociology at the University of York, the £6.5 million programme draws on the expertise of leading academics from across the UK. www.york.ac.uk/res/e-society/index.htm

3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2007-08 is £181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

4. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

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