Sunday, April 09, 2006

Kerre Woodham: Cyber geeks have got it sorted

What a difference a couple of years can make.

I hosted the NetGuide Web Awards last week - it's the second time I've done it. The first time was in 2004, and I was struck by the difference in the mindset of these internet entrepreneurs. This year, I noticed a real swagger among the bright young things. You didn't see that a couple of years ago. They were young and keen and passionate about what they did, but they were self-effacing and didn't really believe other people would find what they did interesting or worthwhile. It was as if they half expected to be told to go outside and kick a ball around.

This year, these kids have got attitude. They looked good, they dressed well, there was loud laughter and cocky acceptance speeches - the industry is demanding attention. And it deserves it. Obviously the likeable Sam Morgan of Trade Me fame is responsible for a large part of the feel-good atmosphere and that's acknowledged by his competitors.

But as Sam himself said, he doesn't believe Fairfax's buyout of Trade Me will remain in the history books as the largest dotcom deal ever made in this country. He knows there are hundreds of internet-savvy kids who've drawn inspiration from his rags-to-riches story and they're not just wanting to emulate his success - they're wanting to top it.

Keep your eye on Dylan Bland, one of the co-founders of online auction site Zillion - he's one to watch for the future. He was in my political science tutorial a few years ago and back then I thought he'd be a winner. Last Thursday night he was, with the rest of the Zillion team, picking up the award for best new site. It was a great night and congratulations to all finalists.

But as a number of the website creators pointed out, there's a vast difference between good sites and bad. While there are some extremely professional, well-maintained and well-serviced sites, there's an awful amount of rubbish out there, too. None more so than in the blogging community. I know Deborah Coddington has already had a crack at blogs, but given the concern expressed by industry insiders about the standard of blogs, it's probably worth giving them another serve.

The one thing most have in common is that they sneer at mainstream media. Not for these free spirits the oppressive hegemony of a multi-national corporation's editorial edicts. Yet most of the blogs draw inspiration from stories that appear in the mainstream media and when on the odd occasion a lackey of the oppressive hegemony offers them a regular writing gig in the stodgy old press, they're in like robbers' dogs - ideals be damned.

Blogs are also, with the odd exception, unbelievably poorly written, full of defamatory statements and misinformation, and attract complete and utter nutters. The bloggers themselves hide behind puerile pseudonyms, as do the rest of their following, and do little more than spread malicious gossip or snipe at one another.

It's going to be very interesting to see how the courts try to control cyber slander - there have been a number of high-profile instances recently where zealots have attempted to undermine the justice system through blogs and emails. At least in the mainstream media there are checks and balances to prevent the worst excesses of poor grammar, bad spelling and downright lies, and if you have an opinion, either as a columnist or a letter writer, you have to identify yourself.

In the olden days, before the internet, poisonous idiots with warped views of the world were pretty much left to wallow alone in their cesspools of ignorance. Within their individual communities, they were unable to find like minds so their rantings remained safely locked inside their heads. Now, there is an international network and given that there's somebody for everybody, even the weirdest of whack jobs will find a kindred spirit if he or she spends long enough in cyber space. It's a shame, really, because there are some great local blogs and a well written, thoughtful and provocative blog is a fine thing to read. It's just a shame that there are so few of them.

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