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June 14, 2007, 03:43 PM ET

'Everyone's Tripping and It's All Free'

Michael Gorman, the former president of the American Library Association, seldom holds his tongue when there’s a discussion to be had on information technology: He has argued that Google’s library-scanning project “atomizes” books, and he has criticized Wikipedia for its open-editing policy.

Now, in two posts on Britannica Blog, Mr. Gorman has launched a broadside against all of “Web 2.0,” a term applied to a range of Web sites that encourage interaction and collaborative work. “The life of the mind in the age of Web 2.0 suffers,” he writes, “from an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise.”

It’s an argument that has been made before — by Mr. Gorman and by computer scientists like Jaron Lanier, who worried in a much-discussed essay about “a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise.” But Mr. Gorman now makes his case with unique ferocity. Calling upon Mr. Lanier’s notion of “digital Maoism,” he depicts Web 2.0 as “an unholy brew made up of the digital utopianism that hailed the Internet as the second coming of Haight-Ashbury — everyone’s tripping and it’s all free.”

Blogs, news aggregators, and the like have allowed Web users to proclaim themselves “citizen journalists,” writes Mr. Gorman, and they have also encouraged Netizens to scoff at traditional scholarship. “Publishers, developers of publishing projects, editors, fact-checkers, proofreaders, and the other people necessary to the publication of authoritative texts are all mustache-twirling villains to the digital collectivist,” the librarian says.

Academic bloggers have savaged Mr. Gorman’s treatises, arguing that his faith in expertise is naive and that the “digital collectivists” he describes are straw men. A question for scholars: Do you have the sense that Wikipedians, “citizen journalists,” and other Web 2.0 enthusiasts seek to devalue your published work? —Brock Read

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