Hit & Run

Smashing Idols

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"As a talent show, YouTube is the polar opposite of American Idol." --Sam Anderson, writing in Slate.

He means that narrowly -- the article's about lip-syncing -- but there's a greater truth there. American Idol is a democracy, or at least maintains the trappings of a democracy, which is all we really ask of our democracies these days. The public is presented with a set of suitably middle-of-the-road nominees -- the William Hungs have been weeded out long before the balloting begins -- and then the audience votes on who's the best. YouTube and Google Video work on a more decentralized, market-like principle: If you think something's entertaining, you send it to someone. Rather than winnowing a cast to a single singer inoffensive enough to be all America's idol, we let the stars emerge from below, collecting fans one e-mail or blog link at a time. Which do you suppose offers more surprises, more variety, and more honest-to-God talent?

YouTube, by the way, is supposed to be a part of "Web 2.0." I ought to be a cheerleader for Web 2.0, since its boosters keep saying things I was writing six years ago, but I have trouble getting behind anything with a name that practically screams "Hate me -- I'm a buzzword-spouting charlatan." Suggestion to entrepreneurs: Just call it "the Internet." If a potential financier tells you he lost millions the last time he invested in the Web, you can say, "Yes, but this time we understand it."