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September 16, 2008


Will Davies

Great! I've been reading a lot about open heart surgery at the moment, and would love to have a go. Let me know when you need a triple bipass...

Ken Leebow

One correction: I call them "Passionate Experts". Everyone has an expertise in something. So, if they choose to use the Internet as a medium for discussing their expertise, the viewer can benefit.

In the example below, if someone is passionate about heart surgery and blogs about it or has a video that explains it to the layman, then the viewer can learn from it.

Chris Anderson

Ah, heart surgery. That's always the example the skeptics bring up. It's like the Godwin's Law of the the ProAm debate.

Let's stick to content, which was the context of my post. As Ken above points out, are so sure that the excellent Wikipedia entry on heart surgery wasn't written by an amateur?

Adrian Measures

Doing what you are passionate about beats doing what your are the most professional at. Bring the two together beats it all thou!

Tim Windsor


Couldn't agree more.

This does have relevance for pros, too. Any daily journalist can unlock the passionate amateur within him/herself by maintaining a blog on the topic. It can be on-beat, or off, but the important thing is that it be about something the writer cares deeply about.

At my last job, the best bloggers were pros and amateurs both who approached their blogs with enthusiasm and participated in the comments. And they were rewarded with huge amounts of traffic. Those who phoned it in - and there were far, far too many of them - languished with marginal readership.


"A PASSIONATE AMATEUR ALMOST ALWAYS BEATS A BORED PROFESSIONAL" - You could have just stopped there. Great Post! Could not agree more.

D Brooks

Correct, but the flip side of this argument is: professionals will continue working after amateurs have gotten bored.

Crowd-sourcing can overcome this limitation if the crowd is big enough, meaning there's always another non-bored amateur to step in. But that takes a pretty big crowd.

This has been the problem with hyper-local news sites: When you're dealing with something small like a neighborhood or a little town, there aren't enough interested amateurs to fill in the gaps.

Larry Bleiberg

Chris, heart surgery aside, I don't think you really mean that in all cases.

Latest case in point: Hurricane Ike. Sure, there were gripping blog posts telling us what was happening in one particular neighborhood. But no overview. No context. How many hurt? How much total damage? Someone (not some machine -- at least not yet) needs to pull this information together.

Most of us don't have hours to gradually draw conclusions from our independent research. We want the news. We want it fast.

Otherwise, why even have Wired? There's lots of tech news out there from passionate amateurs. So who needs you?

Well, truth is, we do. We don't have time to be security experts, hurricane experts, and Japanese-school-girl-trend experts.

You pull it together, and we gladly pay you for it.


A passionate amateur is great, but they may not have the skills to employ their passion the way a professional can. Obviously the ideal situation is a passionate professional, but that's not always easy to come by.

This proves true in the world of college sports. One of the reasons I love watching college football is because these young players are playing for pride, and their school, and maybe to become local heroes to the community, although the quality of play is at a college level. Not like the NFL where they are playing for endorsement deals and contract extensions, but the quality of play is superior. Both have pros and cons but whether football or journalism, having the passion really makes you stand worth checking out.


Rex Hammock

re: Hurricane Ike

Passionate amateurs built and maintained (and continue to do so) the social network and new aggregation site, The Hurricane Information Center ( http://www.hurricanes08.org/ ) and HurricaneWiki.org ( http://www.hurricanewiki.org/wiki/Main_Page ). Plenty of context. And unlike most professional media sites, they provide a hierarchy that enable individuals to get quickly to the information they need.

P.S. Craig's comment about college football players not being professional -- I assume he's not referring to the SEC.


Not all professionals are bored.

What defines a true professional is a constant passion and strive for excellence in daily work. Treating each bread-and-butter case as important is what distinguishes a true professional.

Juxtaposed with an enthusiastic (but not fully informed) amateur, an experienced and diligent professional trumps an amateur every time.

Andrea Edwards

Arthur, I would have to say that is not always the case. In today's society we have the world at the tip of our fingers. Who is to say an enthusiastic amateur cannot use the tools available to him and gain just as much, if not more knowledge than the "diligent professional".

Every professional was indeed an amateur at some point in time. Not every subject area requires a degree or certification in order to mastered. If your theory was always correct there would be no place for inventors, entrepreneurs, and a host of others.

The world is so diverse, and people are so complex, that there will always be an ear for the enthusiastic amateur, as well as the diligent professional.


I wonder if you can extend this to the entrepreneur. Maybe it's wishful thinking since I am one (and there are certainly things I do that feel like work, e.g. prepping estimated tax payments), but I am driven by the same passion as an amateur...

I've had clients say to me that they want to hire me over a more established firm b/c they know they'll get the passion/energy/commitment.

Maybe I'm just looking for a validation so I can point a prospect to your response ;-)


I love reading your books and blog! And like your new look.

Just want to let you know that there is no left margin in Safari. Don't know if it's on purpose or a mistake. It looks great in Firefox, but I really like to bookmark stuff in Safari, so would love to see the margin back.



If my heart surgeon is bored, I might prefer to have an amateur who know something about it operate on me. I want whoever operates on me to be enthused about saving my life, and being enthusiastic about something usually means learning the technique very well. You could do a lot worse.

Besides, contrary to what they would have you think, reporters are not exactly heart surgeons when it comes to technique. The conceit that a reporter who went to Nowheresville State and got a degree in "Journalism" is somehow a trained professional on the same level as a surgeon or engineer is laughable to the point of absurdity. I could show you some pretty egregious examples of "professionalism" in any paper you care to name. Fortunately, journalism is a dying art, like its cousins alchemy and phlogiston chemistry, and soon we'll be rid of these pompous twits for good.

Sharon McGann

This discussion is good. It reminds me of an article I read a while ago about Competent Jerks and Lovable Fools in social networks. Whilst most organizational managers said they would choose the jerks over the fools (politically correct answer), network analysis indicated that they would first go to the friendly fools and only if they couldn't get the information they wanted would they go to the jerks (and put up with potential humiliation). Obviously, the desired choice is competent and lovable (friendly) but it doesn't seem to go with the territory.

Simon Kendrick

I generally agree, though in some cases the professional will have more resources, which create an uneven playing field the amateur will struggle to overcome

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

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