The Arts Council in Dublin did very well yesterday in organising a one-day conference devoted, pretty much exclusively, to the advantages and challenges of the web for arts organisations.

It’s all too easy with the web to get excited about the potential and then to get lost in the details of implementation, without pausing to figure out what the implications are. Andrew Keen and Charles Leadbeater brought us up short, right at the start of proceedings, with their opposing views of the value of the web in relation to the provision and consumption of culture. For Leadbeater, the web provides extraordinary potential to circumvent the traditional means of accessing a mass audience; you no longer need to get the permission of monolithic organisations – TV companies, record companies, etc – to make it big, you can just post your video, etc, on YouTube, tell your pals, and see what happens. Democracy in action.

For Keen, the downsides are dramatic. According to him, “the digital economy lowers the value of content to zero." ‘Value’ here is meant primarily in monetary terms. The key point is that the web, especially ‘web 2.0’ which is supposed to be all about connecting people, gives away the vast majority of its content for free. And how is a culture-producer supposed to survive in such a scenario? If culture-producers cannot survive, quality is at great risk. If someone plucking on a guitar in a video on YouTube, viewed by 50 million people, is to be the new pinnacle of culture, we’re in trouble.

There were some very useful (parallel) sessions and workshops. Damien Mulley talked on how to run a successful web 2.0 mission, with particular reference to blogging. In the final session of the day, he was also keen to wrest copies of RTÉ’s broadcast content from RTÉ itself, so that we can all play with it (which seemed to him fair, since we’d paid for it). David McKenna of RTÉ suggested the broadcaster would be very keen to monetise whatever content it had in any way it could, so giving it away was unlikely to be on the menu.

Earlier, Conn Ó Muíneacháin walked us very quickly through making a podcast.

The big question, of course, is where to now? Mary Cloake of the Arts Council indicated that the current climate hardly favours the creation of a new funding scheme; but perhaps, as she said herself, the current tighter times may encourage more experimentation with the online possibilities. What would seem most important is that the Arts Council decide quickly how it wants to act; not easy, given how fast things are changing.

It’s hard to ignore Andrew Keen’s admonition, finally, that we may just be machine-gunning ourselves in the foot. Coming shortly, as we rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic, the first in a new series of podcasts on…