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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Quality and Web 2.0

In a post by Will Richardson - Web 2.0 as “Cultural and Intellectual Catastrophe” he points to a recent post by Andrew Keen - the author of the Cult of the Amateur. Andrew tells us -
it’s obvious that Web 2.0 is a cultural and intellectual catastrophe
The basic issue is experts vs. collective intelligence. As Michael Gorman tells us in Web 2.0: The Sleep of Reason, Part I:
reference works were not only created by scholars and published by reputable publishers
One point of caution - this is all being published on Britannica's blogs - which has a vested interest in maintaining a Cult of the Expert. At the same time, this echoes what I read recently in The Chronicle - New Metrics of Scholarly Authority - Michael Jensen -
right now we're still living with the habits of information scarcity because that's what we have had for hundreds of years. Scholarly communication before the Internet required the intermediation of publishers. The costliness of publishing became an invisible constraint that drove nearly all of our decisions. It became the scholar's job to be a selector and interpreter of difficult-to-find primary and secondary sources; it was the scholarly publisher's job to identify the best scholars with the best perspective and the best access to scarce resources.
The publishers and peer review assured the quality of what is produced. In Web 2.0, quality theoretically comes from public review and scrutiny.

This is exactly the issue many of us face in the development of training. We are the experts. We validate the quality of the content. Without us in the mix, how do we know that the content being created by learners is accurate, of high quality, appropriate, etc.

These are fair questions for us to ask, and there certainly is a problem when experts are drowned out by a group of people who have more time and interest in pushing for alternative views.

At the same time, one of the people commenting on Will's post said:
To me Web 2.0 is new tools. It’s how we use them, not the tools themselves, that matters.
I'm not sure it's that simple. What's changed is that there now are incredibly easy to use tools that allow all of us to be content creators. There is an incredible flood of content. And it gets produced incredibly quickly.

Print publishing cycles and normal kinds of peer review are simply too slow to be a reasonable filter on the communication. Instead, we get many-to-many communication that is fundamentally different than what we've had before.

I also believe that something else is changing - access to resources. My son's ability to access California Gold Rush Historic Maps from the David Rumsey Map Collection to do his report on routes taken to the Gold Rush is something that none of us had when we were in 4th grade. Spending 10 minutes to zoom into the description on the Map of the Gold Regions of California, Showing the Routes via Chagres and Panama, Cape Horn, &c. was an incredible experience for my son. Add to it that he updated Wikipedia with an additional route and a link to the map collection.

I would be curious to see what Britannica has on this topic. The information I could get to without having to enter a credit card didn't mention the route through Mexico. But more than that, having the link to that map and the collection of maps is something that Britannica will have a hard time replicating.

I do believe that there's still need for expertise, review, authoritative sources. But there's also a valuable place for the speed, breadth, depth and network in Web 2.0. Certainly, I'd much rather scan the blogs in my blogroll than read a copy of Training Magazine. The magazine content never can go into as much depth, it can't cover as many topics, the content is at least six months old and it doesn't allow me to engage in a conversation around it.


Anonymous said...


I have been constructing a similar post. Picked up Andrew's book in B&N a few days ago. Despite the fact that I am in vehement disagreement with many of Andrew's assertions I couldn't put the book down. It really is a good read and a good argument.

What I think Andrew has right is that you get the wolf in sheep's clothing if you are expecting to get an honest amateur opinion.

Where I think that most folks with the same ideology concerning 'tech in the hands of the monkeys' as a detriment to culture and society get it wrong is the comparison to what came before.

In my eLearning travels and the myriad of culture battles, marketing sortees, and honest sit downs with many very abrasively averse folks -- the common factor has been that these groups will defend what came before as the panacea that doesn't need additional medication (having been previously embedded in these groups - it's funny to remember the constant griping about status quo:))

Sad fact is that traditional media hasn't perfected balanced information services, nor have the army of expert minds and academic scholars captured the art of 'gimme just what I need'.

The other thing that strikes me about Andrew's argument is that he makes it sound like the outlet and freedom provided by mass communication tools are twisting mass culture into an abyss of apathetic fools. I would argue that the fact that the top 10 stories on DIGG has nothing to do with World events has nothing to do with DIGG or the phenomenon of amateur publishing... It is simply a new way to explicate what has always been.

A trusted source is a trusted source and I find more REAL WORLD information in the personal writings of scholars and amateurs alike than I ever did in a college text book or journal. There are no rules and that notion is refreshing.

I empathize with the gatekeepers who formerly cornered the market on information (the stuff they called knowledge). They should be worried.

The opportunities of Web 2.0 are providing a long overdue shift in the power of information (and contribution to Earth's body of information) from the few to the many.

Mark said...

Behold! The common folk are storming the temple and the cloistered priesthood reacts in horror!

One of the real problems in all this is the shifting nature of the word "expert"...this relies on a shared agreement on the credentials that denote expertise...what that shared agreement cracks, new "experts" arise and the previously recognized class reacts by either withdrawing or attacking.

Maybe its just late and I'm cranky but this stinks of a control grab

Anonymous said...

Had some time to reflect on this and there's some parallel to things I've been observing in our industry. You say:

The publishers and peer review assured the quality of what is produced. In Web 2.0, quality theoretically comes from public review and scrutiny.

This is exactly the issue many of us face in the development of training. We are the experts. We validate the quality of the content. Without us in the mix, how do we know that the content being created by learners is accurate, of high quality, appropriate, etc.

This makes the assumption that the experts are governed by a consistent measure of quality. This simply isn't the case.

I'm not sure it's possible to apply a perfect measure to all of the outputs associated with our field, as each output is a complex combination of customer preference, context, art, and science.

However, I think we can do better with our evaluation and validation metrics. We've all seen and produced things we wish we hadn't produced or seen. To have a credible system where 'We are the experts' actually holds water we need to have more consistent evaluation methods for all of the quality and efficacy variables associated with a solution. Track that back farther and one might arrive at the conclusion that there's a big problem in our education system that feeds the weak fire of 'expertise' in the field.

There are a few extremely bright lights in the field, but in my experience for every bright light there are fifty that don't generate much of their own. Many of these dimmies ride around on their graduate degrees without much else to offer.

The performance of the individual 'expert' isn't the largest problem in the training industry. Management, expectations, stratification of service levels, growth and maturity of perspective, and clear designation of quality and maturity models are a few areas that need heavy focus.

Expectations - I think this is what you may be alluding to above. The customer / potential customer begins to form the expectation that any monkey with a typewriter can do what you do and THAT makes it hard for us to (1) find work, (2) do good work when we do find it. Look at the Web design and graphic design field. The market has flooded marginally folks willing to do the work for next to nothing (and the results are easily spotted). Getting the job done right isn't a priority because often the consumer doesn't know what 'right' looks like.

There are arguments on both sides, I guess my point (I have a point) is that before we blame another phenomenon for our woes we should get our own house in order:)

- Can't really say don't use a monkey with a typewriter when the field is filled with qualified monkeys with pedigreed typewriters... Finding the root causes of our deficiencies and fixing those first will provide the credibility required to bring that message: 'fight the urge to use a monkey with a typewriter, here's a better way...'

Anonymous said...


I'm new here..just found your blog..nice info..and I'm still doing some reasearch on web 2.0 and 3.0..

Tony Karrer said...