Web 2.0: Is it time for adult supervision?

I’m sorry I missed Euroblog 2008 it looked like a great event with a great line-up. I have made a personal commitment to try and get out a bit more.

There’s no question that this new online communications stuff is important. It’s not just important for PR people it’s has pretty major societal implications.

I get that.

I do.

I believe there’s a transformation underway that will (has?) certainly impact how people find and share information, how they connect.

But hold on.

Sometimes traversing the Interweb I stumble upon commentary which really sticks in my brain and nags me.

I get the feeling that some people are really losing the run of themselves.

There’s so much excitement online, sometimes it’s easy to lose a sense of perspective, a sense of the difference between right and wrong, of the difference between the relevant and the irrelevant.

While I realize I might attract the ire of some, I think people need to get a grip and step outside the Internet bubble a little more.

Last night I was doing some browsing on the aforementioned Euroblog 2008.

I was reading some posts, comments and even watching some videos.



1 minute 40 seconds from the end this video from Euroblog, it moves to a panel session.  Now the video is edited so I apologize to Philippe Borremans in advance if I’m misrepresenting his comments, but in the video he states that (my transcript):

"I think wikis and Wikiepdia has been mentioned very often during these two days and I think we need to get off the idea of these cases where some things (that) are in Wikipedia are are not 100% correct, and what have you, I mean if you look at it… this is a global thing it’s a global encyclopedia. I don’t know how many edits and new (pieces of) information are added every second, but if you compare that to the amount of mistakes in there I think the positives much more important than the negative."

When I listened to that last night it really stuck in my head.

In fact it’s stayed with me all day today.

I’m sorry.

I fundamentally disagree with that sentiment Philippe.

I absolutely disagree.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer Wikipedia is considered the second most credible source of information for young people.

How can it be acceptable that we just shrug our shoulders and say "well it’s not accurate but it’s cool and loads of people add stuff to it"?

This isn’t an anti-Wikipedia rant per se.

Wikipedia is a phenomenon, an amazing achievement.

But that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to its shortcomings because it’s a cool example of Web 2.0 collaboration.

I think people who share that view would change their opinion very quickly if they found some negative commentary on themselves or if something erroneous turned up on their client.

Let’s rememeber Wikpedia’s willingness or ability to address inaccurate information isn’t exactly stellar, this is well illustrated from this Sunday Times article:

But as the sum of what we all know and agree, the wisdom of crowds has no greater value than Trivial Pursuit. Wikipedia is full of mistakes, half truths and misunderstandings. What happens if you try to do something about it? William Connolley, a climate modeller at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge and an expert on global warming, disagreed with a Wikipedia editor over a particular entry on the site. After trying to correct inaccuracies Connolley was accused of trying to remove “any point of view which does not match his own”. Eventually he was limited to making just one edit a day.


[Disclaimer: the article is based on an interview with Andrew Keen who believes that Web 2.0 is killing our culture – not something I necessarily agree with..]

If Wikipedia is being held up as an encyclopedia, then it should be expected to meet the same criteria as any other respected encyclopedia. End of story.

I had another moment listening to episode 324 of the ever excellent For Immediate Release.

Regular contributor – and someone I have a lot of time for – David Phillips was talking about (5:28) YouTube’s announcement that it was going to introduce live video streaming making it a "platform for interactive citizen television" offering "an unlimited number of TV channels on your laptop" or other device.

That is without question my idea of hell.

Who is going to sit through all the garbage?

Who is going to do the shopping, bring in the wage? What about the poor dog?

There’s a quote I am very fond of:

“The stone age was marked by man’s clever use of crude tools.  The information age to date, has been marked by man’s crude use of clever tools.”

– anonymous

The delivery of video, the accumulation of user generated content, twits, blogs etc are only the beginning. The real shift (especially for communicators) will be the next generation of tools that enable people to manage and mine this information in a meaningful way that respects the fact that they are already suffering from information overload.

Don’t get me wrong.

These shiny new things are very interesting, in fact they are very important.

But please let’s not lose sight of their weaknesses and failings.

We all still live (most of the time) in the real world.

Reality is a good thing, let’s not lose sight of it.

10 thoughts on “Web 2.0: Is it time for adult supervision?

  1. Great post and reminds me of a conversation I had this week with a student journalist who was arguing that any reporter worth their salt should be looking to diversify into online video as it’s “the future” and only dinosaurs don’t believe it’s a vital tool for reporters.

    I pointed out that while YouTube might have 7 million videos on their site, 6.9m of them currently consist of students falling over, babies gurgling or pirated clips of TV shows.

    There are some amazing 2.0 tools available but I still think to argue we’re at anything other than the very earliest stages of learning how to apply them is laughable. 99 percent of the people I talk to – journalists and PRs plus vendors – are barely using YouTube much less blogs, Twitter and the like.

  2. Thanks for the comment Sally.

    It seems to be increasingly difficult to find balance.

    There is some cool stuff out there and there are some great examples of people using it intelligently, but I still maintain (certainly in Europe) that its about balancing the traditional tools (which still today, on the whole, pack a bigger punch) with new opportunities presented by the online world.

    What annoys me is exactly what you’ve said, oh it’s shiny, it’s new, therefore it’s better.

    It may be, but it may not be.


  3. Reading this, I’m also beginning to wish you had been there. If only to spice up the discussion. Or to put things in the perspective sketched above. And of course, also, because you would have been able to join us for a beer… 😉

  4. It would have been great to see you in Brussels, Tom – if we hold a EuroBlog 2009 (and I hope we will) take this as an invitation to be one of our keynote speakers.

    It would be great to debate wikis – and I would be on Philippe’s side. For me the immense achievement of wikipedia outweighs its weaknesses. I suppose if you define encyclopedia as a work that it incontrovertibly infallable in all respects, delivering pure information without value judgment, it falls well short of expectations, but if you compare it with a news outlet which claims objectivity it compares well against the criteria you highlight. You could insert the name of any newspaper in the world into this paragraph:

    “XXXX is full of mistakes, half truths and misunderstandings. What happens if you try to do something about it?”

  5. Good post, especially your comments about Wikipedia. I’m just about to try and sort out an entry for a client. Before speaking to us the client tried to create its own entry and was subsequently deleted more than once. The client is upset that the entry for its indusry sector is mainly overt promotion for an open source product (mainly because it is!) and secondly that most of its commerical competitors have listings (even some that are much smaller).

  6. @Serge: You’re alive!

    @Philip: No need for a keynote, happy to listen, mingle and moan :-) Oh and I don’t buy the argument on Wikipedia at all :-)

    @Stuart: They’re not alone!


  7. Just read an interesting line in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody:

    “Wikipedia, which looks like a reference work to the average viewer, is in fact a bureaucracy mainly given over to arguing. The articles are the residue of this argument being the last thing anyone declined to disagree about (p279).”

  8. Hi Tom,

    Man am I late in replying to this post… 😉

    The fact is that wikipedia has been compared to other well known real encyclopedia by scientists and has been found just a little less accurate… (the full study should be somewhere on the web but here are the main findings:http://tinyurl.com/2yz49s).

    My point was that it is an incredible example of possible wisdom of crowds… Several people know more than one and if they can list and discuss their findings publicly, great, even better.

    To Sally,

    I think your student is right. Here´s what will be expected by future reporters:http://www.ojr.org/ojr/stories/060316moor/ (and this is from 2006)…

    Looking forward to meet you at one of the conferences around. If you can make it, please try to visit the IAOC Summit in Reykjavik. Hope to see you there…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *