Communications Two Point Oh!


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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

OK, let’s start out by acknowledging that Web 2.0 is so last week—or, in the parlance of Wired magazine, “expired.” Guess if I were really wired, I’d be writing about Web 4.3 or something. That said, I still find it intriguing to think about how collaborative technologies have had an impact on how we interact.

Although I tend to be a skeptic about the societal impact of {insert latest web fad}, I do think that Web 2.0 alters the info-sphere. It’s not so much about how we interact but who interacts. Most email discussion groups and bulletin board systems (BBS) “pay” participants in the currency of attention. That is, if someone says something thoughtful, it elicits lots of responses. If someone says something that sounds clueless or is low in content, they are often just ignored, hence not “paid” attention to. The result is that people who are able to express their thoughts well in ASCII are better paid than those who may have a lot of knowledge and ideas but don’t express themselves well in a forum or BBS environment.

Blogs, on the other hand, offer a medium of expression for people who may have a lot to say but don’t have the time or interest in participating in an email discussion list, or who want more virtual space to expand on their ideas than is appropriate for a discussion list. In fact, there are many wise and thoughtful people who would never de-lurk from a list even though they have expertise or a perspective relevant to the list.

Blogs have introduced an entirely new way for people to become thought leaders in their field. No need for peer review or editorial filters; ideas go straight from their brains to the world. Interestingly, we still crave some kind of sussing out: While blogs are self-publishing at its purest, we still use tools such as Technorati or Blog Influence (www.bloginfluence.net) to determine the relative impact or weight of what we read.

But before we get too enamored of blogs, consider a market research report from Gartner Inc., published in December 2006. According to its research, there are more than 200 million abandoned blogs…evidence of the fact that it takes time, energy, interest, and valuable content to sustain a blog. In fact, Gartner predicts that blogs will peak at 100 million in 2007 and will eventually drop down to 30 million.

So maybe wikis are the new blogs. Contributing to an existing corpus of knowledge—whether encyclopedic or as focused as a Muppets wiki—is something that most of us could never have dreamed of 10 years ago. I may be an expert on London Underground trivia, but unless it came up during a conversation, I would have had no easy way to share my knowledge, short of self-publishing a treatise on the subject.

Now, we not only have evolving bodies of knowledge but also ones that are self-documenting—the web equivalent of a red-lined version of the written word. Wikis keep track of every change made to the content, and allow a forum for discussion about the content; as a result, wikis are sort of three-dimensional knowledge bases.

While blogs may have peaked, I’m a bit more optimistic about wikis. For one thing, there is a small barrier to entry because creating a wiki requires a certain understanding of the structure of information, and it requires stable content, not one’s musings of the day. As a result, I haven’t seen nearly as many totally content-free wikis, whereas my unofficial take on the blogosphere is that there is a fairly low signal-to-noise ratio.

Blogs and wikis strike me as polar opposites in terms of whom they work for. Blogs are for people who have something to say and want a place to say it, separate from other conversations. Wikis are for people who wish to contribute behind the scenes, building something organically. Both are great media; I find it interesting that they are so different in terms of the flavor of the contribution. Both permit, well, larger conversations; a blog is far less ephemeral than one’s contributions on an email discussion group, and wikis accrete content with each modification. And both allow the reader to put the content in context. We can see prior blog postings or earlier versions of a wiki article; no longer do we have words out of context. The question now is what the next self-expression tool will be. I’m betting on YouTube. At least I’ll be entertained!