Friday, March 7, 2008

Mass Collaboration meets the Experts

Yesterday, Newsweek posted a web exclusive, Revenge of the Experts, delineating and heightening the debate over the value of user generated content. The subtitle reads:

The individual user has been king on the Internet, but the pendulum seems to be swinging back toward edited information vetted by professionals.

The article goes on to challenge the exclusive role of mass collaboration and begins to define the growing role of experts in generating trusted web content.

My gut is that we need both and we should begin to think through better ways to integrate the two. However, to start, we need to look at the PURPOSE of the content we are looking to generate and evaluate the factors that would produce the best outcome – which always varies on the basis of being “free, perfect, and now”. In each situational context, we can make decisions based on a common set of factors that can be weighed and traded off as we consider the options we have to produce the best outcome within the constraints that are in front of us.

For instance, if I need to quickly understand the stats behind the Patriots recent championship seasons, it might make a lot of sense to ask the web where I would probably get a get an accurate, fast, and cheap response. On the other hand, if I am looking to understand the genuine subtleties of the relationship between Iran and the U.S., it would behoove me to engage some educated perspectives of history, politics, religion, and culture to weave an intricate but delicate understanding.

This leaves us with the need to define the factors for evaluating content and/or its the process of its development. My guess is that there is plenty of existing thought on this topic. For instance, the framework would need to consider facts and the accuracy thereof, opinion and the diversity of perspective, and context and the narrative of the times or specific situation. Once we identify these factors, we can begin an educated dialog on how to balance and integrate mass collaboration with professional expertise and focus – possibly for both the content and the process of generating the content! Who knows, we might be able to have a 1+1=3 result for both Web 2.0 and E2.0 applications.

What are your thoughts? We would value your comments on this topic and any references that you might be willing to share.


Bob I said...

"My guess is that there is plenty of existing thought on this topic."

You guessed right!

I'm reminded of James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds.
While many folks describe the thesis as "the crowd is smarter than the expert," the book is more subtle than that. Surowiecki spends a good deal of time describing what makes a "wise" crowd (and less wise crowds), and one of the keys, if I recall correctly, is the "aggregation mechanism." A thorough reading would acknowledge that sometimes, editorial review can improve upon the crowd wisdom.

Also, I recently read an article at Slate subtitled "The Myth of Web 2.0 Democracy," which touches upon some of the same topics as the Newsweek article. In Surowiecki's terms, the Slate writer is comparing aggregation mechanisms for determining either "final" (in the case of Wikipedia) or "featured" (in the case of Digg and Slashdot) information.

Here's my attempt to add value to what's otherwise just a pair of suggested readings: When it comes to taking advantage of user-generated content, I think eventually, many "businesses" will get it right - trial and error, market forces, "evolution," etc. However, any individual business today has the significant challenge of not knowing the optimal aggregation mechanism for its own organization, and it may not be easy to get management to invest in what's essentially an attempt. So if you're the evangelist in your organization, is the right strategy to get your management to invest in one attempt, which is a risky bet, or to invest in "until we get it right," which might be a tougher sell.

RTodd said...

Does this described dynamic change within the organization? (E2.0). Just from a high level perspective, the majority of information posted to the internal blogs and wiki's are directly related to the business. Only a small percentage is focused on other topics.