Content Management Tidbits

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2.0 Killed Content Stars?

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Some years ago I’ve been asked by someone very hip and very into the whole “2.0 thang” [1] whether I felt threatened by the tidal wave of user-generated content. He went on noting that even journalism was dying and that Britannica’s home page would soon sport a brand new Wikipedia logo. His eyes were glistening as he predicted the end of information as we know it. He conceded that, still, companies could try to ride the tide with a massive SEO investment, but other than that my role was going to be useless. Well, he didn’t put it so bluntly, but it was implied. His question/statement bugged me a little bit, but, as most bugging stuff, gave me also food for thought. So, let me use it to reflect a bit on the Internet and the future of knowledge. Nothing big, really: just a couple of random thoughts.

Why do you need a content manager when you have hordes of users eager to create information? (psst: auctoritas and bias detection. Keep these two concepts in mind: we will need them in a few seconds.)

I do not predict the future, but I have a privileged point of view because I am a specimen of content managers’ dying breed, but also an eager content-creating user and a clueless “let’s-google-for-info” lamer[2]: let me try to share with you the sight from this little vantage point on my sinking Atlantis.

  1. As a lamer, I represent the average Internet user. I detest the condescending opinion that the majority of Internet users are stupid, but it’s true that we, as a vast percentage, are clueless to most areas of knowledge. I do have my little expertise as a user (see below), but when it comes to–let’s say–chemistry, or geopolitics, I am as square as your average Joe. That doesn’t make me stupid. It makes me clueless. And when I’m clueless I naturally seek for guidance. And that’s when the old good principle of auctoritas comes in handy.
    Let’s take geopolitics: everybody agrees that Noam Chomsky is a great academic. So, based on the weight of his auctoritas, I decide to read his writings to get me started in this fascinating world. I can see some of you are frowning. There’s no need to: remember the second word? Bias detection? I am sure you can already see where this is going.
  2. I am also a content-creating user, since I am fairly knowledgeable in some areas. Let’s take music for example. With my decent share of records and readings under my belt, I’m going to read the review of an upcoming album by a new band on Tumbling Rocks (a mainstream magazine that’s not going to hit your newsstands, don’t worry). The album is released under the label Acme Intl, and I know that Acme Intl has invested a lot of money on this band, like some double-spread ads on Tumbling Rocks. I can already detect the bias of a magazine that has to juggle between an honest reporting and a publisher that wants to keep those spreads going. It can be a thoughtful bias (“a young, talented band – a promising debut”) or it can be a shameless one (“Meet the new Beatles”). In any case I can detect it, if not predict it verbatim. Bias detection gets me to the core of the report, which I may still find useful and interesting, because the magazine has access to some information I could never get elsewhere (auctoritas). Bias is not a bad thing per se: if it’s open, it gives you a powerful cognitive context and lets you sift the information more accurately. So, you frowning reader, yes: Noam Chomsky is worth reading, but I agree that I wouldn’t want to resort to him as the auctoritas [3].

Everything gets even messier when the source is collective. You may be aware of the radical stances taken by the single author, but if the filter of the collective intelligence is not strong enough, how can I be sure that what I’m reading on a wiki is accurate and up-to-date?

Now: where does all this take me as the titanic Roy Batty of content managers? Let’s say that I do believe in collective intelligence. And as a user I can heavily contribute to it. But I (still) cannot rely on it.

So, the answer to the first question is: no, I do not feel threatened by user-generated content.

Because the collective intelligence still needs a middleman to convey its knowledge to the world. I am not a publisher: I am a filter.

[1] Sorry for the trivialization, I have the utmost respect for the amazing things that have been accomplished in the last years, a little less patience with people whose knowledge of the Internet seems entirely based on the concepts of “social networking”, “long tail” and “collective intelligence”.
[2] From the Merriam-Webster: “slang: a person who is not in the know”.
[3] Unless we’re talking about linguistics. The guy invented this, you know?

Written by Paola

June 16, 2008 at 10:26 am

Posted in the role

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