As the Web 2.0 model has shifted to content being generated by users (often referred to as “crowdsourcing”) as opposed to administrators, it’s presented a somewhat novel problem of proofing the contributions of the masses.
The “Bewildered Herd” is a term attributed to Walter Lippmann who is one of the early scholars of journalism and public relations. Lippmann’s contention was that the public was essentially too inept to govern itself and needed to have smart people make up its mind for it in order for society to function. To wit:
“The public must be put in its place, so that it may exercise its own powers, but no less and perhaps even more, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.”
(Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, 1922)
Crowdsourcing (originated by Jeff Howe of Wired) is explained by Clay Shirky below:
On the whole, user-generated contributions are amazingly effective and have accomplished a powerful amount of the work in building the Internet. There are, though, occasionally problems. Here are some of the sites I try to watch regularly for inaccuracies and misinformation:
- Google Local
- Yahoo Answers
- Google Sidewiki
Which crowdsourcing sites do you monitor for inaccuracies?
I wrote a while earlier about the impact of the new era of transparency on BP’s continuing public relations crisis. Since then, a couple of other new phenomenon caught my attention:
- Google Sidewiki: This somewhat-forgotten tool created by Google to accompany webpages and help contextualize them with user contributions has a bit of content that isn’t exactly kind to BP.
- The Black Oil Firefox Plugin: Designed by design agency Jess3, this add-on to Firefox makes the pages viewed by your browser look like a redacted document from the CIA as it blacks out references to British Petroleum (the blacked out portions eventually animate and drip ala crude).
These two items may seem like frivolous distractions, but they’re not. They’re exquisite reminders of how little control we exercise over the web, particularly as the content that populates it and the tools that browse it become more and more sophisticated and oriented toward individual control.
You can spend all the time you want tweaking your website until it’s just the way you want, but what you create may not at all be what ends up being delivered to the end user.