Monday, September 25, 2006

Do Citizens Really Need "Gentle Expert Guidance" to Build a Better Online Encyclopedia? (or haven't we lost our virginity yet?)

UPDATE:10/19/06 Larry Sanger's changed the wording on his descrition of Citizendium! Okay, the use of "constables" in this version is kind of funny and makes one think of British bobbies, but Sanger is now acknowledging that this place we call the 'net has lots of intellectuals of various sort. His essay now says:
"will invite experts to serve as editors, who will be able to make content decisions in their areas of specialization, but otherwise working shoulder-to-shoulder with ordinary authors.

Bravo, Larry!

Catching up on things missed from vacation while catching up on the past week's silliness, I came across Nick Carr's commentary on Larry Sanger's new project Citizendium, which also links to a fabulous (and amusing) debate about Experts and Expertise between Clay Shirky (who starts it off here, with Sanger's retort and Shirky's rejoinder, yet both miss the following point I'm about to make....)

Essentially, Citizendium will be an "experimental new wiki project that combines public participation with gentle expert guidance," beginning its life as a "progressive fork" of Wikipedia...."But we expect it to take on a life of its own and, perhaps, to become the flagship of a new set of responsibly-managed free knowledge projects," sez Larry...

And get this tidbit:
We believe a fork is necessary, and justified, both to allow regular people a place to work under the direction of experts, and in which personal accountability--including the use of real names--is expected. In short, we want to create a responsible community and a good global citizen.

Wow...I am shocked and awed. No, make that shocked and appalled that someone as intelligent as Sanger, who appears to want to build a community, would use such condescending language to try to reach, intelligent, thoughtful, articulate, educated Citizens, who, under different circumstances, might actually be his peers.

Now, I understand that Sanger's been a bit put off by the rough and tumble anarchy of Wikipedia, and seems to have some prejudices against online communities. He seems to desire to up the ante and the level of discourse as well as input into Citizendium

But, myself and a whole host of others could tell him that he ain't gonna get it by telling everyone he's going to have "experts" offer "gentle guidance."

Let's put it this architect, who just might think of himself as an expert at building houses, who also sees himself as "regular people," may not find any desire to contribute to a place where "experts" will offer "gentle guidance."

He might not mind peer review, however.

And "gentle guidance"??? What are we, Sunday school kids trying to figure out what the whole bread-and-wine thing is all about?

Please, Larry...If you want the folks who constitute "regular people" on the 'net to be interested in your project, you're going to have to learn to speak to them at their level of intelligence...Which, quite frankly, is a lot higher than you may have been lead to believe from the level of discourse you perceive on forums, newsgroups, wikipedia, and some blogs. Remember, some of the smartest people are known for doing, and saying, very foolish things.


Anonymous said...

Say, Tish. You could be a bit more charitable with me. :-) I am regular people. I was just looking for a word other than "expert." I could have said "non-expert," which I do sometimes use, but doesn't sound as nice as "regular folks." Who doesn't want to be regular folks? Anyway, expertise is relative. I am not really much of an expert even in philosophy, where I have my Ph.D., but however that might be, I am definitely not an expert (and thus regular folks) about almost everything else. No need to be "shocked and appalled."

Tish Grier said...

Hi Larry...thanks for stopping by...

but I will say again that if you'd like to be perceived as one of us regular folks (although that's a super-odd term out here in this world) please stop employing such condescending phraseology as "gentle guidance," "allow" and "under the direction."

Realize that folks aren't necessarily going to be happy little people toiling under the yoke of the benevolent despot who will make them wise in the ways of managing knowledge...

Heck, this ain't Wal-Mart out here, ya know;-)

Anonymous said...

Tish, I find tut-tutting and self-righteous requests that I speak a particular way itself remarkably condescending. Anyway, you seem to take issue with the facts, not with my manner of expression, if you think that there's something wrong with being (voluntarily) guided, being allowed, and being directed by people. Of course, this happens all the time. It happens in the schoolroom, it happens at home, it happens at work. So what's the difference in the present connection? I would guess that you expect any work taken voluntarily online always to be done among perfect equals. Sorry, Tish, that isn't how people necessarily want to interact. If I want to help a neurosurgeon on articles about the brain, I expect, hope, and wish to be guided. I prefer that. And, in fact, I think most "regular folks" prefer that. Most people, period, are willing to recognize that there are some people who have studied a subject a lot more than they have, and they're willing to defer to them about a lot of things. I know that's certainly true of me.

Tish Grier said...


I have no problem learning from others. I've learned a lot over the years from many interesting and different people because I've been open to the process of learning and to their expertise.

Were these folks "experts"? Some were--but not by any certification process. They were, and are, considered experts by their communities because their experiece has proven out to be wise and correc. They were, however, not hard scientists.

Yet even hard scientists are also considered experts not just by what they do, what their math and science proves out, but by reputation for openness to others.

Work online can be among those who respect one anothers expertise and viewpoints. When there is a lack of respect and a sense of top-down communication, it's fairly palatable and people will not respond.

Why do you think so much of big media--and journalism--is in deep stuff these days, Larry? People are tired of having their opinions, and ideas, "guided" and "directed" and being "allowed" to communicated in a certain way. Things are changing and our word choices will affect how we are perceived.

All we have out here is words and emoticons. The same words that might be very natural and have a positive connotation when heard in the total human context of interaction can go totally awry in this vacuum.