Saturday, February 3, 2007

Blog Post 3: Wikiality-The New Reality

I am very optimistic that online global collaboration and DIY information gathering and reporting (for instance, Wikipedia and citizen bloggers) are a positive and exciting development in the area of education and social networking.

But (dun! dun! dun!) there is also a "dark" side to Web 2.0.

I hope the above tag line was sufficiently dramatic, I was trying for a serious and menacing mood but...
Next time I'll leave the scare tactics to the mainstream news networks.

Recently, I have had a great time exploring some of the ideas and current events related to Web 2.0 and social software in the context of popular culture and how it has been portrayed. It turns out that many television and cable shows, news agencies, books, music videos, movies, and even cartoons have all been referencing the online, social phenomenon for good and bad. Of course this is not surprising, pop culture has always attempted to mirror reality and to be contemporary and relevant but what I did find particularly entertaining (as well as strangely relevant to our class) were the commentaries of one of my favorite entertainers, Stephen Colbert.

Perhaps some of you are already familiar with the Colbert Report on Comedy Central, if so you know that it is a fake news show that is essentially a parody of Fox News and in particular, commentator Bill O'Reilly. Recently, Stephen mentioned Wikipedia on several of his shows and coined the term Wikialty to describe the concept of democratic information or reality by consensus. He has even gone so far as to encourage people to make fraudulent changes to several entries on Wikipedia to create a new truth. His sarcasm, dry humor, and willingness to taunt the creators and "mediators" of Wikipedia and the functionality of the site itself creates a platform to introduce these serious issues in a fun and entertaining way.

Although I personally think Stephen is a comedic genius and that his show is largely for entertainment and not to be taken too seriously, I think he does bring to light some important issues and concerns surrounding the dissemination and creation of information resources by the general public. Again, I do have faith that these issues are ones we can overcome or at least learn to work around but thinking about and discussing the possible failures and/or abuses of these technologies is worth our time and attention.

Some issues worth discussing that Stephen addressed on his show and have been in recent headlines include:

What is the truth when information is consensus based and how easily can it be altered? Colbert and the population of African Elephants.
Read some of the mixed opinions and responses to Stephen's antics by CBS news and several bloggers.

How does the commercialization and/or manipulation of information affect social web 2.0 tools?
Microsoft pays contributor to edit content on Wikipedia. It's not as cut and dry as it sounds, read both perspectives.

If information is linked and/or sited by other sources does this make the information seem credible when perhaps it is not?
The snowball effect and unverified stories. The madrasa story: how does information shape our perspectives on reality?
Stephen will corroborate any rumor you post!

It all makes for an interesting discussion, lets talk about it.

On a side note,
I can't imagine an encyclopedia has ever gotten so much attention by popular culture-this has to be good for education and the information profession!!!
Encyclopedias and information are on the pop culture radar!


dan said...
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dan said...

I agree with you that while Web 2.0 and the new possibilities available to us are exciting, there are also pitfalls. Stephen Colbert raised an important issue in his critique of Wikipedia. If people really are using Wikipedia as the definitive source for information they are certainly making themselves vulnerable to having their ideas shaped by people whose only intention is to mislead. When one is consulting a typical encyclopedia there still exists the potential for erroneous or biased information, but Wikipedia is a much murkier source. While studies have shown that Wikipedia entries are just as valid as Britanica's, Colbert has pointed out how easily it is to vandalize entries or create absurd ones, thus deteriorating wikipedia's validity. A friend of mine named Ben has also created some fake entries that managed to stay up for about a week before they were caught by moderators.

With so much misinformation and "junk" science available in the media, Colbert is right to question the "truthiness" of websites that, despite idealistic intentions, enable people or companies like my friend Ben and Microsoft to present their own vision of the truth as fact.

As librarians, we can work to promote information literacy among our patrons by encouraging them to think critically about all information they encounter.

Dana9876 said...

The article "Are Librarians Totally Obsolete? 33 Reasons Why Libraries and Librarians are Still Extremely Important" by Will Sherman raises some good points on the "wisdom of crowds" as it relates to sites such as Wikipedia.

In No. 20, Sherman writes that the wisdom of crowds might work in a vacuum, but "groups are easily influenced by their vanguard--those who are the first to do something and who automatically have extra influence, even if what they are doing is not necessarily the best idea" (i.e., Stephen Colbert, although I do find the show very funny).

I also like No. 22 because it explains how important it is for librarians to teach people how to evaluate information found on the web. If librarians don't do it, who will? Sherman writes, "After all, web moderators are concerned primarily with the environment which they oversee and less so with teaching web skills to strangers. Teachers and professors are busy with their subjects and specializations. Librarians, therefore, must be the ones who cross over into the internet to make information more easily accessible. Instead of eliminating the need for librarians, technology is reinforcing their validity."

Brian said...

I am so glad to see someone talking about the downsides. A lot of bloggers are really caught up in the positives of Web 2.0 and forget to look at the flaws. Take the wisdom of crowds, for instance. Sometimes, groups take on a herd mentality and lose that ability to self-examine. There is also a dark side to the choice and personalization that Web 2.0 affords: even with more content available, it's easier to filter out what you don't want to hear or see, even if you should hear it or see it.