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Two Heads are (Sometimes) Better Than One. The Individual and the Collective in the Web 2.0

Lanier- Digital Maoism

Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, composer, visual artist and author, who popularized the term “Virtual Reality”. His latest book is “You are not a Gadget. A Manifesto“.

The basic tenets of Maoism include revolutionary struggle of the vast majority of people against the exploiting classes and their state structures, termed a People’s War. Usually involving peasants, its military strategies have involved guerrilla war tactics focused on surrounding the cities from the countryside, with a heavy emphasis on political transformation through the mass involvement of the basic people of the society. -Wikipedia

Anecdotal starter: Lanier directed an unsuccessful experimental short film about 10 years ago, and that data somehow crept into his Wikipedia entry. He would like that particular piece of information to be forgotten and has edited it many times but someone (or many) keep typing it back in. Media reporters (“the portion of the world that is attempting to remain real”) have asked him about his filmmaking career—based, of course, on that profile. In this essay, he uses Wikipedia as an example to analyze and criticize “online collectivism”.

He points out two ideas present now in the current online collective trend:

  1. The idea that the collective is all-wise.
  2. That it is desirable to have few coordinating actors: “to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force.” This concentration of power is not to be taken for representative democracy or meritocracy, rather he compares it with extremist politics, used both by the far Right and far Left in different historical moments and presently re-introduced by technologists.

He then argues against online collectivism:

  • Wikipedia is not as marvelous as it’s believed. It is not balanced to make a comparison between Britannica and Wikipedia encyclopedias. Wikipedia is strong in topics that change constantly, such as science, because the web is the place to find the right authors (young, “competent specialist graduate students”) that research and review this kind of knowledge.
  • “Sometimes loosely structured collective activities yield continuous improvements and sometimes they don’t.” The idea that problems in the wiki will correct themselves as the process unfolds is as imprecise as thinking that free market regulates itself. He believes that for a text to be desirable, it needs to offer more than just accurate data.
  • Most of the information in Wikipedia was already on the Web, but original texts lose value in the process of being modified for it.

  • W. lacks an editorial voice and it decontextualizes the content. For Lanier, Myspace is a better example of collectivism: the central idea is authorship and it doesn’t pretend to be objective or a trustworthy authority, as an encyclopedia.

Removing the scent of people

Aggregating sites started with the first site directories, such as Yahoo or AltaVista, and developed all the way to blogs and meta-blogs. According to Lanier, up to this point “real people were still in charge”—there was some form of identified authorship that allowed for interpretation of the source. Value was considered to come from connecting with real humans, not from faceless conglomerates. Google (this is 2006) is not a threat to authorship, because it provides “one layer of page ranking.” The problem comes with apparent objectivity—when the aim is to erase the trace of people to simulate that “content is emerging out of the web…as a supernatural oracle”.

The Hive Mind

There is a proliferation in the Web 2.0 of aggregating sites that function as “Consensus Web Filters” (Digg, Reddit, Populrs, Vivisimo, and social aggregating sites like SecondBrain, FriendFeed, profilactic and, of course, Feast and Buzz) which use algorithms to present data from other aggregating sites. The criterion is to present what is most popular, or more present in the Web, but that doesn’t mean they’re showing the most important or relevant information. According to Kevin Kelly (Wired) these sites show the hive mind—the opposite of the individual author or institution who takes responsibility for the information provided. The danger, Lanier argues, is that “people become uncritical and dim in order to make these Meta-aggregator sites become coherent.” According to him, this is how Artificial Inteligence technology is (or was) welcomed– “people are too willing to lower standards in order to make the purported newcomer appear smart.”

Collective thought is becoming mainstream

The Internet connects people; it’s not an entity in itself with a voice of its own. Lanier makes a strong distinction between the quality of writing professionally (“writing meant to last”) and blogging—he believes that “it’s easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play the crowd”. Still, he believes that the problem is that new business models for people who think and write haven’t appeared as quickly as hoped. Thus, the aggregators earn much more out of compiling than the reporters who create the content. This Meta-system is going beyond the Web and influencing other areas:

  • Elite organizations (government, universities, planning corporations, opinion leaders like The New York Times) that are attracted by the idea of the infallible collective.
  • There is a trend of privileging collective knowledge (such as surveys) over new ideas crafted by independent minds that are considered authorities in the field.
  • This is favored because in the current “liability phobia” it minimizes risks and responsibilities. It is safer to be the aggregator of the collective.

As a consultant for large institutions, Lanier has participated in elite Meta-surveys, finding these results: loss of insight and subtlety, disregard for the nuances of considered opinions, and a tendency to enshrine the beliefs of an organization [What would Google do?]

He believes that the lack of critical reaction the to this phenomenon is because “bad old ideas look confusingly fresh when they are packed as technology”.

For him, the main problem with collectivism is that it is becoming central and leading. If only what the majority likes has a chance at success, then the periphery is left outside. For example, American Idol is dictating the trends for new pop artists to thrive—but under the show’s standards, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan would’ve lost the competition.

The collective isn’t always stupid—and the individual isn’t always right.

The “Wisdom of Crowds” is a real, very useful phenomenon in certain situations. Google’s algorithms and Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” are valuable and successful tools that can’t be substituted by a single person’s knowledge.

On the other hand, there are cases “when intelligent thought really matters. In that case, the average idea can be quite wrong, and only the best ideas have lasting value. Science is like that”

Therefore, both kinds of intelligence are essential. The market is a good example of “the marriage of collective and individual intelligence”: The prices are determined by competition, but individual entrepreneurs come up with the products that are competing in the first place.

For him, clever individuals ask the questions and the collective behavior answers them.

The collective thought:

  • is more likely to be smart when it isn’t defining its own questions,
  • is better at solving problems which demand results that can be evaluated by uncontroversial parameters (such as hard data and numbers) but bad when taste and judgment matter.
  • needs its information to be filtered by a quality control mechanism that relies highly on individuals.

He compares aggregation sites with open source, like Linux:

  • They differ in authorship: open source programming is not anonymous, as personal glory is part of the motivational engine for collaboration.

  • They both lack a coherent design sensibility in an esthetic sense (i.e., if we compare Wikipedia or Linux with Apple applications)
  • Open source is very efficient in building hidden information plumbing layers, such as Web servers, but hopeless in producing fine user interfaces or user experiences. [Thinking back to Google Buzz and Mushon’s point: Google’s social applications are designed by engineers, not by sociologists—therefore, the whole social point is missed]

We must consider that there are certain things which are better done by individuals—such as design, lawmaking, and aesthetics–  but others that should be carried out by communities—such as official price setting and, of course, deciding who will rule a country. Still, the best examples of collective intelligence are those that are guided by well-meaning individuals (like democracies and scientific communities). Personality-based quality control can improve collective intelligence and prevent it from becoming stupid and unreliable. Such is the case of independent press and the academy, where opinion leaders are guides or shapers of collective thought.

Lanier acknowledges that no mechanism is perfect, of course, but that it’s important to learn the good stuff from the pre-Internet institutions and apply it to the new ways of knowledge formation. Likewise, the collectivity of the hive mind can help keep in check the doings of the like of the academy, the government, and the press, by maintaining strict observation of their doings.

The hive’s speed

Another thing to consider is the time and speed of collective work:it can move too quickly, fidgeting from one subject to the next without focusing enough to fully provide a working answer. (As THE THESIS warns against the mind-grazing tendency that takes the attention from one site to the other, leaving things unfinished.)

  • it can keep changing incessantly matters that need to be settled, such as law.
  • it might be moving in the right direction, but too slowly. Consensus takes time, and certain situations (such as national emergencies or problems like global warming) require immediate action taken by individuals.
  • rules help to speed up development. According to Lanier, technology took off in Modernity thanks to the structure and constraints that had developed by then. Therefore, excessive openness and flexibility can slow down the process.

The illusion that what we already have is close to good enough, or that it will fix itself, is a dangerous illusion.

Lanier ends on a strong note by warning against the dangers of an empowered hive mind that, according to him, historically has gone to extremes such as Maoism and Fascism.

Empowering the collective does not empower individuals—it works the other way around. The hive mind is a tool that can provide feedback to individuals, but it’s too chaotic to be fed back into itself. Therefore, it needs the individual thought to filter and guide it. Individuals should always be cherished first. There needs to be a humanistic and practical way to maximize value of the collective on the Web without “turning ourselves into idiots.”

Responses to Lanier’s Digital Maoism

Lanier’s essay, as you can imagine, generated Tsunami waves throughout the Web. Clay Shirky organized the very diverse responses to the text, from several authors.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF- Media Analyst; Documentary Writer; Author, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out, award-winning Frontline documentary “The Merchants of Cool”, ex-professor at NYU’s ITP (Tisch).

Indeed, a poorly developed group mind is unpredictable and dangerous. Therefore, user-created database cannot be used with blind confidence.

Still, collective intelligences are not emerging in a vacuum. Specific media platforms are shaping their processes. Wikipedia isn’t throwing away the academic elite of thinkers: it is replacing it with the interactive media elite. This group has its own kind of credentials: (“just because [it] may include a 14-year-old with an internet connection doesn’t change the fact that he’s educated, techno-savvy, and [has] free time to research and post for no pay… he’s certainly in as good position as anyone to get there”)

A networked collaboration is not the Wild West: it is an ecology of interdependencies, with status and influence. In many cases, the filters are more fair and merit-based than those of grad school.

Yes, many current websites have more aggregation that original work. But all of Western culture since post-modernism suffers the same problem. The cultural problem (as in American Idol and the NYT) is not caused by digital populism, but by a priority shift that replaces cultural values with consumer capitalism. The alienating effects of this shift is motivating today’s collective activity.

Authorship is a matter of ego and royalties. Science and technology’s greatest achievements are articulations of collective realizations. The collective is not good at artistic writing or composing—because the Web is aimed at connecting things, not creating them.

Therefore, let’s not dismiss the possibilities of a virtual community based solely on the early results of the technology. The internet may not produce a whole cooperative society, but it might help model new kinds of behaviors towards that goal. The “individual” is as much a social construction as “the collective”.

QUENTIN HARDY- Silicon Valley bureau chief of Forbes Magazine, Berkley School of Information.

Wikipedia might be the worst example of collective mind. It is only a great experiment. Unlike successful collectives, t is unbounded and ungoverned.

It is not desirable to eliminate all error. The process of mistakes is necessary in society and nature.

Definitions of the self and the crowd are ever changing. This new tool might be taking us away from individualism and back towards folk culture, but it’s possible that a third thing might be happening.

The discovery of new ways to be is not a new phenomenon: it’s typical of revolutionary advances in transport and communications.

What is considered successful filtering? Aggregation is just one more example of the problem of the excess of information and what is managed to be heard. Newspapers are filters, too.

Pop culture has always existed, and it has never thrown out endless great stuff. Carrie Underwood and Clay Aiken are not supposed to be Janis Joplin and John Lennon.

Existing hierarchies are not the best places to test the efficacy of the new communication tools. Lanier is testing meta-surveys as part of consulting work for institutions that prefer collective thought doesn’t grow, such as governments and corporations.

Yes, collectives need rules and are best when they don’t define their own questions.

YOCHAI BENKLER- Law professor at Yale, Author: The Wealth of Networks.

Yes, decentralized production can be effective at certain tasks, but that doesn’t mean “collective is always better”—rather, a system needs to be designed to guard against mediocre or malicious contributions through filters.

But there is no loss of individuality by the growth of the collective. Rather, Benkler sees markets, governments and general social relations as overlapping systems that enable and disable action for the individuals who inhabit them. “Because of constraints and organizational adaptations in the last 150 years, information, knowledge and cultural production system has taken on an industrial form to the exclusion of social and peer-production.” That is the cause of the Britney Spears and American Idols, and also of the decline of the NYT and traditional media. The mainstream media tends to uncritically repeat official information much more than the blogosphere does.

As for filters and aggregations, the Web allows for clusters, links and conversation around interesting topics. Those choices create a different path for determining what issues are relevant. This new system is imperfect but harder to corrupt than the advertising-supported media that dominated the 20th century.

Wikipedia is not faceless—its participants develop persistent identities and communities around the definitions. What is amazing is that ten years ago it would’ve been seen as impossible, and now the product of well-intentioned individuals is being compared to the gold standard of encyclopedias.

Network based social production offers new challenges and new opportunities. It is an alternative form of production than markets, firms and governments—with different motivations, accreditation and organization. And it’s the opposite of Maoism: it is based on enhanced individual capabilities, either solo or in loose voluntary associations.

CLAY SHIRKY-you know him.

Lanier reunites dissimilar kinds of group action to analyze the downsides of collective production. There are things wrong with each form of collective action, but the same mistakes are not made in each of them. Lanier misses the opportunity of a good critique by overgeneralizing Wikipedia, American Idol and RSS aggregators, and they work differently.

“Wikipedia is an engaged community that uses a large and growing number of regulatory mechanisms to manage a huge set of proposed edits. Anonymous additions are subjected to a higher degree of control. It is similar to Linux in that the motivations of the contributors are much the same.” Therefore, it has the filters and organization that Lanier considers to be lacking.

“Since social life involves a tension between individual freedom and group participation, the changes wrought by computers and networks are therefore in tension. To have a discussion about the plusses and minuses of various forms of group action requires discussing the current tools and services as they exist.”

CORY DOCTOROW- Science fiction novelist, blogger, activist, co-editor of boingboing.net

Historically, the best way to keep the important things around is to reduce the barriers to entry. It is impossible to predict what will be important in the future, and therefore the more things you have, the more important things you’ll have then. There is no reason to eliminate a new business model because it doesn’t look like today’s models.

Wikipedia was created in no time, for almost no cost, by people who had no access to the traditional cannon. It isn’t great because it’s like Britannica—B. is great at being authoritative, edited, expensive and monolithic. W. is great at being free, brawling, universal and instantaneous. B. tells you what white dead men agreed upon, W. tells you what live internet users are fighting over. Its “history” and “discuss” pages allow learning about the discussions that go under the task of defining “truth”—since truth is an illusion and there’s always more than one approach to any issue.

“Wikipedia is a noble experiment in defining a protocol for organizing the individual efforts of disparate authors with conflicting agendas.” The important thing about systems is not how they work, but how they fail. Fixing a Wikipedia article is simpler than participating in the discussion, but “that’s the price you pay for truth, and it’s still cheaper than starting up your own Britannica”.

KEVIN KELLY- Wired, Cool Tools, Out of Control.

Nor the Wikipedia, or any other collective entities, are pure hive mind. Wikipedia has an elite at is center, and a lot of deliberate design management going on. Evolution in these systems need to be hastened, that is why the hive mind needs to have intelligent design introduced. Top-down control is inserted to speed and direct a system toward its goals. Until this era, technology was primarily all control and design. Now it can be design and hive.

Because the hive mind is smart enough to care about, even if it is dumb. Its brute dumbness produces the raw material that design smarts can work on.

Is Wikipedia a template of other kinds of information of creative works? It might be that the 2006 model is not good for much more than writing universal encyclopedias, but the 2056 one will be.

Wikipedia (impossible in theory, possible in practice) is an example of the fact that the bottom-up hive mind will take us much further than it seems possible. At the same time, it proves that the hive mind by itself won’t ever take us to our goal. We are too impatient for it to evolve by itself, so we add design and top-down control to get where we want to go.

ESTHER DYSON- Editor at large, CNET Networks; Editor, Release 1.0; Director, PC Forum; Author, Release 2.0

The argument is between voting/aggregating (where anonymous people raise or lower averages) versus arguments by recognizable individuals that answer the arguments of other individuals.

The first is useful in coming up with numbers and trends, but it’s not creative in the way that evolution creates species (not by blind voting, but through structured logical changes consistent with the whole).

That’s why there’s representative government: they are the individual experts that design coherent strategies, and collective action (voters) select them.

So, to get the best results, we have people sharpening their ideas against one another rather than simply editing someone’s contribution and replacing it with another (Wikipedia). And we also have a world where the contributors have identities (like politicians or journalists) and are accountable for their words.

LARRY SANGER- Co-founder of Wikipedia; Director of Collaborative Projects, Digital Universe Foundation; Director, Text Outline Project.

The collectivism that Lanier describes is a terrible thing, but no one would admit believing that the collective is “all wise”. Sanger criticized Wikipedia in 2004 for not properly respecting expertise, and got replies saying that Wikipedia has shown that experts are no longer needed, and a wide-ranging description of everyone’s opinions is more valuable than what an expert thinks.

For Sanger, this speaks about an epistemological shift: “Positive epistemic status” is a term that refers to the positive features that can attach to beliefs: i.e. truth, knowledge, justification, evidence, etc.

According to the existing tendency of validating the collective thought over expertise opinion, he sees that the traditional kinds of positive epidemic status are being replaced of whatever it is that the collective believes or endorses. Sanger calls this “epistemic collectivism”.

Epistemic collectivism is a real phenomenon: a lot of people do place the views of the collective uppermost. The phenomenon is rooted in relativism: if there is no objective truth, if there is no reality “out there” that we can be wrong or right about, then there is no way to make sense of expertise or intellectual authority. If you are an epistemic collectivist, then it’s natural to think that the experts can be overruled by the rest of us.

Sanger rejects epistemic collectivism, but promotes strong collaboration because:

  • Wikipedia does not produce an averaged view that is better than an authoritative statement by experts. It organizes enormous amounts of labor for a single intellectual purpose.
  • The virtue of strong collaboration is that it represents a new kind of “industrial revolution” for mental effort.
  • What is great is the sheer efficiency of these systems, not their ability to produce The Truth. That is another problem.

Lanier’s negative collectivism does exist, but is not inherent in tools, such as wikis, nor in methods, such as collaboration and aggregation.

FERNANDA VIEGAS & MARTIN WATTENBERG- Visual Communication Lab, IBM Research

It is hard to claim that Wikipedia is built by an anonymous, mindless mob engaged in foolish collectivism. It provides the transparency that almost no other system offers, by giving full context of the discussion on any entry in the “talk pages”. “This kind of debate doubtless happens in the NYT and Britannica as well, but behind the scenes. Wikipedia readers can see it all, and understand how choices were made…That is not exactly a Maoist mob.” Wikipedia’s uniqueness also resides in its shared policy, providing guidelines to the situations that emerge in editing.

The hive mind is hard to find in Wikipedia—crowd editing usually comes with current events, and plummets after the event loses media exposure. Once that happens, the core group of editors takes over the page maintenance.

As long as critiques of Wikipedia’s processes stop at the article level, they will continue to miss the point. The collective will makes mistakes but also attempts to keep itself in check through emerging policies and guidelines. This publicly available context distinguishes W from algorithmic or market-based aggregation.

JIMMY WALES- Founder and Chair of the Board of the Wikimedia Foundation.

“A core belief of the wiki world is that whatever problems exist in the wiki will be incrementally corrected as the process unfolds”. To that, Wales argues that this “core belief” is not held by him or any important or prominent Wikimedians—nor do they have any particular faith in collectives or collectivism as a mode of writing. Authoring at Wikipedia, as everywhere, is done by individuals exercising the judgment of their own minds.

GEORGE DYSON- Science historian; author, Project Orion

All intelligence is collective. Lanier’s own intelligence was formed by meta levels of information processing language, symbols and meanings throughout his childhood…

The important part of his message is a warning to respect, and preserve, our own intelligence. The dangers of relinquishing individual intelligence are real.

“Real artificial intelligence (if and when) will be unfathomable to us. At our level, it may appear as dumb as American Idol, or as pointless as [the endless corrections of Lanier’s Wikipedia entry.]”

DAN GILLMOR-Founder & director, Center for Citizen Media. Columnist and author.

Lanier’s unfortunate title undermines his essay, to say the least.

The issue is more about a community than a collective. Like with any task, you need experts and novices to chip in. Leaders emerge to steer the process and the goal is reached. “It is also about persistence—and celebrating the reality that knowledge is not a static end-point but rather an ongoing process.” Mistakes were committed in old journalism and research, too—and those articles are now there, never to be updated because they are in print. The flaws in Wikipedia are real, but they’re worth enduring because we can watch the community operates around individual articles and the project as a whole.

The debate does demonstrate that we need to update our media literacy in a digital, distributed era. Our critical thinking is there, but it’s fallen into a low level of use in the old media world. People tend to believe everything they read, or to disbelief everything. Too few apply proper skepticism and do the additional work that true media literacy requires.

More than popularity, we need better tools to help the community gauge the reliability and authenticity of what we find online. “Reputation has to become part of the mix in systems that combine human and machine intelligence in novel ways” [Reputation is still a tricky tool. How about the critique to the NYT?]

HOWARD RHEINGOLD- Communications expert; Author, Smart Mobs

  • Collective action is not the same as collectivism.
  • Commons-based peer production in Wikipedia, open source software, and prediction markets is collective action, not collectivism.
  • Collective action involves freely chosen self-election and distributed coordination.
  • Collectivism involves coercion and centralized control; treating the internet as commons doesn’t mean it’s communist.

World Wide Mush- Jaron Lanier

Four years after Digital Maoism,  Lanier critically analyzes the collective nature of the online world and the existing framework that organizes the Web 2.0. This was published in the Wall Street Journal on January 8, as a preview for his book “You Are Not a Gadget”.

Lanier considers that “a new kind of collectivism” dictates the way many (or most) people participate in the online world. From Wikipedia to Google Wave to music sites like Pandora, the most easily available information on the web is put together, directly or indirectly, by millions of authors.

This is a shift from more passive ways of cultural consuming that were the norm back in the 80’s (such as watching TV). In a way, this collective production is actually what the pioneers of the Internet dreamt of back in its early years—a participative community replacing the inactive one.

But Lanier points to the darker consequences on the other side of the coin:

He questions the utopist idea of the Web 2.0 as a forum where everybody’s voice can be heard, because too many voices “can pile on, ending drowning one another out”.

The global mush: These millions of voices (or collaborators) sharing their ideas and projects on the Web form a huge mixture that Lanier calls the global mush. He points out that collectivism lets everyone know what the rest is working on, and eventually aims at consensus, lowering both innovation and diversity. Collectivism eliminates competition, which (as with everything else in the market) forces people to find better alternatives and fosters creativity “When you have everyone collaborate on everything, you generate a dull, average outcome in all things”.

He makes an argument of proprietary development still being the most successful way of creating innovative products. To prove that, he points at booming examples, such as the iPhone and Adobe’s Flash, which are definitely not built by collectives.

But the problem does not reside solely on the ideological level. He explains that on the last third of the 20th century, the US shifted its economic and industrial structure from physical labor to intellectual activities. Instead of internally taking care of manufacture, those tasks were outsourced to the developing countries while Americans focused on generating design, entertainment, and other types of intellectual property. But at the same time, there was a general championing of information flow and sharing; the Web 2.0 was becoming more and more open and free—free music, free videos, and free info.

For Lanier, this equation “leaves no way … to earn a living in the long term”. Aiming at making a living from intellectual property contradicts opening the doors for free culture.

Unlike capitalism, in collectivism money is not the ideal earning. “The open paradigm rests on the assumption that the way to get ahead is to give away your brain’s work … and earn kudos instead of money.”

For him, this framework just isn’t working:

  • Intellectual work is produced for free, which gives the author some recognition in response, creating a personal brand which he can cash in by doing some other kind of physical work. But as technology is getting better, all jobs, even those, are threatened.
  • Only a tiny handful of writers and musicians are actually making a good living out of their collective labor.
  • The big players in the Internet (like Google) will keep on making money out of data and advertising for quite a long time. The rest will be forced to keep on working in exchange of pure recognition (such as “Likes”, ratings, comments, or any other rating scale).
  • Furthermore, these anonymous contributions “rob people of dignity”—by not fairly paying them back for their time and intellectual labor.

On the contrary, improved technology should be creating better jobs for people (more comfortable and cerebral).

In general, he considers collectivism to be a fallacy, linked to youthful and naïve utopian views of fairness. He warns about pointless aggregation substituting active, productive energy. “I want [young people] to develop as fierce individuals…when they work together, I hope they’ll do so in competitive, genuinely distinctive teams so that they can get hones feedback and create big-time innovations that earn royalties, instead of spending all their time on crowd-pleasing[activities]…or become a mob”.

He believes the actual framework to be so entrenched that it’s hard to make people challenge it and consider other alternatives. He seems to argue that the market allows for more benefits than collective work does.

The Digital Given—10 Web 2.0 Theses. by Ippolita, Geert Lovink & Ned Rossiter

On 2009, media scholars Geert Lovink, Ned Rossiter (who came to NYU last Fall to the Internet as Playground conference) , and the Ippolita Collective published this manifesto on the status of Web 2.0.   I consider that Lanier’s texts are related to several of the theses, particularly No. 2 , 3 & 4.

0. Internet is an indifferent bystander to the global financial crisis. If we consider that the digital is given—the everyday—it’s possible to rethink the political, emotional and social involvement in internet culture over the next few years.

1. In the middle of the economic crisis, the internet is not an essential actor—it’s out of the guilt. Even more so, it’s still growing madly. Web 2.0 applications remain new, but get lost fast amongst the stressful and uncertain working lives of the connected users.

2. Networking sites are social drugs for those in need of the human that is located elsewhere. They lure us with the promise of distraction from the present moment, and situate us all in a comfortable middle ground where social antagonisms are diluted and softened into the organized mainstream. Alternative and diversity are erased from the Web, and the same old opinions and cultural patterns prevail. The network becomes the language itself. They are all data-mined, designed to be exploited and trap us in the illusion of not working, while in reality we are laboring without producing.

3. Social networking sites do not fill the need for sustainable social relations. They respond to fashion and demonstrate the “enculturalisation of software”— people move from one to the next site in an “impulsive grazing mentality” without developing true attachment for a common goal. Sustainability is connected with scaleability. Unlike the big social transformations of the past decades, they do not promote true political change in any substantial way, even if they are as massive as these social movements were.

4. What are the collective concepts of the social networked masses? The networked activity (tag, link, share, tweet) is engineered from the top-down by the corporate programmers and is not a signal of any form of collective intelligence. [but, according to Clay Shirky, isn’t it sharing definitely ahead of consuming? Is social networking a form of corporativism?] Better social networks are organized networks involving better individuals – it’s your responsibility, it’s your time. We need imagination, but only if it illuminates concepts that transform concrete conditions. What is needed is an invention of social network software where everybody is a concept designer.

5. Web 2.0 provides a much better forum for “positive” emphatic linkage than for antagonism. The applications function as a structure that shape social relations in the web under certain rules—actual physical specifications determine the relationships between users and are zones of exclusion, but they also exclude the conflict of the border. Where is the enemy? Not on Facebook, where you can only have “friends”. Formats need to be transformed if they are going to accommodate the plurality of expression of networked life. The virus is the closest thing to conflict online [and they do not allow dialogue].

6. There is nothing false about the virtuality of social networking sites. There is absolute reality to them—managing your online life takes time, energy and strategy. There is an ongoing dynamic that requires attention and has true impact on your life: you do or don’t get the users’ attention, feel accepted or rejected, belong to a relationship and therefore have to nurture it. That is a huge distractor.

7. The network will not be revolutionized. There is no fertile ground for real social transformation in the Web. Indymedia.org, (an attempt of independent media that would give a voice to the stories that don’t make the top news) failed and did not further develop into an active and open social networking site. Transnational social-political networks seem to need face-to-face interactions.

8. Open does not equal free. There is nothing free about the free activities on the Web. Free culture has also an “underlying parasitic economy and deprofessionalization of cultural work.” The inescapable cost of social networking is to provide consumer information. Online activity does not equal social change. So what if you have an anti-whatever Facebook group? What does it change other than expanding your number of friends? Deleting can’t be the radical online gesture—there must be a more subversive and funny way of action.

9. The Web is fueled at the core by the never ending growth of consumerism. It is based on the “endless growth principle” that guided the dotcom model: nonstop growth = healthy systems. But we can learn from natural resource exploitation and pollution that infinite growth brings serious collateral effects. If the Web 2.0 follows the insane capitalist model, we can expect similar crisis. A good end cannot justify a bad means. We have to start elaborating appropriate technologies for a limited world. Collective freedom should be the common goal to be reached through technology.

10. “Better a complex identity than an identity complex”. There is an obsession with the virtual identity, with our and others’ personal profile, a ‘digital narcissism’. Digital identities need to both answer to individual desires and satisfy multiple needs. They should go beyond anonymity as a form of outsmarting the control society. One strategy could be to make the one (real) identity more complex and, when possible, contradictory. If identity is always being harvested by the powerful data corporations, why give them the real you?

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  1. ElzbthMllr 09:45, Mar 1st, 10

    There are several interesting points from Lovink’s “The Digital Given” that I’d like to comment on. I have to say overall I agree pretty heavily with the majority of these theses.

    Theses #2. “Social networks are technologies of entertainment and diffusion.” This goes back to some of our previous readings (and the On the Media podcast from Week 2). I see this as a huge problem. I recognize it both in myself (people I connect with on LinkedIn, people I follow and that follow me on Twitter, etc), and within the industry I work in that tends to be insular, and although it fosters collaboration, to the most part it does so with like-minded organizations working towards the same goals. My question is, is this new phenomenon or is this something that was happening all along. Are we more able to recognize it now because our social networking sites have become so “data-mined.” Is this necessarily a bad thing? If I followed extreme conservatives on Twitter for example, would it change my opinion on ranges of issues? I’m not saying there isn’t value to hearing other opinions; I’m just wondering to what extent this is a new trend, and if there’s evidence that if the opposite were true we’d be in a better position.

    Theses #3. “Social networking sites are as much fashion victims as everything else.” I think that historically this is a true statement, we see how certain websites come and go (Friendster is a great example, and even the so-called “white flight” from MySpace is another one). And I think we often fall in the trap of, oh a certain site (like Facebook) is “too big to fail”, but I think we have to be careful when making that assumption. The thing is that these social networking sites are built around communities that already exist, whether they are our existing social structures, work environments, families, etc. Those networks will continue to exist no matter what platform we chose to group around. So the question becomes, what is inherent about forming those communities that will not change. And how can that lead to certain social movements?

    Theses #8 “The Network Will Not Be Revolutionized.” I understand the point they are making and I agree. I just don’t know what to do about it. This speaks to my question about these theses in general. I think these theses are very good at outlining some of the dangers of social media and advocates for changes, but they are very general and don’t provide specific examples of ways that things can change.

    With respect to Lanier’s ideas, I found myself very torn between his ideas and the responses towards it. Here are several thoughts in no particular order…

    The relationship between content and technology and the shift between old/new media. For example, one response writes “Most of us were taught that reading books is synonymous with being civilized. But in certain tech circles, books have come to be regarded as akin to radios with vacuum tubes, a technology soon to make an unlamented journey into history’s dustbin.” I wonder how a change in platforms (such as the Kindle) will change things. I think the explosion and popularity of the device is something that should be looked at pretty heavily. It also speaks to the growing digital divide, wealthy and upper-class people who read books are more likely to be able to afford and have the need for a kindle. Still on books, the responses talk consistently about the opening up of content that follow pretty consistently along the Jeff Jarvis line from What Would Google Do (for example Benkler’s book being downloaded 20,000 with comments etc).

    As Shirky says in his response, there is an inherent tension between the individual and the collective intelligent and it’s important to look at the downsides of collective action. If I remember back to Shirkly’s piece on “Gin, Television and Surplus”, however the question becomes to what extent the individual can use that cognitive surplus for the collective good? I think this forces us to look at a larger point about the generational shift when we examine these kinds of questions. For older generations who didn’t grow up with this technology, the concepts of this group identity and collaborative effort may be somewhat foreign, no matter how well they are able to adopt. Or they might be too celebratory. But now that the generations for whom this kind of production has always been a given, how will that affect our society going forward? His comment at the end speaks in conjunction with a Gillmor’s comment near the end about how just these collection of responses to Lanier’s original post is a kind of collective action which adds up to more than the production of just a single individual’s comment.

    I also agree with Benkler’s comment that “Wikipedia captures the imagination not because it is so perfect, but because it is reasonably good in many cases: a proposition that would have been thought preposterous a mere half-decade ago.” For most of its users the site works just fine, and its undeniable that its part of the social collective intelligent. And yes it may not be a perfect replacement for a professional encyclopedia, but its sufficient given the needs of the community that use it. I think it’s important to understand who is using what information and for what purpose before siding either for or against the concepts of the collective intelligent or the “hive-mind.”

    The last comment I’ll make is in reference to Rheingold’s response. I think he makes a fair and important distinction between collective action and collectivism. The type of collective action that is marked by peer production is very different from the kind of collectivism which may involve coercion.

    Also, this is sort of tangential but it bothers me when people say that more people vote for American Idol than for the President. This is not true. Yes the total number of votes cast may be larger than the votes casted in the Presidency but people vote hundreds and even thousands of times. Not to mention that a huge percentage of American Idol users are under the legal voting age. Sorry, this is sort of a side rant (that’s why I put it last) that people always bring up to show how disengaged our culture is in politics, when I believe the opposite to be true!

  2. Jimena 19:58, Mar 1st, 10

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for your insightful comments. I found this week’s readings to have A LOT of thought provoking concepts.

    Yes, I believe that communities exist before (and in spite of) any particular platform and we tend to naturally group around certain characteristics. It would be great to see a platform that provoked a raise in diversity and real cross-relations between communities. I find social networking paradoxical– on the one hand, it offers so much possibilities for collaboration and action that one can’t possibly’ imagine how this level of communication and immediacy doesn’t result in extreme, massive action. But on the other hand, they offer so much “entertainment and diffusion”, and the proliferation of information makes everything so readily available and so fast paced, that the attention fidgeting is even more extreme. We are closer and more connected than ever, but we are concentrating less in one thing and hopping from one interest to one cause to one ideal to another. This makes it impossible for any revolution to happen. I think that, as with other critiques of Lanier’s essay, this problem might have to do with something larger than the Web: with Western culture becoming progressively commoditized and individualistic. The Network can’t be revolutionized further than society can.

    And then, we know that society can very well organize itself and act when the conditions are strong enough to do it–as you point out regarding politics (and the very recent example of the presidential ellections)

    It is funny that we think that older generations find it harder to understand collaborative effort. That thought kind of clashes with the fact that those same generations actively sought a new social order and radical cultural shifts. They didn’t have the technology, still they organized themselves and strongly opposed issues that were passionate about: equal rights, female vote, the Vietnam War, free speech…

    I too was left with more questions raised than answered by the Theses. They are critical but certainly not propositive. I believe they don’t give solutions because a) they seek to provoke reactions and b) they might not have them…

  3. HoniehLayla 20:11, Mar 1st, 10

    I do have to agree with Lanier and his Wiki example that we can’t compare these thoughts to a reputable encyclopedia such as Britannica and that a better example of online collectivism is definitely MySpace. The content that is posted on the site is unique and creative and would not to be validated in any sense by a higher authority, such a PhD or a Scientist at NASA.

    I also enjoyed this quote: “it’s easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play the crowd.”

    I know this isn’t exactly a point that has been brought up, but it worries me that so many of us are becoming comfortable on the net, creating blogs, chatting in IM, and building new media content that we are no longer formal or use correct procedures when publishing our work. It brings me back to our first class when we discussed citizen journalism, and blogging. Now I take more notice if I am reading a blog that appears to look like a news site. A few months ago, I probably would have never bothered to tell the difference. This leads me to the idea of the Hive Mind, and the sites that aggregate the most popular information on a certain topic for you. The computer based algorithms are not humans, and the content that may be the most “popular” may not be the most accurate, valid or reputable.

  4. HoniehLayla 20:22, Mar 1st, 10

    For my thesis decision, I went with option number 2, because social networking sites not only fascinate me, because I too indulge in them, but they also disgust me because of their addictive and “non reality” sense they have.

    “Social networks register a ‘refusal of work’. But our net-time, after all, is another kind of labour. Herein lies the perversity of social networks: however radical they may be, they will always be data-mined. They are designed to be exploited. Refusal of work becomes just another form of making a buck that you never see.”

    This quote – completely hits a nerve in me, and in a good way. Ippolita, Geert Lovink & Ned Rossiter bring up an amazing point, the social networking sites deter most people from doing any productive activity that may bring them some sort of personal satisfaction. Sites such as Facebook and MySpace waste that valuable – have you ever thought of how many hours you have spent on Facebook past year. Many people I work with log on for a few minutes to update themselves on what is going in other people’s social lives and then log off. The main point here is though – HOW MANY TIMES do they do this through out the day? You’d be shocked. Net time is another type of labour in itself, even if we are surfing the SNSes. WHY? Because while we are doing that we have 6 other tabs open, emails, power point presentations, etc, so whatever time is spent on the net, or even at the computer is considered a type of “labour.”

  5. Alexandra 21:07, Mar 1st, 10

    I have several comments on the theses presented in The Digital Given, starting with the first one. What did they mean when they said “the internet has so far managed to stay out of the blame game”? Is this meaning the internet was not to blame for the dot-com crash, or the internet did not contribute to playing the blame game about those who did contribute to the crash? In either sense, we would be personifying “the internet” and falling victim to Lanier’s hive mind.

    The authors further say that web 2.0 applications “show a tendency to get lost inside the boring, stressful and uncertain working life of the connected billions.” I will admit that I’m not exactly certain what they mean by this. But, as someone who has a desk job that is definitely (at times) boring, stressful and uncertain, I do spend time on social networking sites at work. Is this what they meant, though?

    With regard to the third thesis, I would say that although I realize these are meant to be short statements, I felt like they packed so much in without developing their ideas thoroughly enough that I am left with more questions than answers. (Is that the point?) They say that “what the online world needs is sustainable social relations.” I’m just going to put this out there – is Facebook not a sustainable social relation? It’s been around since 2004, I’ve been a member since the beginning and I would bet some others in the class have as well. It is an integrated, and at this point fairly necessary part of my and many others’ lives. The “moving herds” that “demonstrate an impulsive grazing mentality” is a nice and powerful image that does apply to many sites (like popurls – I had totally forgotten about that site!) but not all of them. MySpace has proved to have some sticking power as well. So I guess from the start I would question this blanket statement that sustainable social relations do not already exist.

    The last couple sentences of the third thesis were, to me, the most intriguing and unfortunately the least developed. They say that the weakness of social networking sites is their “seeming incapacity to effect political change” and they proceed to criticize the validity of citizen journalism. As we have discussed, citizen journalism is the subject of much debate and I think that there should have been some more defense of that particular view.

    In general, and specifically in the final thesis, I felt like the authors were promoting the Big Brother sort of feeling about the internet. I suppose there is an argument to be made that we are all just performing unpaid “work” by maintaining our Facebook profiles, but I doubt most real users feel that way about it. To suggest that we should Fake Our Personas to mess with the data mines sounds a little paranoid to me.

    In “World Wide Mush” read a little bit like Lanier is perched in his ivory tower with his blinders on. Maybe I see it this way because we have already read ideas from the opposite side of the spectrum (I think this is very possible) but his view that the “open paradigm rests on the assumption that the way to get ahead is to give away your brain’s work” seems simplistic to me. His sarcasm (“Maybe you can sell custom branded T-shirts”) also makes him seem less credible to me. People create because they are compelled to do so. Maybe they also do it with the hopes or expectations of compensation, but they do it nonetheless and they do it even though copyrights are not actually very profitable. Lanier seems to me like he has based his assumption on the idea that people are completely and totally motivated by money, and I don’t think that’s the case.

    Also, I have to ask – robots? Really? Is he serious that “cheap home robots” are going to make our custom t-shirts or take care of our elderly? Maybe there is some surging robot movement that I have missed, but this just sounds very strange and unrealistic to me.

    As for Digital Maoism, I think my favorite quote is the line about how a Wikipedia entry is like reading the Bible – you can kind of tell that there are multiple authors but you can’t be completely sure. I do agree with him that Wikipedia strips writing of its context which can be very valuable to the reader. In general, I think that Wikipedia has a very valid place online as somewhere to get quick, general information. It’s not the place I would go for a research paper, but it works perfectly if I just want a definition of a word, or a fact like the name of a particular movie’s director.

    I also found the “removing the scent of people” line a bit disturbing. The idea of the internet acting like a “supernatural oracle” is definitely misguided, but do people actually see it that way? Clearly, the wikipedia content is written by people, not a machine. Britannica is a similarly dry text and yet we don’t think the pages of the book conjured up the entries themselves.

  6. Leslie 00:21, Mar 2nd, 10

    This week’s readings were definitely some thought-provoking ones. For “The Digital Given,” a few of the theses really stood out for me.

    In thesis #2, I thought the quote, “Networking sites are social drugs for those in need of the Human that is located elsewhere in time or space,” was a telling statement. I feel like this is a constant discussion concerning the use of the Internet, but thought it was described particularly well in that sentence/paragraph. Many people do use the Internet as a constant search for that “other” that they aren’t connecting to in their physical, everyday lives, even if they don’t necessarily notice what they’re doing. I feel like people don’t have to be as explicit as using a dating site to be looking for this “other.” Social media sites can be a means of doing this, as well.

    In thesis #4 I agree with the quote, “Better social networks are organized networks involving better individuals- it’s your responsibility, it’s your time.” Twitter is a great example of this, to me. There’s people on Twitter that will give constant updates of their mundane happenings that day, ie, “just got a cup of coffee,” “just brushed my teeth…” etc. But, at the same time, you can have great debates with people you’ve never met before on Twitter about common interests. The latter is what makes me enjoy using Twitter and makes the social networking site worthwhile to me, while the former can make me quite irritated at times.

    I’m not sure I agree with Thesis #5. I don’t understand why it’s bad that Web 2.0 is mainly concerned with making positive connections amongst people. There’s so much negativity in the physical world, and the virtual is seen as a type of ‘refuge’ for this. Why would I want to be faced with my enemies from “real” life in the online community? I think this would drive me away from using social media sites. At the same time, though, there are plenty of people on forums and on Twitter that do debate and challenge other’s viewpoints. Which, in these such spaces, debate makes sense and should be encouraged. I don’t need to log into Facebook and see people leaving me mean comments. There’s a time and a place for such actions, just like in the physical world. Although, I do think there should be a “dislike” option, just like there is a “like” option when commenting on people’s wall posts/statuses!

    While I agreed with Lanier’s points in his article “World Wide Mush,” I had trouble agreeing with some of his comments in “Digital Maoism.” For one, I found the connection of the Bible and Wikipedia to be a far stretch. Wikipedia is much more open and ongoing than the Bible, and touched by a much larger variety of people. The Bible is a set doctrine and was only touched and written by a handful of people that had some sort of influence over how religion was seen and understood at that particular time it was written. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is ever-changing and open to anyone with Internet access. How is this faulty, then? Wikipedia was set up in a way to encourage change and the fixing of mistakes. I understand that Lanier must be frustrated that his Wikipedia page doesn’t “fit” how HE sees himself. But, instead, his profile represents himself as both he sees himself AND the general public sees him. This seems pretty accurate to me (even though he wants the general public to forget his one attempt at filmmaking). He does have the option to keep altering this text to have it read as he wants, if he continues to have the drive, though.

    I had trouble agreeing with Lanier’s mention that part of a story is “lost” by reading an anonymous article on Wikipedia. I feel like people do not go to Wikipedia to read full articles. Rather, people search Wikipedia for quick answers, and then move on to other sources, even the ‘original’ source. The fact that references are listed at the bottom of the Wikipedia article and cited throughout make it easy for readers to find the original source of information, if they so desire.

    I also do not agree with Lanier’s belief that Myspace is a better example of online collectivism. I feel like they’re two vastly different forms of it- I don’t see them as being comparable. The sites are being used towards different purposes. Because Wikipedia is meant to be a free encyclopedia, it has to have this notion of being “wise” and “worldy” – its purpose is to be a quick, easy, and free access to just about any subject. Whereas, Myspace is simply a personally made profile of an individual.

  7. Jimena 10:59, Mar 2nd, 10

    @ All– we agree in that the readings were thought-provoking, to say the least. Girls, thanks for your comments & insights. I’m looking forward to class discussion.

  8. nadine 11:50, Mar 2nd, 10

    I really liked the World Wide Mush-article. Does too many cooks spoil the soup? I agree that sometimes private and shielded spaces are very beneficial in the world of instant publicity. Though is it necessary?
    @Mushon: I am looking forward to your book launch this Thursday. This might be the time to explain us better the process behind the Collaborative books project.
    @Alexandra: Lanier has a point with his manufacturing T-shirts versus intellectually stimulating job comparison. I’ve also got the impression that there is growing job-divide. Are open source projects a substitute for satisfying creative jobs?! Are we shooting ourselves in the collective feet? There is indeed an inherent problem with volunteering. Of course, there are complete philanthropic moments, but sometimes you just do it because there are no viable options. But once you offered your services for free, it’s very difficult to change the relationship. what do you think?
    About the statements in the Digital Given:
    Thesis #3: For sure, sustainability is a great challenge, even more in the context of fast changing trends and information overdose. But the problem isn’t new- all upcoming ideas and social movements had to struggle with this obstacle! What has changed in the digital age is that even the tinniest ideas can get out there. There are more options in the initial phase of creation, but in the end, only the most compelling ones will survive (like in the past).
    Thesis #4: Socialism is far way- here is no tyranny of demonetized digital collectivism. It is still the exception!
    Thesis #5: There is a certainly a growing tendency for ghettoization. The absence of antagonistic linkage is a huge problem. I wouldn’t link it though to the need of an enemy. It rather reminds me of the limitations posed by the “feather flock together”-phenomenon (Brooke Gladstones interview with Ethan Zuckerman).
    Thesis #9: The death of the 2.0 business model? Excellent question! s it indeed based on the growth principle? =as soon as the initial hype disappears, the platform is destined to vanish. This contradicts somehow statement #3: as boring jobs are on the rise, demand for 2.0 should rise…I think we have to differentiate between different 2.0 business models: profit oriented (Facebook) versus non-profit models. Would this make sense? Please let’s talk in class about this! I
    Thesis #10: @Harris, can’t wait to read your findings about Craigslist!!!

  9. juliette b 13:59, Mar 2nd, 10

    The debate of this week reading is very exciting.
    And I think that Lanier’s stand point is really brave. I like the fact that he does not get caught in the enthusiasm surrounding web 2.0
    And I tend to believe that his statements are accurate at least enough to raise so many answers from famous scholars and specialist of web 2.0.
    I also have to say that I tend to be very confused sometimes I think web 2.0 is amazing and it enables people to do much more things than they could but I also feel a lot of emptiness sometimes… Like Lanier’s mush. I feel very torn.

    About the Digital Given
    Thesis #3 seems to be very relevant to me, and I would go even further. Social networks do not provide sustainability, they do not enrich social relations. To me they have created a new type of social interaction : fast, easy but also ephemeral and flickering.
    Thesis #10 is very related to this idea of new tool to interact with people. Why not considering the web 2.0 as an opportunity to bypass our personal boundaries and create a different identity. This new identity could be a great way to seize opportunity that can not be reached in the real life.

  10. Ryan 16:40, Mar 2nd, 10

    Ippolita, Geert Lovink & Ned Rossiter’s theses were intriguing. I would like to comment about thesis number 6 regarding the falsehood of virtuality with social networking sites. Yes, it does take time, however, it does not suffice or substitute reality. Rather, it is an extension of reality into a virtual domain that allows people to stay connected with one another or develop multiple identities if he or she wanted to online that could be different than in real life. In this day in age, anything is practically possible with the web. People often feel connected with others on the web, but how well does that translate into reality. For example, I have (x) amount of friends on facebook, I wonder how many people do I really spend time with on a fairly consistent basis or even once in a while at all. I believe that it obfuscates our understanding of relationships and connections into a more convoluted and exaggerated connectivity. More so, the virtuality of these sites can lead to a distraction from reality of social networking like in thesis 2.

    World Wide Mush was somewhat truthful but was murky in his logic. He obviously attacks the creativity, intellectualism, and quality of collective works and even open source created innovations. There are two sides to Lanier’s double sided coin on the ‘mush’. It can devalue something for example because more people have access to it, where the elite or the professionals are now working with non-professionals e.g. journalists vs. bloggers. On the contrary, this creates more access and democracy along with a greater collaborative effort. You have to look at it with the pros and cons. I think one of the biggest arguments against wikipedia is that is not a highly reputable source to cite academically because of the mere fact that “almost anyone” can contribute or edit things. Moreover, it satiates people’s desire for that quick fix of information. Lanier has a valid point, but he tends to hyperbolize his argument to an extreme. Not all open source or collective action has been bad, nor has it been all cookies-and-cream either. The point is that one has to be even more critical and discerning with the more people that are involved. That’s why as a blogger, it’s easy to play to the crowd.

    I thought Dan Gillmor’s response to Lanier’s Digital Maoism was wonderfully articulated. I agree very much with what he said in response to Lanier. He comments, “It is also about persistence—and celebrating the reality that knowledge is not a static end-point but rather an ongoing process.” This is what threatens the status-quo of traditional media because of how it is weak in the updating of information on one topic at times or slower. Something like an encyclopedia or book takes a lot of time to be updated to a new addition, but Wikipedia can mollify this by its immediacy of change. However, this has downsides to it as well. Something that isn’t as concrete, people tend to value it less at times depending on what it is. This could be the case with Wiki.

    He also exclaims:

    “The debate does demonstrate that we need to update our media literacy in a digital, distributed era. Our critical thinking is there, but it’s fallen into a “”low level of use”" in the old media world. People tend to believe everything they read, or to disbelieve everything. Too few apply proper skepticism and do the additional work that true media literacy requires.

    I think this is somewhat true, but something like Harris’ experiment with the lying in his Travelogue 2 demonstrates that “certain” people do not dig deeper than the surface for the truth behind what they read about or hear. I think it depends upon the person though, but I would argue that it seems to depend a lot of times upon the source of information whether the level of credibility is high or low e.g. NYTimes vs. The Metro. Or Britannica vs. Wiki article.

    Still, “More than popularity, we need better tools to help the community gauge the reliability and authenticity of what we find online. “Reputation has to become part of the mix in systems that combine human and machine intelligence in novel ways” [Reputation is still a tricky tool. How about the critique to the NYT?]

    What kind of tools do we need to help the community I would ask? Reputation is a large part of the answer, but we need more “media literacy” skills and education. Jimena is right to ask more about reputation. Digging deeper, how does one uphold or build a reputation that stands for what information that they produce? Professionals of course would argue that education, time, and experience contribute to their professionalism. That’s why certain communities of bloggers are something different from Wiki because wikipedia involves every community and thus its harder to manage.