User generated content vs The Experts

Came across this article in Newsweek, entitled Revenge of the Experts, that suggest that the era of user generated content is going to change in favour of a more traditional approach based around fact checking and rigorous standards. This notion isn’t new and it’s been argued for, quite vociferously, by the likes of Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of the Amateur, which I’ve talked about before. According to the article:

the expert is back. The revival comes amid mounting demand for a more reliable, bankable Web. "People are beginning to recognize that the world is too dangerous a place for faulty information,"

Whist I understand the need for authoritative information, we have seen that the wisdom of the crowds does work – the most notable example of which is Wikipedia, which has over 75,000 people from around the world collaborating together to generate over 9 million articles in 250 different languages. A feat that I believe could not have been accomplished through any traditional publishing model.

It’s interesting that in the article we are told that two of the contributory factors leading to creating a "perfect storm of demand for expert information" are choice fatigue and fear of bad advice. I’m not actually convinced by either. I think the real reason for this resurgent push towards this "Revenge of the Experts" is largely based on economics, and a type of intellectual elitism that requires the masses to believe that they can only trust the opinions of experts. I really struggle with this – it offends my sense of right. . I don’t doubt that there are many subject matter experts writing articles in Wikipedia, they might identify themselves or they might hide behind assumed pseudonyms and the anonymity of the web, and I’m sure many of the contributors are hobbyists or individuals particularly passionate about a subject: I wouldn’t wish to discount their insight simply because they aren’t rubber stamped by an Institute somewhere. If the community is engaged and self regulating then it definitely does work.

It strikes me as a form of intellectual elitism; the expert is always right? – and yet research carried out seems to suggest that Wikipedia is almost as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Which seems to suggest that this model can work?

"The wisdom of the crowds has peaked … Web 3.0 is taking what we’ve built in Web 2.0—the wisdom of the crowds—and putting an editorial layer on it of truly talented, compensated people to make the product more trusted and refined."

I think economics does have a lot to do with it. Google has incentivised Knol, it’s Wikipedia-like alternative, by sharing ad revenue with the "authoritative" sources that are generating the content of the service. But frankly I don’t believe that this or other similar initiatives really spell the death knell for the kind of community generated content that has gained traction …

…while the tide of investment seems to be shifting somewhat, the nature of the Internet suggests that Web 2.0 populism will never be thrown out entirely.

I guess time will tell.

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