The Masses, Value and Variability
The random examples I’ve covered here — Flickr and Del.icio.us — seem to vary widely in consistency. These sites, instead, are characterized by being idiosyncratic. Remember, these sites were designed first and foremost as services to individuals — to allow a person to upload photos or bookmarks to better track them. I suspect their public nature (allowing you to search for other tagged items similar to your own) was almost an afterthought. Yet it is this afterthought that has nearly as much hype as the actual, originally-envisioned service. It’s great to have a service personalized for one’s own needs. But why make it publicly searchable unless the creators of these services believed such services brought a particular value to the rest of the world?
That value, whatever it is, seems to vary with a fair amount of variability within results as well. Perhaps that is a result of these services’ relative sizes, yet both are highly ranked by Alexa and Flickr was even acquired by Yahoo! So it’s not like these are small, inconsequential services. They are growing and have more traffic than 95% of websites online today. So I’m not sure their inconsistent and idiosyncratic results can be explained by lack of traffic or users. Perhaps it can be explained, in part, by their very nature of their design — they are designed to emphasize unique behavior.
In some ways, services that rely on tagging for categorization are amazing Orwellian, turned upside down. Through sheer numbers alone, any group of people can change the usefulness of an understood term or word. If most people tag a photo of an apple as “banana,” Flickr will recognize it as a banana because most people said so. It’s fun to think of the absurd things one could do with such knowledge, but it turns darker when you contemplate the number of groups who have an agenda they’d very much like the rest of the world to read more of. Groups, for instance, that want to suggest that any mental health treatment that involves medication is wrong and should be avoided. A small, organized group of such individuals could easily cause a great deal of havoc in a system such as Del.icio.us. (And, until recently, such groups did exactly that over on Wikipedia, in different subject areas.)
The Value of Consistency for Health Information
Consistency is a fundamental take-for-granted component of the online world. And it’s an important component to any service that is trying to offer something of value to others. Imagine walking into a restaurant and getting great food one time, and lousy food the next. Would you keep visiting that restaurant time and time again if you couldn’t rely on some basic consistency in the food’s quality?
Now take that example and apply it to my world, health and mental health. Imagine if we relied on a world of health or medical information that varied in consistency — some of it was great, some of it was so-so, and some of it was just plain wrong. How would you know what health information was valid, trustworthy and helpful? Bad or poor information often looks fairly valid to others who don’t know any better (as Wikipedia has shown us). How could you differentiate the “plain wrong” information from the “so-so” information unless you knew the field yourself? How can others do the same thing if they don’t have that specialized knowledge?
I’m certain Web 2.0 services will improve and with those improvements will come improvements in quality of the information and services they provide. I’m less certain, however, about whether the consistency of the information they offer will automatically improve as well. The idea of consistent, reliable and relevant information that isn’t easily biased or altered (even subtilely, as clever people are wont to do) hasn’t seemed to yet permeate throughout the Web 2.0 culture. Much of it seems to have been focused on, “Look at the cool things we can with pulling technology and people together in this manner!” Not enough thought has been given to how people might use that service to forward their own agendas, as human beings like to do.
Interesting Reading from Others on Web 2.0:
- Web 2.0 Cracks Start to Show
Wired News, Oct. 27, 2005
- The amorality of Web 2.0
Rough Type, Oct. 3, 2005
Grohol, J. (2006). Web 2.0: Consistency, Relevancy and Reliability. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/web-20-consistency-relevancy-and-reliability/000111
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Jan 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.