inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #0 of 85: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 10 Sep 12 14:23
In his newest book, Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the
Facts are not the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest
Person in the Room is the Room, David Weinberger explores how knowledge
is being reshaped in a connected world. In this age of data overflow
and cognitive surplus, David looks at the past and future of knowledge
and how networks have become pivotal for the future of our learning

We are delighted to have David with us, and our own indefatigable Jon
Lebkowsky leading the conversation. This room should be smart enough!
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #1 of 85: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 10 Sep 12 14:23
David Weinberger lives in Boston, is a senior researcher at Harvard
Law's Berkman Center for the Internet & Society, co-author of the
best-seller Cluetrain Manifesto, and frequent commentator on National
Public Radio.

He is an internationally recognized strategic marketing expert and
consultant, and on the advisory boards of big name companies as well
as start-ups. 

He has also written two seminal books: Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A
Unified Theory of the Web and Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power
ofthe New Digital Disorder. And he blogs at JOHO

Jon Lebkowsky is an author, activist, journalist, and blogger who
writes about the future of the Internet, digital culture, media, and
society. He's been associated with various projects and organizations,
including Fringeware, WholeEarth, WorldChanging, Mondo 2000, bOING
bOING, Factsheet Five, The WELL, the Austin Chronicle, EFF-Austin,
Society of Participatory Medicine, Extreme Democracy, Digital
Convergence Initiative, Plutopia Productions, Polycot Consulting,
Social Web Strategies, Solar Austin, Well Aware, Project VRM, and
currently Reality Augmented Blog. He is also a web strategist and
developer via Polycot Associates.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #2 of 85: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 11 Sep 12 05:51
Thanks, Ted. And thanks, David, for taking this time to discuss your
latest book with us, and perhaps we'll discuss other projects you're
working on as well.

I'd like to start with the tagline for your book: "rethinking
knowledge now that the facts aren't the facts, experts are everywhere,
and the smartest person in the room is the room." Can you unpack that a
bit, for starters? What does it mean to say that "the smartest person
in the room is the room"?
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #3 of 85: David Weinberger (dweinberger) Tue 11 Sep 12 12:23
One the central hypotheses of the book is that knowledge is moving (=
has moved) from living in skulls, books, and libraries to living on
networks and the Net.

So, if you want to know about some topic beyond the occasional fact,
you're likely to spend time on some network on the Net. It might be a
mailing list, or a Google hangout, or Reddit, or a set of web sites...
In fact, The Well provides a convenient example, and also lets me do
some basic pandering. (Love ya, The Well!) A network of people
connected in discussion and argument know more than the sum of what the
individual people know. In that sense, knowledge lives in the network.

For me, the most interesting aspect of this is another of the book's
hypotheses: Knowledge is taking on the properties of its new medium,
just as it had taken on properties of the old. Among those properties:
networked knowledge is unsettled, and includes differences and
disagreements that traditional knowledge insisted on removing (or at
least marginalizing).

I want to be clear from the outset, however, that I am NOT saying that
networks are like brains and are developing some type of
consciousness, etc. Nope. I am not one of those people.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #4 of 85: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 11 Sep 12 17:31
That's an interesting qualification. In fact some see the
proliferation and evolution of the Internet as a manifestation of the
noosphere hypothesized by Vladimir Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin,
seen by de Chardin as something that "emerges through and is
constituted by the interaction of human minds."
( The noosphere is often
visualized as a global brain, and of course, an actual brain is a
sophisticated network of interactions. Aren't there ways that the
networks of communication and interaction emerging today really are
like neural connections and interactions? (Though not necessarily
evolving some kind of collective consciousness...?)

On the other hand, don't we see networks of ignorance as well as
networks that support knowledge?
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #5 of 85: David Weinberger (dweinberger) Wed 12 Sep 12 05:43
You raise at least three points, Jon. All excellent. Damn you.

1. Did Teilhard de Chardin (and possibly that other guy, about whom I
know nothing) anticipate the Net? I'd have to say no. After all, what
could he have been thinking of when he talked about the Noosphere?
Clearly not the Internet. And, as I recall from when I read him oh 40
years ago, he wasn't talking about technology at all. As viewed through
40 yrs of dust, he was giving us the notion that our combined thought
is as important as our biological ecosystem. But I don't think he was
imagining about a technological implementation of this. And if my
memory is wrong and Teilhard was indeed thinking about technology, I
bet he hadn't figured out hyperlinks. (Plot idea for a new Dan Brown
novel: "The Teilhard Code" in which we discover that Teilhard invented
TCP/IP. Harrison Ford as Teilhard. This thing sells itself.)

2. Is the Net like a neural network. Very likely. But, as with any
comparison, the questions are: in what ways, and what are the
conclusions we can draw from that comparison since the Net is also
unlike neural networks in other ways. My answer: I dunno.

3. Yes, there are networks of ignorance as well as networks that
enable knowledge. I'm enough of a relativist to say that the two are
sometimes hard to tell apart, but not enough of one to say that we can
never tell them apart. (Science is good, which is a far less effective
way of saying what Reddit crowed after Curiosity landed: "Science,

As I suspect every member of the Well knows, the echo chamber argument
says that not only are there networks of ignorance, the Net by its
structure tends towards increasingly confidently held ignorance via
confirmation bias. It seems to me that there are plenty of examples of
the echo chamber effect at work, but I also see plenty of places where
our online conversations make us smarter and even wiser. 

But I wouldn't want to leave this at the "some of dese and some of
dose" point, because I think there is also something fundamentally
wrong about the echo chamber argument, even while fervently believing
that our tendency to hang out with those who are like us -- "homophily"
as we say these days -- is real and worrisome.

I think that sometimes the echo chamberists (i.e., those whose fear of
echo chambers makes them miserable about the Net Age) overestimate the
role of conversation as an activity of reason vs. its social
functions. We talk together more often to engage socially than to
pursue truth to its desert lair. And most conversation iterates on
small differences; we need an enormous amount of agreement and
similarity just to have a simple conversation. So, conversations that
fail to argue down to first principles -- the Nazi and the Jew having
an honest heart-to-heart in which each is open to adopt the other's
belief system -- are exceedingly rare, and conversations that fail to
live up to that standard have not thereby failed.

In fact, echo chamberists often have an Enlightenment view of human
reason that thinks it proceeds from first principles, and we thus
always ought to be open to adopting radically new principles. In fact
(= it seems to me) human understanding necessarily understands the new
in terms of the existing context of understanding. Understanding is
much more like digesting a meal than like building structures by laying
a firm foundation. Which means that we live in something like an echo
chamber, with the new almost always tacitly confirming what we already
know, because to understand the new is to absorb it into the old.

Here's an example. When I want to understand something like an
economic bill or an FCC regulation, I go to a left-leaning site where
experts hang out, and I let them contextualize it for me. I don't go to
a right-leaning site because I lean left, and I don't want to have to
undo their assumptions in order to understand the substance and impact
of the news. No, I want to know, "What does this mean for the vision we
share?" I might eventually go to a right-leaning site, but primarily
that's anthropology, and sometimes opposition research. I really am not
likely to be convinced by a rightwing site that stem cell research is
evil. Nor am I ever going to become a Jewish Nazi, no matter how
eloquent my Nazi interlocutor is. Yes, I am that closed-minded.  

Given my own concern about echo chambers -- networks of ignorance, as
you call them Jon -- and my belief that understanding is digestive, it
seems to me that we want to do a few things: 1. Teach Internet
literacy. (Go, Howard Rheingold!). 2. Be vigilant about our own
homophilic tendencies, while not beating ourselves up too much about
getting more out of sites whose values we agree with. 3. Try to open
windows in your echo chamber. This is something that I think
is particular good at: with their "IAMA" format, a relatively
like-minded set of people invite honest and open discussion with people
with whom they fundamentally agree. I like this approach because it
acknowledges that understanding is digestive, savoring the ideas with
which it is never going to agree.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #6 of 85: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 12 Sep 12 11:00
I've come to understand (or at least think) that a thorough and
complete "meeting of minds" is unlikely, if not impossible, because of
the complex internal differences from one human to another, and that
"shared understanding" is always approximate, never absolute. I think
this aligns with your point that communication most effectively occurs
when those communicating have much in common, where the differences
addressed by discussion are not as substantial as they might seem.
(Your example in the book of the pornography debate between Annie
Sprinkle and Mae Tyme is a great illustration of this point - two
feminists around the same age with many similarities, but a strong
difference of perspective regarding pornography). The sense from all
this is that "understanding" is a living process, and I like your
analogy with digestion.

You talk about online conversations that include diverse perspectives,
how these can be very powerful and smart, or butt-ignorant, depending.
If I want to set up a context for many diverse people to have
conversations (as we have here, on the WELL), how do I ensure that
those conversations are reasonably civil and intelligent, especially
online, where no one knows you're a dog (or a rabid troll)?
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #7 of 85: David Weinberger (dweinberger) Wed 12 Sep 12 16:26
As far as I know, there is no science here yet. There is a growing
body of experience, but it's hard to know what lessons to learn,
because civility is (it seems) an emergent property. So, we can
generalize that having lightly moderated discussions works, but we
don't know yet all the factors involved in this success. Nor do we know
how to avoid  butterfly effects in which a small change results in a
major disruption.

And here is where I should spell out what those general lessons are.
But I don't know them any better than anyone else. It'd be wiser to
turn this question back on you, Jon. 

The most broadly general answer I can give to the question of how we
know who and what to trust on the Net is: Each domain has always had
its own criteria for establishing knowledge, accepting evidence, etc.
Now we're seeing trust methodologies being invented for particular
sites. E.g., ebay has a pretty good system for helping you identify the
crooks, and you can get a pretty good sense (usually) of someone who
wrote a cranky review at Amazon. The rise of site-specific trust
systems is pretty interesting. 

You can look into Putin's eyes on or off the Web and conclude he is a
good man. So we need to keep our guard up, and our expectations for
honesty on the Web down.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #8 of 85: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 12 Sep 12 22:04
Members of the WELL have robust sustained conversations that work
primarily because each forum, or conference, as we 'call it, has a host
or two to help manage the interactions. These hosts have a lot of
leeway in determining how that management works, but it's usually
light, often a matter of nurturing conversations, noting when there's
topic drift, creating new topics of conversation, determining when and
how to fork a conversation into a separate topic if a new thread seems
to be emerging.  In this context, you get robust sociality, and a
talking-over-the-fence kind of community. You don't exactly find that
on Facebook or Twitter, where you have what I often call "drive-by"

This works well for casual conversation, though it's more of a
challenge to have online conversations that are more focused, that
require a decision at the end, or that try to facilitate knowledge in a
disciplined way. And while some are getting better at facilitating
productive meetings and conversations, there are challenges, like
trying to determine and gather the useful bits of knowledge that emerge
within conversations: how do capture new knowledge and make it
actionable? Knowledge management has been around as a concept for some
time, but that concept needs more refinement, especially with blobs of
knowledge popping up everywhere. 

You get into the 'net-driven transformation of knowledge production
and collection, and the question of authority seems to be a big part of
that conversation. How do we decide what knowledge has priority and
relevance, and can be actionable? Editors and academics don't carry the
same weight as before, when publishing production was limited and
expensive, and knowledge was vetted and shaped before it was released
into the wild. Now anyone can publish anything, it's sort of anarchic. 

Because technology is such a compelling factor, there's a temptation
to think that tools, rather than roles, will be vital to the management
of all that brain-stuff. What do you foresee?
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #9 of 85: David Weinberger (dweinberger) Thu 13 Sep 12 08:32
Tools + roles.

The answer has to be as general as possible because it turns out "How
do you create the conditions for a good conversation?" is a lot like,
"How do you write well?" For that there is a two part answer: 1. It
depends. 2. We dunno. Or, #2 put more exactly: it's easier to analyze
successes than provide rules that lead to success. 

So, The Well's methodology works great for the sort of conversation
you want. It'd be an utter disaster for Twitter and probably for most
comment threads attached to posts. It might also work poorly for
discussion topics that draw a different set of people. Or, if this were
a sports site, the methodology might work well in producing a Well-ish
conversation, but that might be the wrong type of conversation to

I'm going to push back on your "kind of anarchic" comment, though.
Within domains, there is generally little anarchy when it comes to
norms and trust mechanisms. That's pretty much a necessary truth since
sites that don't have well-known norms and trust mechanisms tend to
fail (because they become anarchic). So, commenters at Reddit know what
a Reddit-like comment is, as do commenters at Slashdot or at Gawker.
The commenters know how off topic they can go, how profane they can be,
what an acceptable length is for a comment, how much evidence should
be produced, how much a credential counts, etc. When people violate
those norms, there are various forms of sanctions imposed, from being
voted down or being banned.

But I agree that there is often anarchy _across_ sites. And since most
sites are publicly available, it can often occur that someone posts
who is ignorant or defiant of the norms. That can be disruptive. Which
is why sites have sanctions or self-governing mechanisms. 

The upvoting of comments seems to work in many contexts. It well may
not work at, say, a science site targeted by Creationists, or a health
site targeted by fools. But where it works, I'd count that as an
example of tools, not roles. And the great advantage of tools is that
they scale, while roles do not. On the other hand, tools are much worse
at managing exceptions, which is why Reddit has moderators and
Wikipedia has a judiciary.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #10 of 85: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 13 Sep 12 11:45
Wikipedia is a good laboratory for exploring the question of
authority. The Wiki platform itself is open by default; the original
wikis had little structure and were democratic (I won't say anarchic) -
anyone could post anything. With higher adoption the obvious thing
happened - wikis had to be locked down, if only to control link spam.

There's an interesting tension in the idea of using an open platform
for an authoritative repository of knowledge. At the start, there was
the emphasis on a tool that was open and collaborative, potentially a
great way to build broad, dynamic, timely aggregate of everything -
like the Junior Woodchuck's Guidebook that Huey, Dewey, and Louie used
so effectively in the Carl Barks/Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge universe.
But as it was clear that the open tool was open to abuse, Wikipedia
defined a role for managing the vast numbers of contributions -
editors, aka Wikipedians, took responsibility for quality assurance,
fact-checking, and mediation of information disputes. Those disputes
have been transparent, visible to anyone in the Talk pages.

You discuss Wikipedia in the book - why do you think it's been so
successful? How well do you think it works? 
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #11 of 85: David Weinberger (dweinberger) Thu 13 Sep 12 19:07
It's entirely reasonable to call it the world's greatest encyclopedia.
Yes, plenty of flaws, weaknesses, etc. But pretty damn amazing. 

I think it works because Wikipedia aims itself not at validating a
social production, but at producing the world's greatest encyclopedia.
The social techniques are used because that's the only way to achieve
scale and quality. That non-ideological pragmatism is, to me, the core
of its success.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #12 of 85: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 13 Sep 12 21:20
You gave a talk at Fiber Fete in 2010 about the abundance of
information/knowledge on the web. Here's a quote I blogged from that

"The abundance means we will fill up every space we can think of. We
are creating plenums (plena?) of sociality, knowledge and ideas, and
things (via online sensors). These plenums fill up our social,
intellectual and creative spaces. The only thing I can compare them to
in terms of what they allow is language itself.

"What do they allow? Whatever we will invent. And the range of what we
can invent within these plenums is enormous, at least so long as the
Net isn’t for anything in particular. As soon as someone decides for us
what the Net is 'really' for, the range of what we can do with it
becomes narrowed. That’s why we need the Net to stay open and

Are you concerned that the 'net won't stay "open and undecided"? We
seem to be resisting various efforts to lock it down or make it "for
something in particular," e.g. as a more complex version of cable
television. But will big media eventually coopt and dumb down the
Internet and the web? Should we be exploring alternatives?
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #13 of 85: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 14 Sep 12 09:12
Here's a short URL to this conversation that people can send to their
friends and networks in order to join in:

For off-WELL folk please send any questions or comments via e-mail to: and we will repost to this conversation for you.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #14 of 85: David Weinberger (dweinberger) Fri 14 Sep 12 11:09
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #15 of 85: David Weinberger (dweinberger) Fri 14 Sep 12 13:48
I'm very worried. We are defending the Net from being turned into
cable tv, but I'm afraid in the US the odds are against us. We are
fighting corporations that are very large, that are close to
monopolistic, that think like cable companies (because some of them are
cable companies), and that stand to make a LOT of money if they can
discriminate among bits. Just about everything in how we've structured
the market for Internet access works against keeping the Net open and

Here are some straws I grasp onto in the midst of my depression. Maybe
there will be a technological breakthrough. Maybe there will be a
miracle at the FCC and we'll get the restructuring that a sustainable
openness requires. Maybe Google will decide to do for all of us what it
is doing for Kansas City. Maybe we'll become so noncompetitive
globally because of our inferior Net infrastructure that we'll wake up
and see that providing Internet access is the Moon landing of the
current decade. Maybe the Dutch will conquer us in order to liberate
our Internet. 

Maybe, but probably not.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #16 of 85: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 14 Sep 12 14:41
Getting back to your latest book, you suggest that knowledge is being
redefined, transformed. How do you see our concept of knowledge
changing? Also thinking of that T.S. Eliot quote mentioned in the book:
"where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #17 of 85: Ron Sipherd (ronks) Fri 14 Sep 12 14:49
I don't know if it's in the book, but I think that line is preceded by

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?"

which is also an interesting thought.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #18 of 85: David Weinberger (dweinberger) Fri 14 Sep 12 15:22
I don't find that the TS Eliot poem maps very well to how I understand
knowledge, and he certainly wasn't talking about information the way
we understand it nowadays. I cite it in the book as precursor to the
data-info-knowledge-wisdom pyramid that I think is an expression of the
reductive view of knowledge that the Net's capaciousness finally
enables us to escape.

As for how I see our concept of knowledge changing, that's tough
because the whole book is about that. But the overall hypothesis is
that traditional knowledge (can I start abbreviating "knowledge" as
"K"?) took on properties of its paper medium, and networked K is taking
properties of the Net. From confined to without boundaries. From
settled to many differing pieces. From rare to abundant. From
self-standing to linked. From black-box certification to looking behind
the screen.

Another way to put it: Traditional K seemed like true content handed
to us by competent experts. Networked K seems like the work of humans
who never quite get anything right.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #19 of 85: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 15 Sep 12 07:22
One way to look at this is that the Internet is such a mess, that the
network context is making it harder for us to get things right. 

A different interpretation is that we never got anything right, but we
didn't know it until we got a context for broad-spectrum debate...
"everything you know is wrong."

Which interpretation do you think is correct? (Or could it be both? Or
"none of the above"?)
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #20 of 85: David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sat 15 Sep 12 08:15
I think I'm closer to "All of the above."

I think the Net is revealing what was always the case: We don't agree.
Never have. Never will. Most of that disagreement was hidden by the
binary nature of the old media: If you weren't published/broadcast,
your views stayed as local as your pub. The sociology and economics of
the old media resulted in the marginalizing of views that strayed any
distance from the mainstream.

But, it's quite likely -- it's hard to get evidence about this -- that
the Net is enabling a further fragmenting of belief. And quite
possibly a hardening of belief. (Yes, that sucks.)

It is also the case, it seems to me, that the Net makes it clearer
than ever just how tenuous a grip on the truth we poor humans have. The
good side of this is that the Net can teach us (but doesn't have to)
to pay closer attention to the processes and social structures that
lead us toward truths. My most fervent hope for knowledge in the Age of
the Net is that we learn that truth is not just true statements, but
are statements in which we can have some degree of confidence because
of the human processes that established them, and that have value
because of the multiple ways in which we humans take them up and make
them our own...which we do through social means such as arguing,
proclaiming, and making common cause.

(I just posted about this on my blog earlier this morning. It's not a
coincidence because your questions, Jon, provoked me. I hate when that
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #21 of 85: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 15 Sep 12 09:45
Heh - I'm honored to be a provocateur in this context!

I've done some writing and thinking about the democratization of
knowledge, and about democratic process that drives decisions. The
problem of authority is key. It's not a question of who has the power
to act, though thats always relevant. I'm more concerned with the
question of knowledge... who has the knowledge to act effectively?
Democracy assumes that everybody in the room has one vote, and that all
the votes have the same weight. But it's unlikely that everybody in
the room has the same knowledge, or really the same understanding. And
getting a majority on, not just the same page, but the right page, can
be fruitless and time-consuming. People who think a lot about democracy
all know this - that's why we have "representative" democracy, to
reduce the number of voices, to have a group of leaders making the

There are all sorts of issues related to this that we could talk
about, but the most relevant is the impact of the Internet, in the way
it's created so many channels for so many voices, many of which can be
aggressively uninformed. Part of the realization of your fervent hope
if figuring out how to deal with the noise, no? And another is how we
cultivate what I was calling, in the "emergent democracy" discussions,
"emergent leadership." The thought there being that headless
organizations are still human organizations, and still need leadership,
not necessarily to HAVE authority, but to MEDIATE what's
authoritative. The buck stops somewhere, and in a headless organization
you might pass the baton, hopefully without passing the buck.

So I think I'm asking for two things here - for you to riff on the
problem of authority and democracy (and I realize that's asking a lot),
and also for at least the beginning of a conversation about best
practices for getting, not just conversation, but decisions.

If that's too big a bite, consider it one of the goals for the
conversation, rather than a conversation to be answered in one swell
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #22 of 85: Craig Maudlin (clm) Sat 15 Sep 12 11:11
> 20
Thanks for that link. And thanks for writing this book.

One reason I liked 'Too Big to Know' is that I agree with your
conclusions. But I really _enjoyed_ the book because of all the
little points of disagreement I encountered along the way.

An example from your linked blog post:

> There are more untruths to learn on the Net than there ever were in
> the paper world.

But isn't this a kind of 'sampling error?'

Doesn't the Net reveal a much larger portion of the totality of human
thought than paper ever did?

The fact the the Net lets us *see* more confused thought should not
lead us to the conclusion that there *is* more confused thought. It
might be there was more confusion in earlier times that was simply
not visible (then, or now).
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #23 of 85: David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sat 15 Sep 12 13:34
Jon, I'm afraid I'm not going to address either of your questions
adequately, but the first one I'm going to inadequately address is the
question of authority and democracy when it comes to knowledge. (Also,
a note: In this context, shouldn't it be "In one Well sfoop"? Can we
get "sfoop" adopted as a standard measurement for replies?)

I think it's dangerous to connect democracy and authority in most
instances of knowledge, at least in the way I'm about to describe (and
that you, Jon, did not intend, but it's my sfoop so I get to answer the
way I want). As an example, yesterday I was being interviewed about
Wikipedia and truth. I felt that I had to intervene in the line of
questions (from a really wonderful interviewer, by the way) to object
that Wikipedia is not an example of crowdsourcing, at least in the
best-known sense: the fair-goers guessing the weight of the ox. The
point about a crowd is that everyone is equally insignificant, and thus
crowdsourcing has the equality of voice that we associate with
democracy. But Wikipedia doesn't work that way. If you try to rewrite
the entry on, say, DNA because you've done research that proves it's a
triple helix, not a double helix, your edit will be removed unless and
until it's been published by sources that have put it through
traditional editorial processes. Even if you're right. And that's a
good process, in my view, because if all you had were equal voices, the
DNA article would flip as fast as the antagonists could type. So,
Wikipedia relies on the judgment of established institutions to make
sure that not all voices are equal. 

Now, that's different from the equal access the Net provides to voices
in the first place. And that everyone gets to speak seems to me to be
just about purely good. It does, however, mean that we have had to
create processes by which some people get heard more than others. Some
of those processes are one-person-one-vote democratic (within a
self-selected group) as at Some of them rely upon the
wisdom of moderators. Some of them use traditional peer reviewers, as
at most open access academic journals. Good! Plurality is good!

There is, though, a strong argument that the equality of voice
dissipates into a meaningless catchphrase in the harsh realities of the
Internet, in which people can attract attention by buying it, by
making outrageous false claims, by being nasty, by appealing to the
dominant race/class/gender as ever before, by getting hired by a major
corporation that builds a huge honking site. As a result, the ecosystem
technically enables all voices, but falls back into the old patterns
when it comes to being heard.

Yep. Power is knowledge. The Net doesn't fix that. But the Net is far
better at letting all people speak, and enabling voices to be heard at
least somewhat free of the old power structures.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #24 of 85: David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sat 15 Sep 12 13:40
Craig, thanks for liking the book in pretty much exactly the right way

I don't know what the answer to your question is. I only have a guess,
which is that the number of interactions the Net enables increases the
number of ideas, and thus we may have more wrong ideas than ever
before. It's also easier to squelch bad ideas when there are fewer
sources of information. But I honestly don't know.

I take the wider availability of bad information to be simply a part
of the wider availability of all information. As I think anyone who
does research will agree, the Net is the most AWESOME tool for learning
in our history. 

Since you've read my book, you know how passionate I am about the Web
as a resource and, more important, about how it's transforming our idea
of knowledge into something more human. So I don't want my criticisms
and concerns to lead people who haven't read my book to think that I am
anything less than head over heels in love with the Net.
inkwell.vue.455 : David Weinberger - Too Big to Know
permalink #25 of 85: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 16 Sep 12 03:53
Some years ago, Joi Ito asked people who read his blog to join a
conversation about "emergent democracy," the one that culminated in the
paper with that name, which was produced collaboratively, beginning as
a Word document, then migrated to Quicktopic for annotation, then
added to a Wiki. I created one edit, which I suppose is canonical, for
a book I co-edited, _Extreme Democracy_. That was an interesting
process and I suppose it could be called crowdsourcing, though it was a
select crowd. It was an attempt to have a democratic conversation
about democracy, specifically about the possibility of an Internet-era
democracy mediated by technology.

In the first meeting of that group, we talked at length about the
online potential to have many voices in any conversation, but I felt we
were missing something, and I raised a question on that call that
hasn't been resolved for me in all the years since then. 

The question was this: democracy is supposedly not just about a
conversation, but about governance. Governance is about making
decisions every day about all sorts of things, but generally about what
policies we all agree to follow and how we agree to use resources held
in common, e.g. how to spend tax dollars, how to use public lands,
what highways to build and how to maintain them, etc. A conversation
can go on forever without leading to decision or action, as anyone
who's been in a dysfunctional meeting knows. 

So my question was, given that we have broadly accessible tools for
facilitating all sorts of conversations and can bring so many voices
into the mix, how do we get from conversation to decision? Is there now
some other way to do that, than through elected representatives? I
heard many people talking, back then, about the potential to have pure
or direct democracy, but could you imagine having a popular vote about
every point in the Affordable Care Act? 


Members: Enter the conference to participate. All posts made in this conference are world-readable.

Subscribe to an RSS 2.0 feed of new responses in this topic RSS feed of new responses

   Join Us
Home | Learn About | Conferences | Member Pages | Mail | Store | Services & Help | Password | Join Us

Twitter G+ Facebook