The Influence of the Web on our Thinking

Roger Costello
Timothy D. Kehoe

  1. Metadata

    Old thought: a select group of experts decide what metadata is appropriate. The amount of metadata is limited because there is only so much you can put on a 3" x 5" index card, and you can only dedicate a certain amount of space for the card catalog.

    New thought: clients (the people making use of the information) decide what metadata is appropriate. There are no limits to the amount or variety of metadata. There is a democratization of knowledge. Power is transferred to the people. Examples: social tagging, WebDAV.

  2. Authoring

    Old thought: suppose the Encyclopedia Britannica wants to have an article on Mahatma Gandhi. What do they do? They hire a historian who is an expert on Mahatma Gandhi, and he carefully crafts the article. Accepted beliefs are settled within a small community (historians decide what to say about Mahatma Gandhi).

    New thought: the Wikipedia model - dozens of people (some expert, some not) write and edit. An article emerges out of the efforts of a large group of independent, diverse people with differing expertise and coming from different viewpoints. The result is a mass consensus. This new thought exploits the collective wisdom of the crowd. Example: Wikipedia

  3. Good Ideas

    Old thought: the aristocrats and experts are the only ones with good, useful ideas because their birthright (or office) makes them necessarily better.

    New thought: An idea can come from anyone's mouth, and can compete on its merit in the open marketplace.

  4. Finding Information

    Old thought: to find the information that you need, you have to do a lot of legwork by searching through books, newspapers, and journals at a library. Oftentimes you must laboriously analyze the raw data.

    New thought: the answer is already out there, you just need to find it. Someone has already collected the raw data and figured it out. You don't have to come up with your own analysis. Google has changed our perception of knowledge - we presume the information is out there, we just need to find it.

    FAQ: But someone has to have gone to the library and done the research and analysis, right? True, but the point is that one person (or a small number of persons) does the research and analysis, and then the rest of the Web community takes advantage of it. Thus, the odds of you having to do the legwork become infinitesimally small, i.e., you can presume the information is out there and you simply need to find it.

  5. Sending Information

    Old thought: Email is 20th century postal mail. You craft your message and send it. You deliver your thoughts in seconds or minutes.

    New thought: IM is 21st century email. You don't have to wait until you've carefully crafted the whole message - you type one line and it's off.

  6. Measuring Technical Success, Stature, and Influence

    Old thought: your technical success is measured by how many of the right journals you have published in and how many of the right publications cite your work.

    New thought: today success is measured by mass visibility. You want buzz. You want to open up new avenues of investigation based upon what you said. Suppose that you are socializing some new ideas on your website. Go to Google and type in the key words of your thesis and see how many hits you get. (When you get lots of hits, that means people are talking about the idea. When your website is at the top of the list, which means people are talking about your idea.) Your influence is not measured by the number of articles you have authored, but by the power of your ideas. The power of your ideas is demonstrated by the citations found in the Google search for keywords.