Knowing good info from bad - how do we?

This posting inspired by the latest Gerry McGovern newsletter - read it for his views

We vote.

As an example, that's the power of Google search - it uses the concept that web pages with the highest 'vote' get put at the top of page 1. The 'vote' is a weighted one using the number of pages that reference it multiplied by a lot of clever algorithmic type activity - highly technical insight from Google themselves. In essence you voted me top of the "mike riversdale" Google list by linking to me.

However, voting is spreading through the web in many more ways than simply linking to pages and I believe the driver is that people are starting to use the tools to group themselves into communities.

In the good ol' days before "Web 2.0" (say before mid-2005) there were many informal methods of finding the 'best* content' - we would send emails to our mates pointing out cool sites, read about it from dedicated "Best of the Web ..." type magazines and use 'portals'. The number of 'hits' were then published as a way of indicating how many people had 'voted' for your site and then you were then meant to define how popular it was.

And whilst this manner of defining 'popular' still happens and always will ("informal networks") there's a bunch of people trying to replicate and enhance it using technology and more specifically the Web.

Web masters/bloggers are now linking to 'vote sites' hoping that they can encourage people to vote for them. A few of the popular ones are Digg, Techmeme,, Slashdot, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! home pages with many more popping up every day. They have been recently grouped under names such as "community-oriented news sites", "citizen journalism" and "social bookmarking".

These sites normally allow you to add a wee link/button to your content allowing people to express their complete and utter satisfaction with a mere click, thereby registering a 'vote'. The sites then, of course, take the votes, add 'em up and (no doubt with some sort of internal weighting) display/feed out the most popular pieces of content..

For those that are quick may have already spotted my problem with 'voting'. The subject of this posting is "Knowing good info from bad - how do we?" but I haven't answered that at all. What I have answered is "Knowing popular info - how do we?". Just because someone, everyone votes on a piece of content using whatever new fangdangled piece of web software is available making something popular doesn't necessarily make it "good".

For instance, there are quite a few people in the US of A (and probably around the rest of the world) that believe that content espousing creationism is 'good' and therefore would vote it up. This makes these pieces of content popular with certain people but not, I would stress, with everyone. If it's all happening within the 'creationism' community then all well and good - what you do in your home is up to you. Enough people voting, however, would move it out of the localised community and into the wider community that then may start to influence others.

This isn't a new issue - the silent majority are often harangued by a vocal few. The Web is merely raising it's profile above and beyond local viewpoints and making it a more global phenomenon. It's also raising the profile of 'culture' and how we are all different AND we belong to many communities - it isn't one world.

My solution - always question. Always question the validity, the source, the analysis and most importantly the "who" of the author. You are your own person and just because someone votes something as popular it doesn't make it good - check out how popular Adolf Hitler was.

Don't forget the Gerry McGovern newsletter that inspired this posting.

* Best is probably 'what is relevant to me right now'. Relevant is all about being timely, available and useable