Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Community generated content = quality?

I recently read a well written posting by John Warner in the Swamp Fox that discussed the value of Wikipedia and how some academics were refusing to let students reference that as a source. It occurs to me that there is a certain element (unfortunately many teaching our youth) that value singular credentials over majority consensus.

Although I am firmly in the camp of consensus, it's worthwhile to examine both points a bit more. Is the expertise of one or two highly specialized contributors worth more than the combined contribution of a large community of contributors? I think it's probably a little of both that brings quality. We don't gain value from a mob of uninformed opinions nor do we get the most well thought out explanation from an expert who has not been challenged in his or her basis of belief. The best outcome would be based on a community of well informed contributors.

Those of us who are willing to wade into the fray on a topic we are less than expert in provide a couple benefits, first we force the expert to communicate in a more complete fashion to address a broader audience. A further benefit is the introduction of fresh and unorthodox inquiries that often become the catalyst to new thought on a topic.

Open Source software seems to be following this pattern. Over time we see that a community of contributors in any given project generate a much broader consensus of what a technology should look like and include. In the early days of my participation in Open Source it seemed that the biggest benefit was the volume of code made Open Source attractive. Now I think the community (at least around larger, longer established communities) brings it biggest value in the quality of mind-share it contains. It's fair to say that nowhere else in the history of technology has there been a time when such diversity of thought and objectives been focus onto a single objective.

I think we live in some very interesting times. The time when a single entity can control the future of a technology is past. The new currency in technology isn't code, it's creative use of code. Solving a problem and building a base of loyal users is how we will make money in technology for the foreseeable future. So, taking care of customers and giving people what they need to be successful will make you successful? Interesting concept.

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