The natural evolution of information on the Web will move toward greater quality, reliability and transparency. This will not happen because gatekeepers do a better job of controlling the content of websites; rather it will be because the ease of finding, sharing and linking good information is setting a higher bar for everyone.
For profit and association publishers have been on edge in recent years because the Web makes so much information available free. Some have reconciled themselves that they can continue to earn their subscription and member revenues by filtering information for a fee. It will be much harder to stay ahead of the Web’s fast evolution from vast information resource to reliable knowledge.
There are plenty of indicators of this evolution in quality from information to knowledge:
- While amateurs turned bloggers get much of the attention, there is probably an equally large universe of consultants, academics and other experts willing to share their knowledge in this medium. Since it is easy to do, these knowledge workers have turned to the Web to increase their social capital in a knowledge economy.
- Communities of practice are taking advantage of shared knowledge repositories like wikis to work toward a better informed understanding of their work. People often cite the policing and quick updating aspects of Wikipedia as the reason for its quality as a reference; however, the real force for quality is any community’s enhanced ability to learn together, just as it would in a face-to-face dialogue.
- The prevalence of identity-finding tools like social networking and personal websites make it much easier to vet the expertise of any author or contributor. And the growth of review and rating systems will in time reward newcomers for their novel and groundbreaking perspectives.
- With the ease of hyperlinking and bookmarking, anyone with a passion for sharing knowledge can build a valuable resource for others to use. Textbooks and scholarly works have always rested on their bibliographies. Tomorrow’s online learning and e-books will do an even better job of moving seamlessly from synthesis overview into the source material.
None of this has to be cause for despair for the knowledge aggregators who need revenue to support their knowledge business models. If these capabilities are the new standards for knowledge, for profit and association publishers just need to be the early adopters and co-opt the best expertise and experiences emerging in these alternative Web publishing worlds.