I am intrigued by the regular convergence of comments on aspects of social software on to a single, critical topic: The role of the expert.
Whether I look at the “quality” comments, the lowest-common denominator ones, the “dumbing down” ones or for that matter the questions on the ontology of encyclopaedias, somewhere in my head they are all the same.
It’s all about the barriers we raise about being “qualified” to be an “expert”.
Imagine a world where venture capitalists refused to fund a start-up unless the founders all had university degrees. Know any large companies founded by college dropouts? :-)
Imagine a world where you couldn’t be a musician unless you’d done your time at the right academy or ecole. Know any talented musicians who had no formal training? :-)
History is littered with examples of prodigious talent without formal qualifications. Qualifications yes. But not formal ones. The world is richer as a result.
Too often “expertise” is associated with (a) formal qualifications (b) years of experience (c) the weight of being “published” and (d) various tests for competence and ability covering intelligence and emotion and cognitive ability and what-have-you.
These are all good indicators of expertise. Some are very good indicators of expertise. But they should not be considered necessary, or, for that matter, sufficient, conditions for being considered an expert.
Know any experts who turned down the Beatles? Know any experts who said that Fred Astaire couldn’t sing or dance? Know any experts who forecast a world market for maybe five computers? Know any that did not believe that a home computer was a good idea? Or that the internet was a passing fad?Â :-)
There is no magic formula for talent or for expertise. But passion and motivation and perseverance andÂ access/enfranchisement go a long way. Every one of us is, or can be, a student for life, and a teacher for life. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the passion and motivation are allowed to be fruitful, and for that we need to ensure open access.
Ontologies can create unnecessary anchors and frames. Subjective elements creep in whenever we try and define expertise, particularly in the study of society. Too often definitions turn out to be dinosaur defences. There is a consilience taking place, a battle between the disciplines. Let’s not behave like the monarchs and priests and doctors and lawyers, and for that matter, IT professionals, of old, did.
As I said earlier, academic qualifications and experience and publishing history and test scores are all good indicators. In many cases they are very good indicators.
But they are not the only indicators. And should not be used to raise the wrong barriers.
Many years ago I used to watch Hill Street Blues regularly (I know, I’m sad that way….). So as we enter a phase where we’re all going to participate in, learn from, implement, iterate and adopt and iterate again the right governance standards for social software, I’d like to quote Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, played by the late Michael Conrad:
Hey, let’s be careful out there.