On WTF and Yogi Berra and related stuff

I knew it, someone to come up with a way of making sure that people want their posts to be Flamed!

A couple of days ago, Dave Sifry wrote about a new feature in Technorati called WTF, which stood for Where’s The Fire?

I guess it means many things to many people, but to me it seems simple and worthwhile, a natural extension to the World Live Web, as Doc tends to call it. What is it? You write an explanation for something, anything, that you feel will help others. And then you let people vote for it. Your friends and family can vote for it, helping you kick-start the process. If you succeed, then it rises towards the top of the Technorati search response for the term you seek to explain.

When you do succeed, the entry you make has a little Flame next to it.

So in a way it’s Wikipedia. Each entry is an article, an explanation of something.

In a way it’s Firefly, it’s Amazon ratings, it’s StumbleUpon, it’s Digg. Collaboratively filtered information. A community popularity index.
In a way it’s Google. Ranking information that forms a searchable base and returning results according to some algorithm.

And in a way it’s Technorati. Working primarily in and around the blogosphere.

Some people have compared WTF as purely a Digg competitor. I guess it could become that. If we let it. Personally, I am not interested in yet another way of ranking news stories per se, and that’s what Digg seemed to become. I’m completely uninterested in what Paris Hilton or Britney Spears get up to.
All this reminds me of my favourite Yogi Berra saying:

Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.

If I’ve read Dave correctly, it’s up to us what WTF becomes. To me it represents a golden opportunity to try and solve something, a problem that Wikipedia has not been able to solve so far.

The problem of wisdom-of-crowds versus expertise. Something I’ve written about many times before, one of my pet subjects.

If we use WTF as a means of “voting” for articles on specific subjects, and we make sure that Linus’s Law is made to hold …. there are enough eyeballs …. then maybe we could get somewhere different. The original article writer remains the creator and editor, but the comments made on the article are visible as well. Who knows, maybe the comments themselves get WTFed, with the leading 25 comments always visible.

I think we can come up with something that’s harder to game. No Googlebomb equivalent. No editorial frenzies. I’m not entirely sure why, but there is something about WTF that appeals to me. It may have to do with the fact that overt control is being passed to all of us.

[An aside. A few decades ago, the company I was working for sent me on a Public Speaking course. It was a pretty expensive one, video tapes and playbacks and all that jazz. The guy who ran it was meant to be the guy who trained Margaret Thatcher; a significant portion of the course was spent looking at real footage of Reagan and Thatcher et al; the rest was spent cringing as you watched yourself on tape and got critiqued by all and sundry.

While we covered a lot of material on things like linguistic style and projection and body language and stuff like that, we spent a great deal of time discussing the “devices” available to public speakers. While all this was interesting, what really struck me was something altogether different.

How, according to the course leader, politicians had only one objective: to say something meaningful yet catchy enough to make one of the top three headlines in the evening news. The age of soundbites.]

As I write this, I hear that Digg have stopped publishing their list of top contributors, because people were beginning to game that. There was a market forming, people were paying the guys who showed they could get a story to fly.

As long as we create bottles we will have bottlenecks. Bottlenecks are there to be gamed.

How can we avoid this? We have to make sure there are enough eyeballs.
Each WTF post is a story, part of a conversation. Each has the potential to be a Global Microbrand, as Hugh MacLeod is wont to say. Each has the ability to rise in value within the market where such conversations are held, via the WTF votes. After all, markets are conversations. [Incidentally, when are we going to see Cluetrain 2.0? ]

In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to support WTF. That’s the only way I can learn about such emergent phenomena.

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