Archive for March, 2007

The myth of user generated content?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

A post from Jane Secker reporting on a session at the LILAC 2007 conference in Manchester, showed that library and information professionals would like to see the Virtual Training Suite feature more user generated content. I hope to catch up with my colleagues who were at the session soon and find out what delegates specifically mean by user generated content.

Is user generated content all its cracked up to be? And is there much of it out there, that is educational? Wikipedia is often cited as the doyenne of user generated content, but people may not be using it for entirely scholarly purposes, which may drive others towards the newly founded Citizendium instead. And over 70% of the content is produced by just a few hundred people, despite Wikipedia’s global user base of millions and hundreds of thousands of registered users.

These figures should not come as a surprise, as they fit in with longer term trends about online participation stretching back to the use of discussion boards and other systems, as pointed out by Jakob Nielsen. Or to put them in a truly up-to-date context, the Freakonomics blogger Stephen J. Dubner recently explored the issue of blog comments and stated that the ratio of readers to commenters was gigiantic.

Perhaps the reality behind the user generated content hype is that most of us prefer to watch, rather than take part and that the lesson of everything 2.0 is not the current proliferation of blogs, wikis and social networking sites, but that users have collectively realised that they want to be able to edit, annotate, remix and create content themselves and not just be passive receivers of information.

But in the meantime, it’s worth pointing out that the Virtual Training Suite already features a fair slice of what is “traditionally” referred to as Web 2.0 or user generated content – we feature academic blogs, have reviews of various podcasts and have even tracked down a few uses of wikis by the Higher Education community.

More to life than Google?

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

New research from the ESRC has highlighted the limitations that academic researchers may encounter with Key Websites Buried in (an) Information Avalanche. As standard Internet search engines try to meet the needs of any and all potential users, it is therefore not surprising that there is a niche for a service like the Virtual Training Suite which can focus on resources that better meet the requirements of the academic community.

Exploring the research further via the ESRC Project page and the Oxford Internet Institute project page, the researchers examine the “winner-takes-all” hypothesis whereby a small number of highly interlinked sites may be responsible for a high proportion of Internet traffic in specific subjects – this sounds somewhat like the Long Tail theory, which has been cited as indicative of online behaviour in a number of areas.

While it may be true that not being in the first 3 pages of a Google search may mean that a resource is invisible, it is also increasingly true that your Google search may not be the same as my Google search. The move to personalised search results may lead to a world where users don’t encounter resources that disagree with their own world view, an idea that is not just confined to Internet search, but has also appeared in the area of wikis, with Conservapedia being set up to counter the “liberal bias” of Wikipedia.

Other online commentators such as Karen Blakeman and Phil Bradley have tried to highlight the limitations of Google as a one-stop search solution and while Information Professionals always need to remember that the average user doesn’t find the process of finding things out as interesting as we do, the broader message about Information Literacy still needs to be made and in terms the academic community can relate to – it’s never a good idea to base a research strategy on a single source – Google or not.

Try using the Internet Detective from the Virtual Training Suite if you want to learn more about these issues or explore one of the subject based tutorials if you want to get to the best of the web on a particular topic.