In the beginning, web pages were static with readers merely passively reading them. Today, many are interactive with more and more possibilities for users to actively interact with the material they read. To what degree should Internet users be able to interact with (viz., modify) information presented to them? What are the benefits of increased openness and interactivity? What are the risks? Just how democratic should the Internet be?
Steps toward openness and the democratization of the Internet
There are disagreements regarding the definition and even existence of Web 2.0. 1 If we momentarily overlook this fact, Web 2.0 can be thought of as a kind of interactive, dynamic, non-static, next-generation Internet. Its philosophy “emphasizes the importance of people’s interactions with the Internet.” 2 Although the concept of everyone contributing to the Web sounds and may even be wonderful, it raises some fundamental questions.
Ward Cuningham, the founder of Wikipedia (the word “Wiki,” pronounced “Witi” is a Hawaiian word which means “fast” or “quick” 3) created an encyclopedia in which users can edit a page or create new ones. 4 “A single page in a wiki website is referred to as a “wiki page,” while the entire collection of pages, which are usually well interconnected by hyperlinks, is the ‘wiki.’ ” 5 As appealing as having a plethora of wikis at our fingertips is, it remains a mixed blessing. Tim O’Reilly (from O’Reilly Media) said, regarding interactive Internet, that because people can accidentally or intentionally provide incorrect information, there is no guarantee regarding the accuracy of the electronic information at our disposal. 6
Web syndication formats such as Really Simple Syndication (RSS) also contribute to the democratization of the Internet by allowing users to “subscribe to a Web page and receive updates whenever the administrator for that page [makes] any changes.” 7 The process of rendering web content equally discoverable to as many users as possible also includes tags and open source software 8 as well as blogs and permalinks (hypertext links) connected to specific blog entries that allow for heightened information exchange (i.e., blog-to-blog, viral marketing). 9 Podcasting (i.e., blog + RSS + video blogs or, vlogs) is yet another way to share information. 10
Although web democratization leads to increased dissemination and sharing of information and opportunities for new services (e.g., Red Hat Software came into existence to support Linus Torvalds’s open source operating system, Linux 11) we must be wary regarding the accuracy of and accountability for information found online.
Although democratization, openness, inclusiveness, and encouraged interactive co-participation in developing web content are appealing because of the vast amounts of information they provide and the ability to easily access said information, we need to seriously think about accuracy, accountability as well as the retention of individual authorship when applicable.
Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of inaccuracies that riddle the Internet. Even more troubling is when these inaccuracies pertain to misleading medical advice. Some kind of guiding compass must be relied upon to “follow up [on such] conflicting information with a solid, unambiguous message that communicates those lessons that [in this cited, educational study] the instructor deems most important.” 12
Regarding a study called Safe Infant Sleep recommendations on the Internet: Let’s Google It, researchers found that parents, instead of following American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations because they often contain hard-to-understand, medical jargon, type key phrases into a search engine and follow the advice given by high-ranking websites. 13 When researchers tested common key phrases, they found that in the top one hundred search results (out of 1,300 websites total) “only 43.5% of these … websites contained recommendations that were in line with the AAP recommendations, while 28.1% contained inaccurate information and 28.4% of the websites were not medically relevant.” 14 In this example, parents obtaining and applying incorrect information from data presented online could have devastating consequences.
Maintaining individuality while permitting specified, collective web interactivity
Whether closed or open, passive or active, web pages on the Internet deliver information to users.
It is important to recognize that an open and interactive Internet is desirable for the benefits it could bring. At present, however, we must expect that the advantages of openness and heightened interactivity and inter-connectivity are offset by lack of accountability coupled with inaccuracies that pose potential pitfalls.
Perhaps it’s best to recognize that there should be a balance between the two models presented in this article: niches (e.g., Wikipedia) where wikis are the norm and groups of Internet users collectively create material that has the potential of being inaccurate and lack accountability, with control mechanisms in place to correct such inaccuracies; and niches (e.g., bloggers or individual website creators) where accuracy and accountability can easily be verified and attributed.
1 Strickland, Jonathan. “Democratization of the Web.” Howstuffworks. How Web 2.0 works. Accessed on Saturday, August 3, 2013. http://computer.howstuffworks.com/web-202.htm, 3.
2 Ibid., 3.
3 Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wiki. Accessed on Saturday, August 3, 2013. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki
6 Strickland, Jonathan. “Democratization of the Web.” Howstuffworks. How Web 2.0 works. Accessed on Saturday, August 3, 2013. http://computer.howstuffworks.com/web-202.htm, 3.
7 Ibid., 4.
8 Ibid., 3.
9 op. cit.
11 “What does open source mean?” Howstuffworks. Accessed on Saturday, August 3, 2013. http://computer.howstuffworks.com/question435.htm
12 Philip Kortum, PhD, Christine Edwards, BS and Rebecca Richards-Kortum, PhD. “The Impact of Inaccurate Health Information in a Secondary School Learning Environment.” Journal of Medical Internet Research. Accessed on Saturday, August 3, 2013. http://www.jmir.org/2008/2/e17/
13 Rehman, Jalees. “Accuracy of Medical Information on the Internet.” Fragments of Truth. Posted on Thursday, January 17 2013. Accessed on Saturday, August 3, 2013. http://fragments-of-truth.blogspot.com/2013/01/accuracy-of-medical-information-on.html
STATIC AND CLOSED VERSUS INTERACTIVE AND OPEN INTERNET WEB PAGES Copyright © 2013 Luba Rascheff
- Web 2.0 Here to Stay…. (paulmulindwa.wordpress.com)