Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Two Views on the Value of Web Publishing

I find it fascinating that both of these articles have crossed the threshold of my inbox (if, indeed, an inbox can be said to have a threshold) in the last week, because they represent two very different views of the value of and possible reasons for web publishing.

Web journals threaten peer-review system: In this USAToday article, the academic debate about web publishing--in which there is mostly a negative view of the web--is showcased. The concern here seems to be that research be rigorously vetted before it goes public so that people don't act on faulty information.

Get published to get ahead: In Gerry McGovern's latest article on web content he advocates using the web, which he says is "becoming the global memory," to publish your ideas on things, to raise your status. Interestingly enough, he uses the academic "publish-or-perish" idea as a backbone to encourage the broader public to publish their ideas on the web to become known there--clearly a more positive view of web publishing than exists in many parts of academia.

Clearly Gerry McGovern (who is a highly-regarded voice on web content) is encouraging a different type of--and reason for--web publication than those who disagree with the lack of peer review on online academic journals. And I'm not sure where I fall on the debate--I suppose I agree with elements of both sides.

The crux of the question seems to be about trust in the quality of content based on editorial process or lack thereof. And it's fair to say that editorial processes which use experts to filter out shoddy work are still important in today's society--in some ways more important than ever in a world where information overload is so often king. And it's also true that people also do a fair bit of their own filtering of content, whatever they read--the information-literate web visitor today is also fairly used to sorting out whether they trust something themselves, to a certain degree.

And that's more okay with some content than it is with others. More important for some web-publishing venues than others. An email or an IM conversation is different from a blog, which is different from an e-zine, which is different from an online academic journal. As there are is in speech and in print, electronic publishing has many different levels and audiences with unique requirements. And those different levels and audiences often require different levels and kinds of editorial process.

The thing is that this debate has been around, in a slightly different form, since the printing press, if not before. It's definitely not just a web thing, this concern about quality and editorial process. But because it's applied to a relatively-new medium, it seems new. In some ways it is, but in others, it's the same. Having fairly recently come from Gerry McGovern's world into the world of academia, I'm fascinated by it, and look forward to seeing where this print-world debate will go next now that it's being applied to a medium with slightly different possibilities and limitations.

(Naturally, this thoughts-in-process reflection article has only been self-edited before publication on this blog. Please feel free to filter its contents--and the contents of this whole blog--for quality yourself.)

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