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Guest Posting: Webbed or Web Sceptic? You Decide!

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 May 2007

Welcome To May’s Guest Blog Post

Following the interest generated by Roddy MacLeod’s guest blog post last month I am planning on having a regular slot from guest bloggers.

This month’s guest blog post is from Sheila Webber of the Information Literacy blog.

Webbed or Web Sceptic? You Decide!

Hi to all Brian’s blog readers and thanks to Brian for inviting me onto his blog.

When Brian asked me to guest here, I thought I’d write about the division that seems to be growing up between:

a) those information professionals who mostly gather and disseminate information to their peers in a webly fashion (I shall call these people the Webbed), and
b) those for whom all this faffing around on the web seems (frankly) a waste of time (I shall call these Web Sceptics).

My argument is that this seems to be adding to the existing divisions in our fragmented information profession. And, perversely, in some ways I think it’s getting harder to get into this Webbed information existence the more interesting information there is out there on the web.

In the past (generalising wildly) where you went for news and information about the information/library world tended to be driven by:

  • the sector you work in; plus
  • your specialist interest; plus
  • your geographic location.

However, from what I can see, an extra element “how you prefer to consume your information & interact with your peers” (Webbed or Web Sceptic) has been thrown into the mix.

This has been creeping up on us for a while, of course, but I now know people who mostly rely for their information (and a good deal of interaction) on blogs, online conference presentations, RSS feeds and so forth. On the other hand, I also know people:

  • who think blogs are vacuous ramblings,
  • who regard time spent faffing round the internet as time wasted,
  • who would see print publications as their formal information channel, and
  • would be highly sceptical of the idea of making useful professional contacts via Internet engagement.

And these Web Sceptics can be interesting, dynamic information professionals. It’s just that they don’t much like hunting out or consuming their information online.

What may also be happening is that people who write about the information world are tending to one mode or the other. Now, here I’m biased by my own experience, since I use to write a huge amount for Inform (the Institute of Information Scientists newsletter), fairly often for Information World Review and now and then for Library and Information Update.

Once I started blogging, though, basically I stopped doing much print stuff for professional mags. One element is the time factor. Another is that they are different kinds of writing (further information on this is available); getting back into “print article mode” becomes a bit more difficult. A further one is that when I blog I don’t have to worry about some Editor changing the title, or snipping out sentences: I can publish what I like. Plus it’s published immediately. Plus people can respond more easily. And this makes such a nice contrast with writing for peer-reviewed journals (which I have to do as part of my job).

Anyway, Big Trends in the information world seem to get through to everyone who takes any interest in professional things (since Big Trends get picked up in all media channels, print or online). However, details on what people think, and who the important thought leaders are, and what the not-so-big trends are may vary depending on whether you are Webbed or Web Sceptic.

Although, as more and more stuff is happening on the web, there may be more pressure on Web Sceptics to go to the web, on the other hand, the very fact that there is now so much stuff out there is becoming a bit of a turn off.

Take conference blogging. Brian has just blogged Museums on the Web, and he quotes people who found it useful. Similarly, I’ve blogged conferences, and had people thank me for it, and I’ve enjoyed other people’s conference blogs.

But …. a week or so ago I dropped in on the wiki for the then ongoing Computers in Libraries. A day or so in, there were already 150 posts from assorted bloggers. Now there are over 350 blog posts and 1,300 photos.

I just wanted to get a feel of how the conference went: where on earth do I start? Unfortunately, those photos are just too distracting (have you seen the one in the Museums on the Web set of a delegate apparently drinking from a bidet?? What was that all about?). And presumably Web Sceptics would look at the 350 postings and 1,300 and say: told you so: what we need here is a bit of quality control and filtering, like you get in those old fashioned print magazines.

To be honest, I find it a lot easier to get a feel for the conferences where there are just a few people blogging. Faced with 350 posts what I’m probably going to do is look for names of bloggers I know, and just follow their thoughts. I’m aware of the blogosphere expanding (even a year ago I think I knew about all the information literacy blogs, now I’m sure I don’t) with all sorts of useful stuff. There only being 24 hours in the day I’m carving out my own view of the information world, influenced most by the voices I hear online rather than the voices in print publications. I think this is also influencing who I talk to at conferences, who I correspond with most via email and so forth.

So I come back to what I said at the start, I think that this is probably fragmenting still further what is lumped together as “the library and information profession”. Within an organisation, this can be a good thing, if getting different perspectives from employees is seen as a positive thing, and reward and status isn’t associated with just one kind of information-world-view. I think in some organisations this might be a big “If”.

I also think it is making it even more difficult for any one national organisation to say it is the “voice” of the profession. There are lots of communication and news channels growing up that have no affiliation with any particular professional organisation. There are growing numbers of podcasts (e.g. Talking With Talis, UC Berkeley Webcasts, Information Literacy 2006 conference), presentations and online courses (e.g. Five Weeks to A Social Library), not to mention virtual shindigs in Second Life, which mean professional development via online is more of an option. I still feel meeting people face to face in real life is important for good relationships. But I wonder whether the role of associations in mediating this is getting less important?

As you might have gathered, I would see myself more in the Webbed category (with my name, I suppose I have to). And possibly the fact that I’m contributing to the online information universe as well as consuming it is an important part of being Webbed rather than Web Sceptic.

What do people think? Is this not a potential split at all, just a phase? Am I wrong to think that the Webbed and Web Sceptics are developing different information-world–views – it’s more than just reading things in different media? Am I right in thinking that in some ways it is getting more challenging for a Web Sceptic to start to become Webbed? Will associations and commercial information publishers start taking back some of the Webbed ground?

I’m hoping people will have some comments!

Sheila Webber

http://information-literacy.blogspot.com/

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9 Responses to “Guest Posting: Webbed or Web Sceptic? You Decide!”

  1. Pete Williams said

    Sheila,

    A reason why I don’t blog is that personally I don’t like writing so “quickly”. If I’m producing a document or article I like to write several drafts as I try to articulate my ideas, and often those ideas will change or be refined in the act of writing. The emphasis with a blog is to post briefly and regularly which may not always be conducive to reflection and critical thinking. I do think that sometimes the content of blogs can reflect the limitations of the form.

    I don’t think it’s an either/or situation and there is a place for both styles of writing – I certainly consume both and some people are extremely good at writing pithily. But it would be a pity if longer, more considered, articles are neglected (although here is no reason why these can’t appear on the web too).

    A second, related, thought is that there is indeed a danger of fragmentation and retreat into self-reinforcing groups on the web. I suppose this is part of a wider media process – the decline of the “centre” – and you can definitely see this happening in the library/information profession e.g. the information literacy movement, the open access movement, etc

    In many ways this is a positive thing – we have the opportunity to share ideas with people it would be hard to meet face to face – but there is a possible side effect that it makes it difficult for critical voices to be heard.

    That may seem counter-intuitive – on the face of it, the web would seem an obvious place to express different views – but I wonder if the lack of a centre and the prevalence of online communities in some ways makes it harder?

    Pete

  2. Hazel said

    I’m not sure that Web Sceptics are anti reading things on the Web it’s that some forms of writing, like Pete’s considered thoughts, lend themselves more to the printed word. I know that for the careers guidance community that I write for I end up doing both a regular hard copy newsletter (which is available electronically but that’s not the principal medium of publication) and using the Web for the shorter or more immediate information both through bookmarking (using Furl) and through the weblog. Yes, there’s a divide but many writers seem to be working on both sides of it even if the readers aren’t — yet!
    PS If you’re not yet a regular reader of Sheila’s weblog then do go and look — if only for the regular photographs from her garden and the various parks and open spaces in Sheffield.

  3. Sheila
    You are right that the information profession has always been fragmented by sector/special interest/geography and some have retreated into their own small communities and failed to relate to the wider world. However many have combined specialism with general interest e.g. groups like SINTO which are geographicaly based help to bring different sectors and specialism together.
    The Webbed vs Web sceptics (or web blind?) division is important. The development of webbed communities has happened so fast that I am sure many librarians have simply been left behind. Also many library staff simply do not have direct access to their own PC at work and so have little opportunity to join in. I have always thought it strange that libraries often show little interest in the information needs of their own staff.

    The problem of the diversity of sources and the decline of the centre (Pete)is also important. How would you advise a young professional who just wants a broad overview of professional developments?

    Perhaps the answer does lie with local networking. I recently posted a message on LIS-Blogger suggesting that LIS bloggers in Yorkshire could form a network. You could argue that you don’t need geographicaly localised networks in a global virtual community but I suggest it does relate things to the human scale and can enable joined-up thinking and a holistic view.

    Carl Clayton
    SINTO – the information partnership for South Yorkshire and north Derbyshire

  4. Amanda Quick said

    When it comes to all things webbedy, I have been oscillating between genuine enthusiasm and vociferous cynicism for over a year now. Co-leading a course on Web 2.0 got me involved in looking at different facilities as well as issues. I think the whole fragmentation issue is massive. No one talks about information overload anymore, but it’s a real and present danger. Time is limited and I do find participating in multiple collaborative networks vastly time-consuming. I have a stack of RSS feeds set up on 2 different aggregators, but the only one I ever make time to look at is Outpost Gallifrey (’nuff said).

    Career Development Group ran a conference on ‘Engaging communities’ on Monday, and we were pleased to have Brian Kelly as one of our speakers, tackling the issue of engaging communities virtually. Post-conference I am pooling photos, uploading presentations and socially bookmarking URLs, all of which I will pass on to delegates. Fun – hopefully adding value to the conference experience – but admittedly somewhat laborious.

    Why should the blogosphere etc be seen as replacing professional groups? Surely the logical development is towards a blended model of face to face, print, electronic and collaborative online communication/participation? CDG are certainly going to be looking at how we make best use of all the available tools to reach members and beyond.

  5. It’s interesting that the discussion seems to be on blogs versus more traditional forms of writing, such as articles in the various professional publications which Sheila has mentioned. I’ve heard blogs described as places for conversations, and this is the view I have. So rather than comparing blogs with publications, I tend to compare them with email – and in many respects I have found that the quality of discourse and discussion in blogs often surpasses that to be found in mailing lists.

  6. Amanda rightly brings up the topic of information overload. Its now much too easy to get bogged down with multiple RSS feed subscriptions, and bloggers are helping to add to potential information overload. That doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t blog, but it does show that there’s a need for some smart ways to sift through all the material which is being produced.

    In 1986, Herbert A Simon wrote: “The task is not to design information-distributing systems but intelligent information-filtering systems”

    For another interesting post on information glut, and ‘digital people’ see:

    http://www.uxmatters.com/MT/archives/000171.php

    The area of providing solutions to information overload needs much more effort.

    Sheila is very gentle on the ‘Web Sceptics’. An alternate take would be to think of them as information dinosaurs, and surely they’ll be extinct before too long.

    Roddy

  7. I tried to leave comments yesterday but unsuccessfully so far- I’ll see if this one works! Responding to Roddy’s last comment – I don’t think of the WebSceptics as being the same as luddites or dinosaurs. They are choosing to spend time in other forms of engagement e.g. probably spending more time with people face to face and more time looking at conventional publications. There might be an element of technology-avoidance, but it also seems a choice about ways of engaging with the world. If Webbeds and WebSceptics talk to each OTHER as well, this can actually be quite fruitful – pooling there world-views, so to speak.

  8. Hurrah, it worked! Perhaps in my previous posts, WordPress didn’t like my use of HTML code – here is the comment I tried to leave yesterday.
    ——————
    Thanks for your comments! I’ll mention that Cris also posted a thoughtful comment about this post, on my blog, at https://www2.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=15328831&postID=5990455155566973170

    Pete – the collaborative blog that I’m doing with some of my colleagues here also brought out how some people just don’t like the “quick writing” which blogs seem to require (it’s something we discussed on the blog). Discussing blogs with some students (in our Educational Informatics class) last week, there was also a range of feelings about blogs, but they did feel that blogs were (at least) better for reflective writing than were discussion lists – in fact that the rambling form might encouraged thoughts to emerge…

    Amanda – ” vastly time-consuming” yes, I agree. One thing that has come up in discussion with the above class, each year the module has run, is that there is a feeling that you can have too many options for communication – that there are only some many channels that students want to have to check. Conversely, I’ve found things increasingly stressful in terms of stuff I need to check & post to (discussion boards & journals in various WebCT modules, my blog, the blog associated with another module I’ve been doing with colleagues, the Edu Informatics blog on livejournal, leaving aside the blogs I like to skim & post on now & then, and the usual creation/updating of educational material in webct). Creating the extra content and interaction around teaching & events is enjoyable, in some ways, and makes them richer, I think, but it does seem to mean that everything requires just that extra time and effort.

    Brian – interesting point about the conversations. I suppose I come at it differently because mine isn’t really a conversational blog, more an informational one…

  9. […] And might this be a way of addressing the concerns raised by Sheila Webber in her recent posting on Webbed or Websceptic: You Decide. – rather than a debate on the relative merits of blogs versus more traditional publications, […]

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