A Fundamental Truth of the Web

Tim Berners-Lee: “People have, since it started, complained about the fact that there is junk on the web. And as a universal medium, of course, it is important that the web itself doesn’t try to decide what is publishable. The way quality works on the web is through links. It works because reputable writers make […]

Tim Berners-Lee:

“People have, since it started, complained about the fact that there is junk on the web. And as a universal medium, of course, it is important that the web itself doesn’t try to decide what is publishable. The way quality works on the web is through links.

It works because reputable writers make links to things they consider reputable sources. So readers, when they find something distasteful or unreliable, don’t just hit the back button once, they hit it twice.”

This is a fundamental truth to the Web. This is how the Web is made meaningful. This is how data, in databases or XML files or some mini-format, are made useful by people. This is also why Google works, because they realized that they could make a reputation engine that approximated value in the social linking activity on the Web.

Some folks want to create authoritative sources so that they don’t have to think about things…don’t have to consider the source and the context of life. Down with Wikipedia because it’s not authoritative! Down with Digg because it is gamed! Down with Google because of SPAM! Just give me the answer, dammit!

But if you walk down Main Street, USA, and listen in on conversations what you hear is more like Wikipedia or Digg or Google than it is the Encyclopedia Brittanica, the Associated Press, or a Librarian. These tools are the people’s tools, because they are built on the relationships of millions of people, not the expertise of a few. Most people aren’t experts, and most people don’t need no stinkin’ experts.

There is something great in thinking that on the Web we are free to pursue our own reputation. If we write well, help others, continue learning, and link to valuable resources we can carve out a niche where there was none. Is this an egalitarian pipe-dream? I don’t know. Perhaps it is, perhaps not.

But whether it is or it isn’t, do as Tim suggests, and don’t make people click the Back Button twice.

Published: November 5th, 2006

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