The more information is available, the more authority and provenance become vital

Terry Jones, in his article The future of publishing is writable makes some fine points about the expansion of publishing, but he makes some questionable ones about the contraction of other forms of publishing.

First, there is a poor analogy made between music and literature.  The natural unit of music is a song (unless you’re a fan of Rush, Yes, or Styx, or anyone else who made a concept album).  The natural unit of literature is not the chapter, but the story.  Some are short; some, long.  Short stories are not made better by prolonging them, nor are long ones improved by denying a portion until later.  And yes, we did once publish stories by the chapter.  Then, for really good reasons (radio, television), we stopped.  We will need extremely good reasons, spelled out in detail, to start again.  Heck, as Netflix has shown, we tend to like our television in long spouts, as well.

But my main point is this: If everyone should have a voice on the Internet, not every one of them should find ears.  Yes, I will be harsh; nobody likes reading un-moderated comments.  Lots of folks like making them.  When I hear “everyone has a voice,” I automatically reply, “but why should I not immediately block you out?”

I’m thinking especially of scholarly and business communication.  In order to be listened to in that sphere, you are either:

  • an authority on the topic
  • quoting and expanding upon an authority on the topic
  • commenting on authoritative data

As the number of voices increase in a conversation, I posit that the amount of authority does not remotely increase at the same rate.  Authority tends to come in early to a topic, and also tends to limit the need for follow-up, especially since, as they’re authorities, their answers tend to be “refer to what I already wrote” or “I haven’t thought of that.  Let me take some time to create an actual answer, preferably publishable.”

But even outside of that sphere, authority and provenance is important.  My friends’ news and opinions are important because they come from my friends (even if I disagree).  Their news shouldn’t come from The Onion if they’re treating it seriously.  And yes, I am one of those people who will link you to again and again.

Tying it to libraries, I would argue this: When information was limited, the idea was to increase access as much as possible.  With information glut, the idea is to refine and speed, not necessarily discovery, but results.

On a random note, anyone who treats “open the API” like a solution is either a fool or thinks you’re one.  APIs are not solutions, they are paths to solutions, and very, very, very few people want one.  Those few people are pretty awesome, but they are NOT the end user.  And APIs aren’t just “opened”; they’re designed very carefully to limit the actions of others.  For example, Google could make an API that would allow people to edit public map information without limit, but they won’t, because then their maps would be worthless (save for the amusement of those who like dirty place names).

The more information is available, the more authority and provenance become vital

3 thoughts on “The more information is available, the more authority and provenance become vital

  1. Personally, I think a world “in which we always have write permission” sounds like a disaster, and I agree that authority and provenance seem unlikely to disappear as important concepts anytime soon. In fact, from an education perspective, the teaching of critical evaluation of information rests solidly on these very ideas.


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