When you look something up online, do you always believe it? Sometimes, just sometimes, do you question what you read? Perhaps searching again to find out if another site says much the same thing?
The trouble is, in the online world what is written isn’t always checked before it is published. Equally, it may not be put together by a human being – it may be cobbled together by machine. You can get software that will “write” articles for you. Also, do you “know” that the material has been put together by someone who you can trust – or are they invisible?
For centuries, information has been disseminated using an “editorial” process. The producers or publishers have employed human beings to edit things and have checked and re-checked the material before making it available. We, the recipients, then trust that information because of the process.
Now, online, we know there is often no such process and we begin to doubt the veracity of what we read. That extends to things like search. When Yahoo first started it was edited by human beings. Then along came Google which used machines to work out what to provide to us. However, even though Google has been a successful company, how much do you trust its results? Few people get the right search result the right time. In fact, your own experience with Google will tell you that even though it gives you what you want, it’s rarely right first time. Indeed, often it is really only guessing.
The same principal of lack of trust extends to things like Wikipedia. It is only informally edited by volunteers. Do you trust them? Indeed, some of the contributions can be anonymous. How do you know they are right? Even though studies have shown that the accuracy of Wikipedia is roughly the same as the accuracy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, we still doubt Wikipedia because the editing is not as transparent as it might be.
Well, guess what. The backlash is beginning and the future of the Internet may well turn into a human edited one. Two new search engines are in the pipeline. One, ironically, developed by the Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales. Only in the early stages at the moment, but Search Wikia is something that will be edited by humans, unlike Google. The idea is to engender more trust in search results. Similarly, Mahalo is a new human-edited search engine that is aiming to provide better results because the dross has been edited out.
Now the return to human editing is even going to compete with Wikipedia. A new online encyclopaedia is being prepared called Citizendium. This will be edited by professional editors so that the information published can be more trusted than various wiki projects.
So what does this all suggest? It implies that we are beginning to realise that the so-called utopia of web freedom of information is not as great as we thought it was. The centuries-old tradition of human editing has endured because it has value. That means that our experiment with machine-led information is probably over. The Internet information of the future will certainly be more trustworthy.
However, this return to traditional editorial values means that if you have a web presence you need to demonstrate to your readers that there is some kind of process in place so they can trust what you write.