Ways we can work to make the Internet a better place for Knowledge

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Here are five ways we can help make the networking of knowledge the blessing it should be.

1. Open up access.

Open access journals are how our knowledge system would work if we hadn’t started it out on paper. Their articles are peer-reviewed, more people can learn from them, and the information they contain is available faster. Open access repositories provide a public place where scholars and researchers can make their work available at any point in its development process. These repositories make information and ideas available even sooner and give access to the occasional worthy thought that did not make it through peer review. We should support them.

2. Provide the hooks for intelligence.

The strategy of abundance has two main risks: First, we won’t find what we’re looking for. Second, we will find lots of appealing stuff that panders to our lowest desires. A single practice addresses both concerns, although imperfectly.

The solution to the information overload problem is to create more information: metadata. Providing metadata for what you post in the new public of the Net enables it to be found more easily. We can also make more sense of it, just as a caption helps us make sense of a photo.

When you put a label on a folder, you’re using metadata so that you can find the papers within it.


3. Link everything.

Linking situates your work within its context, tempting us to learn more. When Jillian York blogged a thoughtful response to a Malcolm Gladwell article on social media and the Arab spring, she hyperlinked to a post by Tunisian blogger Sami Ben Gharbia. York refers readers there not simply to acknowledge where she got the idea but to encourage them to drop into the web of which Ben Gharbia’s blog is the center.

4.Leave no institutional knowledge behind.

Our existing institutions have produced so much knowledge over the centuries that it would be tragic not to bring all of that knowledge to the Net. For example, we should be encouraging many more colleges to adopt the OpenCourseWare approach championed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that puts videos of classes on the web for free.

And libraries not only have content in books and articles, but they also have the expertise of librarians, they have metadata about usage patterns that can be used to guide researchers, and they are at the center of communities of scholars who are the most learned people in their fields. The Net becomes systemically smarter when all of this is made available.


Traditional institutions need to be fierce contributors to the Net if our new infrastructure is to move us toward knowledge and not dazed ignorance.

5. Teach everyone.

If we want the Net to move knowledge forward, we should also remember the differences among the world of people who might come to our sites. The Net’s openness means that some of our visitors will not know the ethos of the site. Explicit explanations of the type of conversation permitted, and the quality of the information posted is therefore very helpful.

But no amount of explicit metadata is going to suffice. The Net is going to remain not just a common area but become wild. At least we can hope so. If we want the Net to move knowledge forward, then we need to educate our children from the earliest possible age about how to use the Net, how to evaluate knowledge claims, and how to love the difference.

Those are five areas in which we can work to make the Net a better place for knowledge.


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