Monday, May 27

Collaboration revolutionizes Web information

The shift in authorship on the Internet to groups and indirect sources is worth visiting

Collaborative computing is changing the way information is viewed on the Internet.

Authorship of information is shifting from singular to plural. This collaboration is changing the public’s interaction with information on the Internet. It’s called social computing and is the use of information toward a common goal.

Alan Liu, an English professor at UC Santa Barbara, will be giving a talk this Thursday entitled “Peopling the Police: A Social Computing Approach to Information Authority in the Age of Web 2.0.” His talk will be held at 3 p.m. in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies 111.

Liu said he sees a decline in the singularity of the “author” and subsequently an increase in information generated through group collaboration. These new forms of social and collaborative authorship shift the authority of information online.

This is the transition between Web 2.0 and Web 1.0. In the earlier Web format, an act of authorship was a singular relationship between an author and a server. Online collaboration has changed the way regulations and laws such as slander, libel and copyright can be applied to user-generated content, Liu said.

The breakdown of the authorship model occurs when a database allows multiple authors on sites like Wikipedia, and the notion of policing information has shifted to become the responsibility of the community.

“Once (there are multiple authors for a single online document) the analogy of authorship doesn’t really hold any more,” he said.

This is a concern both for the readers and authors, as this shift in authorship can put both experts as well as the readers in an alienated state.

How do we negotiate the boundary between the reader’s need for authoritative information and the public’s desire for self-expression?

Liu talks about a new problem ““ the disconnect between information and meta-information, or the disconnect between the actual article and the article’s source, relevance and current place within a dialogue of information.

“We need more articulate information about the status of the information and the communities that produce information (in communities on the Web),” Liu said.

This type of information disconnect occurs on Wikipedia, as pages can be edited at any point by anybody.

Michael Ang, a third-year physiology student, looks up molecules and their structures on Wikipedia. He finds the summaries useful.

“I usually don’t question the information on Wikipedia, even though I probably should,” Ang said.

Joe Lullo, a law student, said he does not rely on Wikipedia for official information but uses it for an overview or introduction to varying types of information.

He will read about a legal case on Wikipedia before delving into the actual document, but he will never substitute Wikipedia’s information for the original source of this information.

Media sit at an interesting point, as far as shaping Wikipedia’s role in academia.

Liu said he would like to see more relevant information about the authors and articles people are reading, which should become a prevalent form of the information conversation ““ information about who wrote reviews, legitimacy of information and also links to other documents in the same knowledge sphere.

The social aspect is a transition from a more traditional form of viewing information where documents’ contents are the entire focus to a more collaborative way of reading ““ looking sideways on the page to friend’s comments or related information in the sidebar, Liu said.

Social computing, a theme in Liu’s talk, is the use of information to coordinate toward a shared goal. These goals can be more knowledge-based or action-oriented.

This plays in to the idea of ambient intimacy, or the reading of very personal information online without commenting or responding, a term coined by blogger Leisa Reichelt. These are, for example, the Facebook News Feed or Twitter tweets. It refers to information generated from people already active as members of a community and generally stems from real-life connections. This information, though often pushed to the margins of Web pages, is central to the dialogue of the text. This supplemental information is a way to keep in touch with friends and becomes a legitimate way of communicating information through the margins of these pages.

This can lead to an overwhelming experience with too much information or a more collaborative way of organizing and communicating.

Groups online are making the transition from something like Facebook to a political cause or action in real life, Liu said.

Liu’s present work originated with an interest in improving practices of online reading, which has led him to social computing.

Media like Wikipedia and blogs that manage socially produced information on the Web brought us into information authority, Liu said.

These types of sites are breaking down barriers between author and reader and between the private and the public. If used correctly, these tools can form a better future for information and collaboration online.

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