From “On the Internet” towards “Of the Internet”

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Sean MacEntee

We’ve talking a lot in our group about how people move towards more complex uses of the Internet. We started with a discussion around Internet1 search skills and dispositions. It’s simple stuff2 in a lot of ways but putting it in writing might help someone else and it tends to help me get it straight in my head. It’s not sexy but I think there’s value in thinking it through.

Reactive/Algorithmic > Proactive/Human > Participatory/Reciprocal

The initial orientation for search tends to be reactive. You have a need for something. You go look for it. It’s a one time act. The finding of the item often has no real longterm benefit. Google3 is your sole opaque lens on the web. The search is driven entirely by your interaction with algorithms. Limited curation/bookmarking occurs in browser providing no benefit beyond the individual. I want to call this inefficient but that’s not quite the right word. Maybe it’s an Internet mind monoculture.

I think that getting people from this point to something else starts with getting better at searching. If you help people improve their search strategies they can find better things faster. The Internet becomes more interesting. That’s an initial pragmatic step that helps people justify spending further time/energy and moving beyond Google towards other tools.

Part of this movement is getting people to associate these little bits of content with the larger sources (sites/humans), to move this from a transaction relationship with a single piece of content to a long term relationship with a person/group of people that regularly find/make good things.4 There are lots of pieces to this shift- looking “upstream” on the URL, searching social bookmarking, subscribing to RSS feeds, following a hashtag or people on Twitter etc. It is representative of a fairly major shift in both behavior and skills/tools. You move from reactive searching via Google where you are limited by your own mind/questions to setting up proactive streams of information that turn up things you didn’t think to look for because other minds are involved. This is a low bar in some ways but I think it’s a key aspect of collective IQ. There are lots of tools that might go with this shift but the mindset, or joining of minds, is more important than the individual tools.

Once you get people involved with the content being produced by “social media” then you are much closer to a reciprocal relationship. This is not an all or nothing scenario. The little bits add up. Using social bookmarking is a step. Commenting is a step. It all adds up to giving back and interacting with the community in a way that gives back value more directly.

1 Library/scholarly search skills often don’t seem to transfer to the Internet.

2 and probably thought through by other people

3 Although I did hear someone say “Bing it” on a TV show today.

4 It’s an apple pie factory for whales. A classic if you haven’t seen it that I still think of more than 5 years later.