They say that each new generation credits itself with the invention of sex. So it is, I believe, with participatory publishing.
Any street performer knows the way to engage the audience is to select someone from the crowd, involve him/her in the show, and then return him/her (largely intact) back to the audience. I don’t know the psychology behind the tactic’s effectiveness, but I’d guess it has to do with projection — we see ourself in the person who was selected.
Now “from publishing to participation” has arisen as a tenet of Web 2.0, so let’s review some of the ways we are moving from publishing to participation on the web.
- PageRank itself is a form of participation. By ranking search results based on inbound references, Google lets “other webmasters” collectively participate to determine the relevance of a given site’s content.
- Amazon.com was early to the party with collaborative filtering that enables you to rate products (1-5 stars) and provide comprehensive written reviews. I’ve written only a few of them, but I’ve read many and they definitely enhance my purchasing. Once Amazon knows your purchases and ratings, they can make intelligent recommendations based on what others have bought and liked. The only rub with this technology is they have yet to separate roles so I get children’s books, cooking gear, business books, and printer accessories for my wife’s printer all mixed together in “my” personalized recommendations.
- Ebay‘s feedback and rating system enables you to quickly determine if the party with whom you’re transacting is reliable.
- Blogs allow anyone — even CEOs of Silicon Valley startups — to self-publish easily on the web. Throw in blog comments, trackback links, and you’re ready to start having conversations. Tools like Bloglines make it easy both to track numerous blogs and build your own by citing, commenting on, and linking to others. New tools like PubZap are aiming to make the process even easier.
- RSS and Atom, in turn, made blog subscription easy so you don’t have to maintain bookmarks to 37 different blog sites, move thru them each day, checking for new content.
- Podcasts are a form of audio blogging that enable audio (and video) downloads over the Internet for the distribution of radio-like news, humor, and opinion shows, homegrown music, and educational and marketing material. (Mark Logic is gearing up to start using educational podcasts as a form of guerilla marketing.)
- Social networking sites, like MySpace, are little more than mass aggregation of zillions of individual mini-sites along with relationship tracking and comment. It must drive publishers crazy that they provide literally no content, yet still command hefty market valuations, by providing tools to let the masses build their own content.
- Tagging sites like Flickr let you decide how to classify your photographs. As I like to say, “On Flickr, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.” Del.icio.us lets you tag and share favorite websites, in pretty much the same way as Flickr lets you tag photos. These sites use folksonomy, as opposed to taxonomy, to classify information. Moving forward, YouTube is in the midst of trying to become the Flickr of video.
- The whole open source movement is a push towards participatory software publishing. Some open source developers are paid, full-time software engineers working on behalf of a corporation that is trying to use open source to its competitive advantage (e.g., IBM). Some are simply volunteers looking for a little notoriety. Others simply needed to solve a specific problem and decided to make their solution available to all on SourceForge.
- Wikipedia and its derivatives such as Wiktionary are a giant experiment in participatory publishing. Despite a few well publicized problems with the self-publishing model, I find the quality quite high, and the highly regarded journal Nature has published an article finding that accuracy is similar between the two encyclopedias. Inside the firewall, tools like Socialtext are enabling companies to create internal wikis to supplement and in cases replace existing collaboration systems.
So what’s my net take on participatory publishing?
- It’s an old idea
- It’s a good idea
- The Wisdom of Crowds works, is real, and should be leveraged
To implement it, information vendors should focus on four things: (1) leveraging their own content, (2) combining and enriching it with that of others, (3) contextualizing it to support specific tasks, and (4) engaging the audience in the process. All of which, not surprisingly, MarkLogic is very good at enabling, because we provide a platform for building content applications.
If you want to continue with an extensive stroll down Web 2.0 lane, then read this post which provides a comprehensive list of several hundred Web 2.0 companies.