“Making it small”: Creating a valuable space on the Web

In the full text of the debate on Web 2.0 between Andrew Keen and David Weinberger, the two argue whether Web 2.0 is more like Disney or Kafka. While I agree that the Web is a chaotic place full of garbage, I find there is value to it for those who can distinguish between the valuable and insightful from the inane and redundant. The Web can be a giant time-suck if don’t know where to go and have created no “walls” to keep out the distractions and the chorus of competing voices. But I think most, if not all, users are able to do so by creating communities.

I think of it this way: when I left the small town of my youth for a large urban university, many people said, unhelpfully, “don’t get lost in the crowd!” But many people said something else: “You will make the university small for yourself.” This last comment was the more prescient. I moved into a dorm (one community), found a job (another community), joined the campus newspaper staff (another community) and had friends in other communities, and so on. I never found it unmanageable; in fact, I “made it small” by joining the groups that were most meaningful to me and that suited my purposes at the university at that time.

I think of the Web the same way: you “make it small” by doing several different things. First, you join the communities that are most meaningful to you. For myself, I value Facebook and LinkedIn. I have my network of “friends” on Facebook with whom I interact every day. This network consists mostly of new friends, old friends, friends from high school, coworkers and friends of friends. I limit views of my profile to friends, and I feel “safe” in this network, even though I know “safety” and “privacy” are illusory on the Web. But I know this, and I am careful what I post and comment on.

It’s the same with LinkedIn, although in a different realm. Some of the people whom I’ve “invited to become part of my network” or accepted their invitations are also Facebook friends, but most are current and former colleagues and people I’ve networked with over the years. There are even a few people in there whom I don’t know, and I don’t even know how we connected in the first place. I use LinkedIn very differently than I do Facebook in that I use it largely to generate business for my freelance work by networking with people who might want to hire me.

I also am the social media chair of the local chapter of the American Medical Writers Association, so I approve or decline membership in our group and occasionally post about an upcoming event or other topic. I’ve never posted anything else, and I’m much more guarded about doing so than on Facebook. Not because I feel unsafe but because the audience is professional, and I feel I’d have to have something uniquely insightful to post before I’d attempt to do so.

So, much of your ability to make the most out of an online community is understanding its audience and reach. Likewise, savvy people know that online-only “friends” or “contacts” on social networking sites control every aspect of how they appear to you (and vice versa). In other words, the man or woman “behind the curtain” may in fact be almost unrecognizable and unfamiliar in person. Thus, I think most adults know to exercise caution when dealing with people whom you have never met in person.

And I think we are, as a whole, becoming more and more savvy about the relationships and communities we participate in online, as well as more and more cautious about what lurks “out there.” In the last decade, we have amassed many a cautionary tale. But, as in “real life,” we can choose whom to be friends with and whom to listen to and communicate with. Our job is to “make the Web small” by effectively managing our exposure to different types of information from different sources and to understand that they are not all equal. If we can do that, the Web is an invaluable resource and a fantastic source of knowledge. In other words, yes, there are plenty of cockroaches, but you might not see them if you keep the light on.

Posted on September 20, 2015, in mobile, Technology. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Mary, I think that you have done a wonderful job talking about how to manage the Internet, communities, and “privacy” online. Your blog is the first blog that I cannot offer any suggestions or insight, because the way you are handling yourself online is perfect. You already know that different social media sites may require different behaviors and responses, e.g. FaceBook for more personal things and LinkedIn for business endeavors. (May I suggest trying http://www.fiverr.com or http://www.dice.com for your business?).

    And since you already know which postings are appropriate for each site, I do not need to advise against posting the same message across various social media channels. Additionally, you already know how to take care of the “false” privacy that exists online. That is awesome. I think that you will go (and probably have gone) extremely far in life with little worries about the problems that can happen to those who are not so knowledgeable. 🙂

  2. I think you did a nice job in summarizing the way that we should be using the internet in your quote “Our job is to ‘make the Web small’ by effectively managing our exposure to different types of information from different sources and to understand that they are not all equal”. Not only do you address the best way to tackle something as large as the Internet, but you also imply that users need to be smart about their decisions. While technology isn’t obligated to shield us from shoddy content, I don’t think it has to.

    Similarly, in real life you need to be able to sift through a jumble of information to find material of substance. For instance, while waiting in line at the supermarket we are confronted with a spread of magazines all boasting the latest news stores. It is up to us to determine what qualifies as quality news- the National Examiner’s latest sighting of Big Foot or Newsweek’s report on pharmaceutical fraud. If we become too reliant on technology to make our decisions, perhaps we may forget what a good decision or valuable piece of information is.

    • I like your warning about not relying too much on technology to make decisions for us. All of us have our own filters to apply to the information before us–whether it’s print, video or the Web. We need to exercise our judgment and learn from our mistakes.

  3. I agree with your peers about the excellent “make it small” advice and being aware of one’s audience. When I studied my small group of New Orleans bloggers, they often told me how they didn’t create their blogs to get their voices heard on national and international topics. They were driven to share their post-Katrina stories, and who better to do so? If you have a purpose behind your web browsing, I think you’ll find the information you need!

    • Interesting point about the New Orleans bloggers. You’re right in that they are, of course, the best people to share their post-Katrina stories, within their own community and beyond. I’m always amazed at the breadth and depth of the information that’s out there–if you know how to find it. I Google the strangest things sometimes, and most of the time, valuable results come back; if they don’t, I learn something new about searching.

  4. “Make it small!” Brilliant! I had the same thought when reading the Keen vs. Weinberger piece, that they didn’t give much credit to the consumers of the internet. The argument was over the creators and distributors of the content, and whether giving the power to publish to more people created the opportunity for better or worse content. I’m glad you bring up the savvy consumer. There is so much information out there including high quality content and garbage. It’s less about what is available and more about what we chose to consume. Besides, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I’m sure there are whole communities built around content that other consumers would skip without a second thought. It’s up to us individually to find our corner of the internet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.