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Attribution in a Web 2.0 World Part 2

June 6, 2009

Many moons ago I wrote a post about attribution in a web 2.0 and the need to ruthlessly cite and attribute, not just to give credit to the original author, but to provide a way for your audience to dig deeper.  As disappointed as I have been with mainstream media in this regard, my fellow bloggers are showing how it should be done.  Check out this post by Daniel Stevens (@dstev on Twitter).

While his whole post is a great model of attribution in this new world, I also think Daniel hits on a “big” concept when he writes:

I’m also talking to you, Jane Bozarth.   I first saw one of Mosher’s slides in a training session of yours.  Then I saw it in your book, E-Learning Solutions on a Shoestring.  You gave Mosher full credit, by the way.  Still, I associated the slide with you even though I knew you weren’t the primary source.  Social Learning is like that, good finders are just as valued as good creators.

“I associated the content with you even though I knew you weren’t the primary source.”  Let’s ponder that for a bit.  Let it bounce around the skull and think about the implications for expertise and experts.

This phenomenon is almost certainly  true for all sorts of discourse, not just social media, but I think maybe social media amplifies the effect.  When we extend each other’s ideas via blog posts, Twitter, etc… we enter this gray area where the original idea ends and the new ones begin.  (We’re in that gray area right here, right now at this point in my post.)  I don’t think Daniel’s experience is unique.  I think maybe it’s a natural human tendency to associate an idea with the person or source from whom you originally heard it, no matter how well we cite the reference.

Assuming this is correct and assuming the reach of a blog or a video or a podcast is far greater than the reach of a face-to-face conversation, we really need to be careful that we don’t assume “credit by association.”  It’s one thing to extend and riff on an idea, it’s another thing to be credited for an idea through a failure to cite sources.

But the good news, as Daniel notes, is that “…good finders are just as valued as good creators.”   Other important roles in Web 2.0?  “Good connectors,”  “good sense-makers,” “good aggregators,” “good weavers,” good riffers” and many, many more.  In a web 2.0 world, what happens to an idea after it’s put out into the world is often of more value than the idea itself.

Which goes back to the importance of citation.  If you rip an idea and all I get is your take and interpretation, I’m robbed of an opportunity to riff from the cardinal root.  It’s like the telephone game.  Eventually the message at the end doesn’t even remotely resemble the one at the beginning.  There’s nothing inherently bad about this;  in fact, it’s probably a great source of innovation.  But if I want to hear the original message, I should be able to do this, and given new technologies, do it easily.  Failure to do so is more than unprofessional, it’s irresponsible and counterproductive.

For me, some of the more interesting and fun parts of these new technologies is the ease with which we can mashup new stuff with old stuff.  Part of this for me is setting aside time to listen to new voices in among the “old salts.”  As a result, I’m just as much a reader of Jay Cross and Tony Karrer as I am of folks like Daniel, who while new to blogging, are obviously not new to thinking interesting thoughts.  At the end of his post, Daniel writes:

I’m grateful to others for how much I learn from them.  My lack of contributions makes the relationship somewhat unequal, and I find that I am taking more than I give.  I hate to take advantage of people in this way, but I’m going to keep doing it.

I hope one day I can say that you took advantage of me.  It would be gratifying if any of you could get back a little of what you’ve given.

Done and done.  Consider yourself taken advantage of… ; )  Thank you for a very thoughtful and interesting post, and for making me think about attribution from a new angle.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. dstev permalink
    June 8, 2009 12:35 pm

    Someone expresses an idea that makes me think, and my own thinking produces a completely unrelated concept. When, what, how do I attribute? I struggled with this issue so much in composing my blog entry that, ultimately, I decided not to address the issue at all. It helps me to see it addressed here. So, attribution allows others to
    encounter sources of information, AND inspiration, on their own.

    By the way, while a reader might see my blog entry as flattery, I was responding to a specific SLQOTD( prompt: “SL happens all around us at all times – like breathing. How do we take adv. of it?” I wanted to demonstrate, on a small scale, how my still relatively small (but growing) network benefits me. As I engage more, and as my network grows, the breadth and depth of my own learning is growing exponentially.

    Thanks for addressing attribution. Ease of attribution, and the ease with which readers can follow up, is a unique component of online interaction. This fluidity could not have existed in a pre-online world. We have a collaboration of ideas like never before, and we’ve barely tapped into our group potential.

  2. February 23, 2010 7:00 am

    Thank you so much for your post,

    I’m a new blogger, my aim for blogging is to get organized, to have a safe ground on the web. I have a blog roll where I posted links to many blogs that inspire me and help me make sense of the overload of information I come across.
    Many times I cite and post ideas I get from other people and I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. Your post gave me a different way to look at blogging.
    Thank you,
    Dani Lyra


  1. Langwitches Blog » links for 2010-02-21
  2. Langwitches Blog » “It Isn’t the Answer Anymore, It is the Question”

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