Online discussion and digital literacy

Posted on January 5, 2010 by

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I’m just throwing this out as a thought, but in seeing a good deal of activity lately in the way of discussions about “Black Confederates” a couple of things come to mind… but this isn’t so much about “Black Confederates” as a focus of discussion as it is about the use of technology to discuss the topic.

For starters, this current discussion about “Black Confederates” is not one ongoing discussion but many… and most of them are disconnected from each other. There is very little interlinking and connectivity (pingbacks, trackbacks, etc.). It seems rather counter-productive considering the technology which is being used for the discussions… well, in regard to developing knowledge-advancing, mutually beneficial, education-enhancing content… and that is what everyone is doing on the Web, whether they realize that or not.  Of course, the down-side to this is that all content is not good content. But I digress… well, maybe. I’ll get back to the good content/bad content thing…

Typically, we’re seeing “sphere-centered conversations” and it’s a bit of a riot (and/or annoying) to see a discussion at one place on the Web which is taking to task the same issues taken by another place on the Web… taking-on the appearance of a fresh discussion while, in reality, nothing more than rehashing the same arguments over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, however, it’s not the fault of those who initiate the discussion (or is it?… hmmm), but rather a reflection of not quite reaching a point in digital literacy that is for the good of everyone who engages in these multiple discussions. Hmmm, ok, maybe not “digital literacy” per se, but maybe it’s a reflection of us not getting to the point where we effectively utilize the central connecting device that is the Internet. Let’s stop there for just a minute… keep in mind, first you have the Internet (interconnected global networks), and then the Web (interlinked hypertext documents). A key benefit (or at least an intended benefit) of the Web involves the power of hypertext. Why? It provides a “power source” to improve information connectivity. This is a pivotal part of it all. Disconnected information and discussion on the Web seems somewhat technologically dysfunctional.

I wonder if we will see a day when there is a special sort of app (which would be shared between search engines, blog hosts, etc.). For example, when we begin to draft a blog post or a new thread on a listserv, there will be a special box into which we enter a topic. To keep consistent, let’s say we type in “Black Confederates.” Perhaps after that, there is a drop-down menu where we see subcategories. We select one that addresses the point we are about to make. Then, when we start typing, a “smart sensor” will begin to detect the nature of our contribution to the greater discussion. For example, is what you are writing actually adding to the discussion or is it repeating something that somebody else has already said? (and it’s going to have to be a rather dynamic “smart sensor” considering one may take multiple angles on one aspect of a subcategory!). If it’s doing nothing more than repeating (rehashing… boring… OMG, not again!), a warning pops-up, and redirects you to the place where the point or argument was already made. It gives you an opportunity to give that part of the greater discussion a “Like” or “Dislike” rating, but it is ever-aware of you Web identity and forbids you from going back time and time again to overpower the overall ratings one way or the other (Don’t be a Troll!). Then again, if you decide to read the content up to that point (within the particular subcategory), and adjust your point to actually contribute something of value to the overall discussion, then great! The gate is wide open for the contribution.

I know… bad content or good content is in the eye of the beholder, and good or bad, everyone gets a shot at adding content in this imaginary system. Nonetheless, the end product would be of significant value, showing the different points of view, but keeping it focused on an advancing a “knowledge track.” The point is to interlink discussion in one single online electronic document (platform respectful*)… and make it valuable… not filling the Web with the same stuff over and over again.

Like I said, just a thought… but I do think it is conceivable.

Oh… and everyone wouldn’t have to participate, but…  I believe that after a while it could become a primary “go-to” type of online resource that might make non-participating discussions less relevant… and less visited. I mean, who wants to go to discussions where the same old thing is tossed over time and time again and gets nowhere when you can go elsewhere and see a good solid source of information that has been given thoughtful discussion?

*”Platform respectful” would recognize that, oh… say, for example… you do what you do in your blog and design it/architect the info as you please, but… BUT… the information is integrated into a primary information stream of some sort. It’s somewhat of a super-duper interactive hypertext Wikipedia, but (in respect to the future of the social Web) much more dynamic than the one we see today… and not a wiki. As opposed to the way a wiki works, contributions to the overall discussion can’t be overwritten (once again… as long as they are original).

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