Wis-Dumb of the Crowds

I subscribe to Stephen Downes’ email newsletter “OLDaily” because I find interesting and relevant items there that complement the other blogs I read. However, I feel he stepped way over bounds yesterday. One of his items was as follows:

Quick Quiz: What New Web Tool Can You Use and Get an ASUS? How about a little disclosure here? Are Steve Dembo and Sue Waters getting paid to promote a commercial product (I assume Alan Levine’s rah rah post is unpaid, though you’d never know from the tenor)? Was Dembo being paid when he started plugging it on his site back in early April? I don’t care if people want to make a little money, but let’s keep the advertising content in the edublogosphere clearly labeled as such, OK? Because, as it stands now, I can’t trust anything Sue Waters and Steve Dembo write – and that’s an unhappy state to be in. Alan Levine, CogDogBlog, May 27, 2008.

In fairly quick fashion, Al Levine, Steve Dembo and Sue Waters all stated in the “Comment” area of Stephen’s newsletter that none of them were being paid. Several others joined in the discussion as well, and Sue added a response in her blog.

It is worth reading the string of responses, and as Alan Levine noted, it is good to have pot stirrers shake things up from time to time. But I would suggest that there is a difference between stirring pots and making personal attacks, and attacking the trust of fellow educators is just a low blow. In a Web 2.0 world, one’s validity is about all the currency one has, so a very public attack on someone’s credibility online is extremely damning.

Trust is a slippery fellow, hard to gain and easy to lose. I have been honored to have Sue help me in my blogging – as she has helped many others, and I see the trust that other “trusted” educators have in her. When someone with the street cred of a Stephen Downes slams a fellow educator, a lot of people will take notice. I checked the Technorati stats and Stephen has an authority of 708, WAY above my 33. (I am happy to finally rank in the 6-digits instead of 7!!!) So a ton of people check out Stephen’s blog and listen to what he has to say – many more than me. Unfortunately, given the skimming practice of many on the web, a lot of people may see Stephen’s slam but not go in to the comments and see the responses from those individuals he incorrectly slammed.

The wisdom of the crowds is normally fairly good, but vocal minorities can unduly influence it. I would hope that Stephen Downes does the right thing and apologizes so the the crowd can learn from his error. We have enough people worldwide who try to build themselves up by putting others down. Darren Draper recently did a blog series on blogging etiquette. After watching this personal attack, I would agree that we in the edublog world need to step up to a code of ethics that rises above what transpired here.

[Photo Credit: Alexandralee]

4 thoughts on “Wis-Dumb of the Crowds

  1. I’m glad you posted this, and I agree with you. While I understand Downes’s personal philosophy leads him to be cynical of commercial ventures and people’s ties to corporate products, his response sounds reactionary and a shade paranoid.

  2. I was surprised to see this in OLDaily also, especially since it is so easy to send a quick email asking the question privately before you begin to raise the question of integrity in a public forum.

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