How the Web is Powering the Democratisation of Expertise

I work in higher education, a UK University, and as such am part of an established structure with fairly rigid hierarchies and systems in place to ensure everything works as it should. People are generally consulted and informed in terms of their level in the hierarchy above all other considerations - and you flaunt this accepted practice at your peril.

I've always found such systems and structures frustrating, even back in my school days when I used to be the one breaking all the rules. What I seem to be noticing lately though is just how much you can break away from established structures, whilst still being part of them, using the power of the web to connect and publish autonomously.

Using blogging tools such as Blogger and Twitter, creating and maintaining professional personas and connections through social sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and simply being able to find people easily and simply through searches and email, means you can build extensive links and connections far easier and more widespread than was previously possible. Conferences and the like were always the established place to meet and network, and whilst they most certainly still have their place it seems you can achieve a great deal without them in our connected times. What's more if we really are at the very beginning of the internet revolution as opposed to the end or the beginning then it begs the question of where this will lead us.

I think what we are seeing is the democratisation of expertise, in as much as the more you spread yourself about (excuse the phrase!) in terms of who you are and what you can do so the more people can pick up on that and decide to work with you based on nothing more than what you can offer up via the web. You are judged not on the colour of your cloth, nor the tone of your voice, but something that has kept the simple printed word the most powerful communication tool on the planet for centuries - your meaning. It's a lot harder to bullshit in this medium, at least to get away with it ... if you do it's nice and clear for all the world to see. Of course the web may move on, and video may become the default medium, but to be honest I doubt it. There is something about text, the stripping down of intellect into simple words, the necessary thought and work that takes and the ease at which others can connect to it and understand it that surpasses video.

So what prompted all this? Well I was invited as one of many thousands to complete a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and to my considerable surprise and delight they included three of my quotes in the finished report on the Future of the Internet. You can download a copy from their site if you're interested in the topic:

It's nice to think that it doesn't matter who you are, or what you do, the web gives you a place where if you have something honest and (hopefully) useful to say there is a place to say it. Experts in Ivory Towers ... your time may be ending!

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