Who knows better - the zoo keepers or the visitors?

I often make the case these days that what IT is giving us, particular when it comes to the web, are entirely new virtual spaces that we can visit, wander around and interact within. I often struggle however to bring this concept to life for others, and tend to look for metaphors which help to explain the thinking.

On a linked note I was reading what seemed to me to be just another amateur take on issues within the world wide web, and getting suitably distracted by something that was at the end of the day rather empty and a bit of a waste of time, and an idea occurred to me that might have merit - comparing the keepers of a zoo with the visitors that come to look.

I tend to argue that the creators of virtual spaces, those coders, developers, designers, architects, call them what you will, are the ones who have the true grasp of what can be achieved, and if you're not familiar with how the web comes to be then you either need to find out or get out of the picture. Compare the ones who look after the animals in the zoo, those who work behind the scenes and understand all the intricacies of what it takes, to the visitors who simply wander around looking at noticeboards and into cages. Both have points of view of what it means to run a zoo, to keep animals and more complex issues such as conservation, but would we accept their opinions as equally valid, as equally useful if we need to use them to make decisions? I think not.

As the web matures and it's complexity grows, so does what it takes to create it, and the levels of abstraction between core content and the user experience deepen and intensify. We really do need a way of recognising those who understand this, not only on a technical level but more critically on a conceptual level, if we're ever going to get to the point where working within it becomes a formal and respected profession.

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