The Virtual Land of Equality

Written By: Timothy Fish Published: 10/6/2007

The World Wide Web is an amazing place. Most likely, if I were to name a few movie actors, you would be able to pick out the names of the most famous people. Now suppose I name off a few physicists. You might be able to pick out a few names, but you would be much less confident about picking the greats in their field. Now suppose that I sent you off to search the Interest for people who are the best or have made great contributions in a field that you know nothing about. Could you do it?

In some fields, you probably could, but in others you might not. We often make these types of determinations based on how often we hear or see a personís name. If there are a lot of people in that field talking about that person then we assume that the person is significant. On the Internet, we have a problem because we may frequently see the name of a person who has little significance to the field. Suppose, for example, that the only significant thing the person did was to provide the framework for displaying information about the field on the Internet. His name may appear on every web site that is associated with that field of study, but he is not really in that field at all.

We encounter names on the Internet and we begin to ask, is this person important? Is this person an expert or just someone who claims to be? It is often hard to know. On one hand, it makes it risky. We may look at the advice of a non-expert and assume that it is correct. On the other hand, it can be a good thing as well. It frees us to question the work of the experts without assuming that this person ought to know what he is talking about. It frees us to bring those that have been put on pedestals down to our leave and we do not even realize that we are doing it.