Knowledge, search engines and blogs

Comments regarding the impact of blogs on the propagation of knowledge

Some Data Points

Over the last couple of months, I have twice found more reliable information from blogs than from 'official' sites on the Web:

Case 1: a problem with Python XML parsing on Mac OS X 10.2.

Case 2: a problem with a 'hijacked' Microsoft IE Web browser

Case 1 is rather arcane, involving an issue only a very small percentage of OS X users would be concerned with. But since the apple.com site does not permit users to post entries, there is in fact no way for Apple customers to share information via the Apple site. An email to Apple providing this information would probably languish in a low-priority queue, because the issue does not affect a significant number of people. Instead, this knowledge must reach the world via various blogs indexed by search engines.

Case 2 constitutes a growing problem, but is addressed in an overly complex manner on the Microsoft support site, with no mention of easier solutions available elsewhere. A Web search on 'IE Internet Options missing tabs' yields a confusing laundry list of sites with no clear solution. However, a Web search of 'blog IE Internet Options missing tabs' yields a complete personal account of someone's experience with this problem plus her recommendations of resources to help fix the issue, including invaluable referrals to www.spywareinfo.com and a program called HijackThis , which in combination fix the compromised Web browser efficiently.

What's Happening?

Numerous colleagues report anecdotally that blogs often provide more reliable information than official sources. On reflection, this makes sense. In both of the above cases, the pre-Internet method of propagating information involves passing first-hand knowledge through intermediate filters. One of the occassional side-effects is that the explantion from an expert is written or re-written by others with less domain knowledge. This pre-Internet 'work-flow' is obviously streamlined by Web logs. Information can now come straight from the source.

So far, I sense only the benefit -- knowledge is propagating faster, without the delays and occassional dilution introduced by formal publishing processes. I suppose the opposite is also possible -- the propagation of lies, without the protection of editorial review. The unfolding of the blog phenomenon may thus serve as another portrait of human nature. On the balance, I expect the portrait to be flattering.

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