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User generated content gone wrong
A little over a year ago I wrote with horror about my inclusion in a web 2.0 workgroup.

I'm happy to report that in exactly 1 year and 1 week nothing at all has happened. Like most web 2.0 ventures this one was dead on arrival. No emails were sent, no meetings were set up, no teamsite was made to discuss stuff. Nothing. Zip. Nada.
Which is probably for the best, as there are serious problems with the thinking that web 2.0 is somehow of immense value.

There's a huge problem with the whole web 2.0 thing of user-generated content and that problem was brought to my attention last week when I joined Hyves, a social networking site with a primarily Dutch base. (It's like Orkut or Facebook but for the Dutch.) The problem is that the masses do not really have a clue on how to generate content. And web 2.0 websites generally make it too easy for people to just add anything and everything. They don't control, thinking the super-intelligence of the web will take care of things. This is a fallacy. And a pretty big one.

Take a look at the screenshot below. It's part of the interface where you can enter your favorite authors, a similar screenshot could be made of the bands you like, the composers, the whiskies, the food, your scientific heroes, etc. etc..

I'm trying to enter the fact that I like Michael Marshall Smith's books. There's some checkboxes of popular entries and a field you can use to enter other ones, a drop down lists hints based on letters typed so far.
Only which Michael Marshall Smith do I actually like?

For the record: they all mean the same author. Some are spelled wrong, one mysteriously list a book after a comma, one tries to hint at the fact that Michael Marshall is the same person as Michael Marshall Smith (writing in a different genre, much like Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks are the same author). Even with these oddities it's obvious there's something wrong, there are 2 entries with exactly the same spelling error, there's 4 entries that are spelled correctly. *

User-generated stuff like this is all well and good but there have to be controls. And it's up to the designer of a website to set up restrictions.
In the library business this problem was realized hundreds of years ago, which is where thesauri and subject classification comes in. Controlled lists from which a cataloguer must choose when entering new objects. Not everyone can enter new terms, write-access to these lists is very restricted and often has to go through a review process. While this may not work on something like a social networking site we can clearly see some method of deduplication wouldn't go amiss and would definitely help a lot in getting everyone on the same page.

Web 2.0 has a long way to go before basic stuff like this is sorted out, not just in this one isolated case but all over the board. When it is, maybe it will be taken more seriously.

*) By the way, the capitalisation of The Never Ending Story (a children's book by Michael Ende I enjoyed a lot when young) is wrong as well. The horror!

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