Several weeks ago, I went grocery shopping with my mom. She needed to do her weekly shopping and I wanted to pick up some ingredients to make Jamaican jerk chicken bowls. When we were finished loading up the car, she asked me where I got the recipe. “I got it from a recipe blog,” I replied. After a moment of contemplation she asked, “is that how your generation finds things today? Through blogs?” “Pretty much,” I said. “If something doesn’t show up in a Google search, we’re less likely to find it. It’s not that I wouldn’t look in a recipe book. I just happened to be browsing through blogs and thought it looked good.”
It turns out Mom was looking for some insight into a problem they have at work (a government agency in southern California that shall forever remain anonymous on this blog). The agency foresees even tougher times in terms of access to water in the future, and they want to teach SoCal residents to be smart about their water use. I don’t know who their audience is right now (when she said “fix sprinklers,” Hank Hill came to mind), but in a couple of years, their audience is going to include young homeowners who expect to access and/or contribute to the agency’s information in dynamic ways. The agency has the capacity to redesign their unorganized, text-heavy website, adopt some Web 2.0 principles, and reach out to their audience where they are, but those who are ready to implement the changes are facing two major obstacles:
Lack of radical trust.
According to Meredith Farkas (n.d.), author of Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication, and Community Online and the blog Information Wants To Be Free, organizations must have trust in their audience. Some people at the agency feel that a public wiki would be useful in that people can post information on ways to conserve water around the house. External affairs, however, does not think the open, collaborative nature of wikis will lend itself to civil behavior and a high degree of accuracy in this capacity. Understandably, they don’t trust the public not to post expletive-laden comments or inaccurate information. Farkas suggests that organizations can prepare for abuse of trust by setting up policies for posting. Examples of these guidelines can be found just above the comments section of just about any online news article. As for wikis, they are constructed in such a way that it would be easy to revert back to earlier versions that did not yet contain the expletive-laden comments. But even if the external affairs department embraces transparency and collaboration with the public, they still have one more obstacle to overcome:
Too much concern with perfection.
Farkas also mentions that libraries are often too concerned with perfecting what they present to the public. They are known to strive for accuracy. The agency is the same way, from what I gather. They would rather not unveil new site features, such as a wiki or blog, that don’t work. It’s noble, sure, but Web 2.0 doesn’t work like that. Websites, apps, widgets, etc. that operate on Web 2.0 principles are in what is known as a perpetual beta state. To paraphrase Farkas, there is never a finished product. Organizations receive constant feedback from users about buggy software and needed improvements. Understandably, constant criticism (constructive or otherwise) can be difficult for some organizations to embrace, but in a Web 2.0 environment, embracing total collaboration is absolutely necessary in order to remain relevant.
Farkas, M. (n.d.). Introduction to social software (audiovisual slides). Retrieved from https://liffey.sjsu.edu.