I think it’s fair to say that we live in an age where opinions are freely expressed and where everyone has an opinion. Even I have one, and I am freely expressing it here.
Last week I participated in a focus group with some of our students looking at my institution’s web page and as a spin off, our library’s web page. The leader of the focus group made a comment I found very interesting. He happens to be the Online Marketing Manager. He said,
“I no longer have Google as my home page. I never thought I’d say that but … I now [go first] to Twitter…”
I find this an interesting phenomenon from two perspectives.
Firstly, from the point of view of an information librarian who has a role in promoting authentic, reliable resources.
Secondly, from the point of view of a web 2.0 participant and observer.
It seems to me that in the academic arena anyway, robust debate and opinion as always been valued. Well, except if you work for NIWA maybe. One of the hallmarks of academic freedom and scholarly endeavour to be able to hold forth without fear of retribution and have some modicum of respect from your fellow academics.
Scholarly journals provide a formal forum for publishing of research as well as debate and opinon about that research. Our students have been taught to use this formal form as the basis for their own work, and rightly so.
But where does the opinion of respected bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers sit in this pool of potential resources? I think it is fair to say that most of the lecturers I know would not be giving them much credence and woe betide any student using them as a “reference” in their assignments. I wonder if this will always be so? Do students of subjects such as media and design use the world of social networks with impunity?
Our Online Marketing Manager appears to use Twitter as an information resource, following links that his feed pops up. I suspect he has chosen to follow these Twitterers because they fit in with his world view – after all, we like to group ourselves with people who have similar opinions and likes/dislikes.
We value the opinions of the tribes we belong to. As a mother I have quite a few online friends who are also mothers but fit in with my world view e.g. pro-breastfeeders, “green” views on eating and feeding children, users of cloth nappies. I value their opinion over someone who does not subscribe to these tribal values.
I think there is a real danger for scholarly debate if we (as users of social networks) limit ourselves to using resources promoted by our “tribe”.
But perhaps I’m wrong? Shall we have a robust debate?