If I’ve been driving a car for 20 years does that make me a mechanic? If I’ve been baking cakes for 10 years, does that make me a pastry chef? If I’ve been on Twitter for 2 years does that mean I am a social web expert? Often in the discussion of expertise about technologies, many fall into the trap of associating the length of usage as an indicator of expertise. In the blog entries mentioned in the previous post, many discussed ‘usage’ of social web technologies – how many years used, in what ways, which tools – as an indicator of expertise.
Technology usage as an indicator of expertise is not new or unique to the social web context, but is most certainly fatally flawed.
Usage as a Proxy for Expertise
While researching consumer knowledge of technologies, I found that many research studies about technology, actually use experience (e.g., how long you have been using a technology) as a proxy for how knowledgeable or ‘expert’ you are. In other words, the longer the usage in duration, frequency and past experience than the higher reported expertise.
I found this methodology really flawed as it assumes people learn in the same way, from the same information and at the same rate. But why do they do it? Because it is easier to measure.
This is like saying that two people who have bee driving cars for 20 years, a car mechanic (who fixes cars) and a non-car-mechanic (who drives cars), have the same knowledge about how to drive a car and it’s inner workings.
In essence it ignores the context from which knowledge about a specific domain might be acquired, the scope of this knowledge (is it specialised or more common knowledge) and assumes we all learn in the same way and at the same rate.
In the doctoral research about web knowledge, a study of over 2,500 web designers and users; and from one of the preliminary studies (see below) that compared the knowledge and usage of web design students and non-web design students, it was found that
- Length of usage experience with the web had a very weak relationship with what a a user actually knew about the web.
- User perceptions of how knowledgeable they were – also an indicator of confidence – had a weak relationship with what was actually stored in their memory.
So if someone says they are web expert, even if they honestly believe it, they are possibly not, as they are not the best judge of what they actually know. That would be like my students marking their own exam papers!
Here is a brief commentary about a research article on the measurement of actually web knowledge (what is stored in memory) that was published in the journal Psychology & Marketing.
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Usage of the Social Web & Expertise
In contrast, in the context of the social web, we are seeing usage as a criteria for expertise being used in a different way. In this context it is not so much how long you have been using the social web, it’s the fact that you are personally using it and the extent of this personal usage!
If you are on the most popular social networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Bebo etc), you have a large number of followers or friends, you use RSS feeds and have a blog, than you must be a social web expert! Well, maybe not!
Just because I subscribe to 3 of the most popular cooking magazines, have bookmarked some of the most trafficked recipes sites, watch religiously TV programmes starring Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Nigela Lawson, and dine out with my friends 3 times a week – this doesn’t mean I can call myself a Chef!
As denoted in the last post, social web expertise goes beyond usage experience. It’s about the type, scope and acquisition of specialised knowledge about the social web, and the application of this knowledge – be it for research, client or self.
So perhaps if you think you are an expert, you just might not be! And just because you use the social web alot, this also doesn’t make you a social web expert.
This is where the role of peer and community recognition that you are an expert becomes very important and the use of case studies and case examples to show the application of your knowledge.
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