Our editors & readers talk
Giant shoulders and the chain of knowledge
As early as the 12th century, the image of dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants came into discourse to mean that all knowledge advances based on the discoveries of the past.
In academia and in journalism that notion has been coupled with the doctrine of attribution – you need to acknowledge the shoulders you’re standing on, to give due credit but also to allow others to search out that perch and see if their view from it is any different.
To me, the current debate about the “Link Economy” in content terms is about:
Are you part of the conversation?
Are you adding to the debate or just playing postman and passing others’ views on?
Are you adding value and …
Are you getting rewarded for adding the value you do?
As head of a journalistic army of 2,700 professionals I obviously have an intense vested interest in ensuring that their work is valuable to readers and valued by them.
Part of that involves ensuring that they are in the centre of the action and that they fill their reports with their expertise and experience. Part of that involves ensuring that they are part of the debate, that their reports inform the debate and that the debate, in turn, informs their future reporting.
In the writing we do specifically for the web we’re as open to outbound linking as we are to the inbound (see Felix Salmon for some good examples). Much of our other writing doesn’t currently use outbound links because of the particular ecosystem of our professional products, for which a lot of it is specifically written. But that, I am sure, will change over time.
The real danger in not being extremely open to linking, it seems to me, is that by moving yourself out of the mainstream debate you risk irrelevancy.
There will be other shoulders to stand on.
Those shoulders will be the ones that provide the lift.
Those shoulders will be the ones that will help advance knowledge and debate.
The fact that today the crediting can be done with a hyperlink is to me intellectually no different than the use of an academic footnote or a traditional journalistic “…according to XYZ in an interview”. It’s just better, because it’s fast, direct and creates an instant chain of knowledge.
What’s more interesting to me is what one does with the link, not the link itself.
I have a passing interest in the link or retweet that simply passes a nugget along.
I have a bit more interest when the linker or retweeter extracts real gold that was hidden in the original and gives it more prominence.
I have a lot more interest when the link or retweet uses the original as a jumping off point for argument, debate, or development.
That’s when it gets interesting.
And that’s when we, too, stand on that tower of giant shoulders people started visualising in the 12th century.