This post was last updated on December 12th, 2011 at 03:15 pm
"Dad, what's your 3rd favourite colour?"
My youngest daughter is known for asking these types of questions. She has actually asked that one but usually the questions are more about a favourite part of a movie, what's your favourite vacation spot, etc. That's pretty typical for kids and even adults. We love to order and rank things. I have many favourites. But when does it go too far? Are these lists of favourites personal or is their value in crowd sourcing our favourites?
I think there is a place for ranking. But not for everything.
Trip Advisor is a great example of crowd sourcing and rating. It may not be definitive but provides a useful beginning in making a financial investment. Digg and Youtube are fine examples of places that use rating systems to determine popularity but not necessarily quality. That can be useful but not definitive.
It starts to bother me however when we feel compelled to create list of greatness when it comes to people who, because of their generosity have chosen to use their cognitive surplus to share online. These folks, and I'm mostly speaking about educators, have joined a revolution of sharing and connecting and have worked together, mostly for free, to learn together. That's pretty darn cool. Deciding to rank and rate them is a little like having a potluck dinner and then having a vote at the end as to who made the best meal. What would be the point other than to single out a few and let others feel less than worthy.
I love the social nature of the web. Anyone who knows me gets that. I also like recognition. I like to contribute and like to know I'm helping folks. I get that recognition from trackbacks, comments, Retweets, mentions, links and thank yous. I know how important they are to me and try to respond in kind, partly because it's natural and partly because it's the right thing to do and partly because it's how all this will continue to work.
I've been on a few lists of best blogs or whatever. I'll admit, it's flattering but I can't tell you how many times these lists are derived by a single person and looking deeper at the lists, many blogs appear that are inactive or are just plain bad. They always leave out many that should be included and in the end do little than cause controversy. I haven't linked to one of those lists in years. I appreciate a thoughtful comment much more than making a list.
I do think that those who create the lists or awards mean well. I'm sure they either want to raise the profile of others or give recognition to those that have influenced or supported their learning. That's cool. But I think we've now reached a new way of filtering content. Dave Weinberger talks about the power of folksnomy, tagging and personalized sorting. This is what makes the web great. Yet, our natural instinct is to rate and order and better yet,get others to agree with our rankings. I'd love great work to be promoted and shared more but I'd like to see that done by using the tools of democracy that the web offers. Retweet like crazy, leave a comment, tell somebody but leave the rankings alone.
We live in a metric obsessed world. Moreover, our education system is based on the ranking and ordering of students. Who's the top of the class? Who had the highest mark? Anyone involved in education know how silly that is and how it often fails to recognize many students who deserve recognition. We know our measuring tools are flawed and that at the end of the day we want our students to learn because learning is life and rankings aren't all that important. In the same way that ranking damages and can discourage those who don't get noticed, I worry we do the same for those who are just beginning to discover the power and value of sharing online. I can't imagine any teacher who introduced their students to blogging and sharing online start to have students rate and rank each other. It's hard enough to be transparent and open with your learning. To start to sort out the best from the worst borders on offensive if not unethical. If it's wrong to do with students, why would we do it with each other? I'd hope that as educators we could model sharing, celebrating and learning that doesn't have to classified as "best", because best implies there's worst.
This has largely been a think aloud post. I'm up for questions, clarifications or disagreements.