Here’s a question I hope you’ll take a crack at answering, and not just because you might win a phone if you come up with the best answer:

What single thing can each of us do to to assure that we and our communities (of interest and geography) have enough trustworthy, useful information?

That’s the “Question of the Week“  at Nokia’s IdeasProject.com. The idea is that once a week, someone involved in the project asks a question that sparks some interesting ideas and conversation.

Next Sunday, I’ll pick the best response. Remember, I’m looking for a single thing we each can do; you probably have a dozen good suggestions, but pick the one that will give us the greatest return for our time.

There’s a reward for the best answer: The one who comes up with it gets a Nokia phone.

Some background to my question, which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following our conversations here already:

We are in a splintering media world where anyone can commit a globally visible act of journalism — or deception. This means we’re awash in both good and bad information, and if Theodore Sturgeon’s maxim is true, most of it is crud. But with the huge amount of new stuff out there, this also means that there’s an enormous amount of good stuff, too.

So how do we sort the good from the bad? I’ve discussed it at some length in my own new project, but I’d like to be sure I haven’t missed anything.

To answer the question, visit http://bit.ly/9HOh7x to get directly to the Question of the Week. I’ll be updating here and on Twitter during the week. Please use the hashtag “#ideasproject”.

While you’re visiting IdeasProject.com, be sure to spend a little time looking at the other folks who’ve contributed not just the weekly questions but a whole variety of other thoughts, including Clay Shirky, Charlene Li, Robert Scoble and many others.

Several disclosures: Nokia is giving me one of their Netbooks in return for participating in this feature; I plan to donate it to a local school. In addition, in 2009 Nokia purchased Dopplr.com, a company I co-founded. I also have friends at Nokia, and the company gave us some phones several years ago to do mobile experiments as part of student projects.

 

10 Responses to “IdeasProject: What Can We Each Do to Get Reliable Information?”
  1. “But with the huge amount of new stuff out there, this also means that there’s an enormous amount of good stuff, too.”

    Not necessarily. Going through more manure does not mean one will eventually find a pony.

    That’s quite a serious point, by the way. If the idea is that all one needs to do is to build a better data-mining machine, which then means throw money at data-mining startups, that gives quite a different answer than an idea that what’s needed is to re-invigorate civic and non-market institutions.

  2. Brett Glass says:

    You might not find the pony by digging in the manure, but if there’s that much manure in the first place there must have been a pony. ;-)

    And that’s exactly the sort of critical thinking and logic that one has to apply to the questionable information one finds out there on the Net.

  3. Inna says:

    Your post is an example of the difficulties of sorting out “good” and “bad”. You encourage exchange of ideas and provide self-disclosures. At the same time, you promote products and create positive brand images. Good or bad?
    Most of the time, information can be both good and bad. The question at ideasproject is too broad and without any context to be answered meaningfully.

    • Dan Gillmor says:

      Inna, fair enough — but I was using “good” and “bad” in the most generic way here.

  4. John Pagonis says:

    On one hand over-abundance of information has lead us to information overload, which is one of the problems. As a consequence we need to filter through the plethora of good stuff to get to the bottom of things. On the other hand, I think that increasingly misinformation will become the raw material that we’ll need to process in order to make decisions.

    In such a setup we need better filters not only to guard our limited cognitive resources but also to discover the contrarian angle and critique to what info we consume.

    To get to reliable info we’ll need to be able to discover the thesis and antithesis and have a mechanism by which to pipe them through our congested cognitive channels.

    I think that this can be achieved by the co-operation of man and machine.

    • Garbage In, Garbage Out. No amount of “better filters” is going to create something which isn’t there.

      • John Pagonis says:

        Oh I agree, but good info is already there. It is in our human nature to produce good, good enough, not so good, bad and excellent info (articles, music etc). Sometimes we capture it, sometimes it gets lost on ether. But it is certainly there.

        Of course a problem is when such valuable info is lost in the noise (of not necessarily bad, but irrelevant to oneself info). For example I just discovered your work, although I’ve consumed content from The Guardian so many times before and your writing is of interest to me. “Better filters” could have helped me to do so earlier I think.

        Filters don’t create, but help surface the valuable info buried by the garbage, that some are accustomed to accept in apathy.

  5. Raouf Eldeeb says:

    I think that the one thing that anyone can do is something that some already do but could make more explicit and more systematic.

    By this I mean a continuous evaluation of the reliability of the sources of information and base future assessment of the reliability of new information on the accumulated trust one has acquired (or lost) from those sources.

    For areas with which I am totally familiar, I don’t need a process of evaluation. I can see what is a factual or procedural error. If it is on a Wiki, I would correct it on the spot.
    With areas that I am partially familiar, I assign a probability of trust to the source.
    If a certain news item intrigues me or if I smell a bias, exaggeration or error from that source, I would get as many other sources for that story that I can until I am satisfied that I got the essence of the story and can evaluate the original source and adjust my trust level for that source.

    I wish I could share my trust probability with other people that are similarly minded. It would expand my trust network beyond my areas of competence.

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