Democratizing knowledge creation

In his book The Long Tail, Chris Anderson introduced us to the idea of democratizing tools of production and distribution. Music that had to be produced and distributed by record labels can now be done using PC software and Web 2.0 tools for sharing, tagging, commenting and favoriting. Filmmakers that fought over getting into the distribution pipeline via screening their flicks at festivals -- now upload them online and get them seen by thousands more fans and reviewers. Book, software and game publishers who clamored for shelf space in retailer locations now offer their goods online 24/7.

David Weinberger took this thinking even further with his book: Everything Is Miscellaneous. He suggests that authority, expertise and credentials are shifting into the long tail also. Knowledge creation had previously between the province of Ph.D's who are credentialed by academic institutions to verify new concepts and eliminate false ideas. As the web has evolved, we found "the wisdom of crowds" taking effect. Open source software development, and the stellar contributions to Wikipedia -- are showing us another way to create knowledge.

As I've become excited by these developments, it's seemed to me that "self directed learners" could become the norm rather than the exception. Personal learning environments could supplant the hallowed halls of academia. Learning from "ink on paper" could be replaced by digital text that can be linked to, edited collaboratively and searched with any chosen parameters. Learning with self motivation, personal curiosity and contexts of immediate use could become the norm.

As knowledge creation evolves away from credentialed experts, legitimacy will become fluid and intangible. The value of knowledge will depend on it's context provided the person using the knowledge. The expertise will be valued for serving an intrinsic purpose, as a means to an end. The best knowledge will "sell itself" by providing solutions to personal problems, freedom from conflicts, changes without struggles and growth without coercion.

We previously relied on experts to fix our ignorance, superstitious beliefs and flawed models. Now it appears that the experts have the wrong idea. Expertise cannot fix our misconceptions because it operates with a flawed premise. We cannot be fixed without getting that wrong idea ourselves. We become dependent on expertise if we fall for the common misconception of learning. We create systems where learning is a noun, experts exercise their authority over us and knowledge creation is aristocratic.

We have the right to learn what we need when the situation occurs that spawns our curiosity and motivation. We deserve access to the content, processes and support systems to integrate additional complexity. We create the knowledge in a useful format by reflecting upon the differences it makes to our previous comprehension. When these rights are distributed to each citizen within a collective enterprise, knowledge creation is democratized.


  1. "Expertise cannot fix our misconceptions because it operates with a flawed premise."

    Tom, this is a big idea that needs to be discussed in our community and outside it. It may even be THE big idea.

  2. Thanks Harold. Feel free to start the conversation in this comment box, or back and forth between our blogs for start. I'm definitely game to take this idea further among us:-)

  3. I don't think we should be talking about 'democratizing' knowledge creation.

    Democracy is still about rules and governance. It is about choosing factions and having votes. It is about centralization and control.

    More accurate, I think, would be to talk about 'distributing' knowledge creation. So that knowledge creation isn't a function of mass and popularity, but rather, by networks of people working autonomnously though in a web of associated interests.

  4. Stephen
    Thanks for adding a comment here. I agree with the point you're making about use of the word "distributing" rather than implying votes, factions, majority rule and representation that's vulnerable to moneyed interests. When Chris Anderson used the term "democratizing", I believe he was implying the distribution of rights to "we the people" as in decentralizing, restoring equality, and empowering each citizen. He did not use the word "democracy", only "democratizing" as best as I can recall. I'm fond of that word because of it's connotation of equal rights. Steering clear of democracy's political process connotations -- is a good I idea, as I'm taking your suggestion.