Elizabeth McGregor’s Paper Proposal

Listening to the Knowledge of the World Wide Web

The World Wide Web has not only changed modern communication; it has also changed the way people obtain the wealth of information that is made available by the web. The web can be viewed as a set of multiple “speakers” or “teachers” conveying multiple sources of information on multiple topics. Users must choose which teacher/speakers are providing the most relevant information and then must “listen” to them, a distributed learning process. This paper describes the contributions that Human Factors Psychology can make to understanding how we put together all of the individual pieces of information found on the web in order to capture the bigger picture. The goal is to provide a foundation to make the speaker/listener communication more effective.

4 Responses to Elizabeth McGregor’s Paper Proposal

  1. Randall Whitaker says:


    In the early days of the Web (and even before then – via Usenet, WAIS, and Gopher) the most common form of presentation was ‘documentary’ – i.e., large chunks of mainly textual materials. Insofar as these documentary presentations were typically unique to individual authors, there was a relatively straightforward mapping between particular content and particular authors / providers. As the Web evolved, it became more common for content to be (re-)copied and (re-)posted beyond the scope of its original presentation. More recently, the blog format arguably increased the ease of becoming a Web author while decreasing the presumptive formality of the content provided. Most recently, the various social networking formats have further increased the ease of presentation, yet also further decreased the presumptive formality (and scope; and depth …) of the material presented.

    In other words – two decades ago it was usually easy to associate a single ‘voice’ with a particular set of ‘content’. Nowadays the ‘content’ (even if preserved in its original form) quickly gets multi-sourced via innumerable redundant ‘channels’.

    How does one maintain any consistency of attribution, navigation or orientation amidst such an increasing cacophony of echoing ‘voices’?

  2. Ranulph Glanville says:

    It worries me that the old notion of the teacher and the teacher as source is raising its head. It does not matter what a teacher does: what matters is what the learner learns. It is possible to argue that the teacher has little or no effect (though I won’t try that here).

    The point is that just as listening turns talking into conversation, so learning turns teaching into a meaningful activity. The question is not what the teacher does, but what the learner does. Yet the learner is not even mentioned in your short text. I worry whenever I see such one sidedness in communication and importance as you suggest. I also think that human factors comes from and remains in a very traditional, measured cause and effect approach that is not likely to be very helpful here.

    Of course, I may be wrong. But I would thank that I am at least pretty likely to be right about the non=mention of the learner.

  3. Thomas Fischer says:

    Could it be that there is no such THING as information? Could the word information just be a shortcut to refer to a common way of acting together? Acting as if there were someTHING? What happens with these thoughts in your mind when you replace the word information with the word pattern? (Note how you may need to think about this question as opposed to merely reading it)

  4. Tim Jachna says:

    I am not sure why you chose the teacher/student relationship as a metaphor for the relationship between a web user and the Internet. Prevalent types of web activity suggest that most people approach the Internet as a social (pseudo-) space, an entertainment medium, a news medium, etc. and not as a classroom. It could help for you to specify the type of web activities that you mean.

    When confronted not with one sanctioned teacher but with a plethora of dissonant, authoritative-sounding voices, how does one select which voice(s) to trust? Similar questions are often raised in relation to web-facilitated social interaction, news sites, etc. Do we really have more freedom of choice in our web activities, or are we just more likely to be aware of making a choice?

    What does it mean (for you) to “listen to” content on the Internet (as opposed to “using” or “reading” it, for example)? Is there a necessity – as you suggest – to listen to some and not to others? Might there be reasons for intentionally listening to contradictory voices?

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