In this online, hyper-connected world, where do you go for the truth?

17 October 2008

In this online, hyper-connected world, where do you go for the truth? What is the truth, and it is variable? Al Dean ponders the distribution of information in the online world and how to navigate a wealth of resources

I feel slightly odd writing about this subject for a print magazine. After all, print is old school. It’s trees. It’s dead trees, chopped up, processed and stuffed through a very large printing press, packaged up, posted and delivered to your door/desk/in tray. It’s not very connected up is it? But it looks nice, it smells nice and it has a tactile response that a web site displayed on a 22” LCD screen simply doesn’t have. So what am I rambling about?

Let’s talk about sources of information. When looking at any form of technology, almost all of us revert to the web to find out other people’s views, how our peers perceive the product we’re looking at. Amazon is a fantastic example. How often when buying something do you have a look at the reviews? There, laid bare, are the product’s functions, features and faults - and with the odd exception of the nut-job, it’s all pretty honest. The same goes for the web.

When the Web 2.0 talk is made, it all comes down to one thing: connecting people and connecting content. I say something - you can feed back, instantly. But while this works perfectly for consumer electronics, music and books, the same is not necessarily so of technology for product development and manufacturing - or so I got to thinking at a SolidWorks press event recently.

Look at the attendees of that event: it was split into three groups, the Press, the Analysts and the newest bunch to join the throng, Bloggers. The Press is what many of us are used to: magazine sent out, typically for free, supported by advertising so you don’t have to pay for it.

Then there’s the Analysts, who conduct work behind closed doors, with little making it to a public airing, funded by the vendors or a user organisation.

Then there’s the Bloggers: the enthusiasts that spend spare time - free time - to create web-based resources that seek to talk about their subject of choice (in this case, SolidWorks). One thing that came up prior to, during and after this event, was the question of who has most authoritative view on what goes on during that press event. The Bloggers make the most noise, reporting directly from the event, to those that read their websites/blogs. The Press, used to a monthly magazine cycle, delay things, tend to make less noise, but do so to a typically large circulation. The Analysts? I’m not too sure what they get out of it. But who has the better idea of what’s going on? Where does the value in reading this information lie, and what should you bear in mind when doing so?

Bloggers. I love them. Well, most of them. These are a bunch of users that feel so impassioned about the tool that they use day in day out that they use their spare time to create some pretty amazing content. I like them so much that we’ve got two of them writing in this issue. In addition to our regular columnist, legend Josh Mings (solidsmack.com), we also have Rob Rodriguez (robrodriguez.com).

There are others within the SolidWorks community that I’d recommend: Gabi Jack (designsmarter.typepad.com/gabijack), Mike Puckett (mikescadblog.com), Ben (Solidmentor.com) and Alex Ruiz (theswgeek.com), Jason (rocksolidperspective.com) and Brian (cadfanatic.com/). These guys do an outstanding job of keeping SolidWorks users up to speed with what’s going on, and the plan is that you’ll see more of them in these pages in the future.

‘It all comes down to one thing: connecting people and connecting content. I say something - you can feed back, instantly’

But should these sources be relied upon as a purely unbiased source of information? There’s an argument that peer created information is going to be more accurate and more honest than that provided by the traditional press - bloggers have no concerns about advertiser relationships, and no need to pull their punches. Or do they?

Take one of the most vocal bloggers in the SolidWorks community, Matt Lombard. Makes a lot of noise, kicks up a stink (in some cases, rightfully so) and claims to independent. But he’s also the author of the SolidWorks Bible - is there a connection? More noise means more book sales… I don’t know. What’s clear is that just because someone is a user doesn’t necessarily mean that their opinion means more or less than someone slightly connected to the software.

The good news is that its now possible to find out pretty much exactly what you want about a product, in the way that you want, how and when you want. What needs to be considered is how you interpret that information. I’m tired of the ‘bloggers vs press’ argument - what I’m interested in whether it’s good content or bad content, because the delivery medium doesn’t really matter.
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