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Post publishing editing

May 28, 2007

Brad Burnham recently wrote a post on the editorial process on the web, where the work happens after the publish button is pushed, not before it. It’s a report on a forum session and you can read some stakeholders opinions in the post. There are a serie of good points in the post and comments but, imho, there are also some questions left unanswered.

Basically, blog posts are edited after their publication: if I wrote something wrong, people will tend to post comments correcting what is wrong. That’s why Robert Scoble doesn’t agree with Andrew Keen when the latter argued that “the recent rise of user generated content is lowering the overall quality of programming on the web”. I think there is a “population effect”: the more visitors you have, the more edition and discussions you can have.

Now I would like to know if and how people edit their original posts after getting new input and/or corrections. I try to add a note at the bottom clearly stating the edition. What if I don’t do that? Content will vary over time. How can you trust such content? Since RSS feeds are not reflecting those changes, people using RSS are not aware of these changes. As stated in the post I was referring to, people need new tools to continuously assess the relevance of information they read on the internet (it was already the case with static content but this need becomes more urgent as dynamic content are more easily created and modified). Or bloggers must endorse “rules of conduct” not to edit posts but in this case, it’s up to the visitor to read comments and to summarize what should be the truth out of all this.

I think we are all used to the traditional media editing process: once it’s written, it should be right or corrected in the next publication (by the way the process is mutatis mutandis the same in mainstream media as well as in the scientific literature). Ditto for television where once it’s aired, it should be either correct or later corrected. The main difference is that blog posts and dynamic content in general are there at an instant i and stay during a certain duration (delta-i) in an unmodified form OR in a modified form. If you read the same popular page of the wikipedia (or any other wiki, e.g.) everyday, you’ll never read twice the same information (but main facts will still remain the same).

Finally, unlike Brad Burnham and people who wrote comments on his post, I don’t consider this “post publishing edition” as a problem for decision making (would it be at the business, personal or scientific level). Fact-checking and multiple sources of information are not yet obsolete.

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