Network vs. Machine

Cole wrote a post about how his Twitter network helped him solve a problem. His blog suddenly decided to stop accepting comments, and he wasn’t sure how that happened, or how to fix it. I was just going to post this as a comment on his blog, but, well, it’s still not accepting comments 😉 (and I apologize if this post comes across as snarky – not intended to – it’s just a pre-caffeinated response to a blog, first thing in the morning…)

Posting a question to the Network via Twitter etc. is great, and it really IS impressive that people provide answers so quickly. But one thing that I wonder about is the reliance on other people rather than our own referencing and querying skills. I’m probably more guilty of this than anyone I know – heck, I have a whole tag of “lazyweb” posts here on my blog.

What I find puzzling, and I’m not meaning to pick on Cole here, is that the same answers to the same question could have been found in less than 5 seconds with a properly worded Google query. Like this, for instance:

Google Query for wordpress enable comments on all posts
Google Query for wordpress enable comments on all posts

The trick is to know roughly what you’re looking for. Key words like “enable comments” might not just roll off the fingertips of everyone with the problem. But variations might work as well.

I’m really NOT trying to discount the power of the Network in pooling resources and brains, but we also need to remember that we have tools at our own fingertips to help enlist the huge databases of the Machine to help find information to solve problems independently.

13 thoughts on “Network vs. Machine”

  1. D\’Arcy,

    Your post reminded me of when I was a child and would go ask my dad a question like, \”What\’s the capital of place A?\” His response was usually, \”Go look it up.\” I hated that then, but one of my strengths today is being able to find answers. I\’ve known how to use the index of a book for as long as I can remember and even though the resources have drastically changed – from our Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia to Google and Wikipedia, the basic skills that I gained from having to look things up was truly a gift from my dad.

  2. Comments are working again … since last night. Maybe a refresh.

    So it is a good question … why did I ask my network and not the machine. Maybe that deserves a post of its own (you know with the one post a day thing I am trying I need content). Here\’s the thing — I have no real idea why I went from IM to Twitter as my first step. Maybe it is that I know there are people I am connected to that I really do trust much more than the likes of google results. Sounds crazy, but I just went to my network first without even thinking about the wider network that google manages for us. Clearly I can use Google (and any other search utility) well … I guess part of the fun was being connected to my network. Not sure if that resonates … if I had been sitting at my desk working on it I probably would have gone the route you are suggesting, but sitting in my chair at 11:00 PM watching the Olympics by myself lead me down a different path.

    Maybe there is something to the idea of altering time and presence in all of this? The person who helped me within a minute or so of my asking was an ex-student from this past spring. I know him, he is smart, and I trust him. Also, it was like getting to hang out with him across time and distance. Odd, but it may have had something to do with it. Or maybe I am just lazy. Trust me, that could be the case.

  3. Your blog still says I need to be logged in to comment…

    I know you can use Google etc… extremely well. And I really wasn’t meaning to pick on you – it just struck me that the first reaction wasn’t to find out, but to ask. But, the interactions with the people in the Network aren’t as much about problem solving as they are about presence and connectedness. Yes, your problem was solved via the Network, but more importantly, you were reconnected with a former student, etc… The comment problem was just a happy vector for that to happen.

  4. What’s weird to me is that querying one’s network and querying Google are listed her as distinctively different choices when they are essentially the same activity: queries of external resources that demand a properly phrased query to elicit results. An argument could be made, continuing along these lines of thinking, that the “best” solution would be to figure it out for oneself. Then a person is REALLY self sufficient 🙂 Or we could make the parental argument like the one that used to be made of slide rules and then calculators…

    But I actually agree with you for the most part. The two activities demand different use of similar skills. They are both important. And though both might give the same answer, what one gets out of that process might include more than just the direct answer, including the subtle satisfaction that Cole notes about participating in his network, the connections it might lead to, the artifact that is created that might help others, etc.

  5. Now you can delete my post, because you said it all much more pithily: “the interactions with the people in the Network aren’t as much about problem solving as they are about presence and connectedness” 🙂 Google skills are easy to learn– the social skills to grow, maintain, and be a productive part of a social network aren’t!

  6. I’ll posit that the advantage of going straight to one’s social network is that the social network is able to interpret the search query much better than a search engine. Whereas followers on Twitter can infer the actual issue needing addressed from even a terse, vague entry, it sometimes takes several tries to determine the best way to write a particular search string to garner the information you’re actually looking for (even though Google has surprised me on many occasions!). When posting a query on Twitter, you’re more or less assured that the response(s) received will be few, but likely will be helpful; a Google search may reveal hundreds or thousands of responses, but require some time to sort through and find the ones that are most helpful.

    That said, I’m quite good at Google searches, often obtaining answers faster than I can when asking people who are otherwise experts in the respective area In need assistance. As stated before, I believe it just depends on how “Google-literate” one is.

  7. Interesting question.

    As Cole states, concepts of trust come to mind as well as peer review. I believe one response to whether you google or not is the type of information you’re looking for. For example, I recently twittered for “best restaurants in Regina.” I got responses from 2 locals with some details. Much better than google. However I have seen a number of examples of laziness.

    In Cole’s case, perhaps there were multiple approaches and users would know if there were any caveats or other insights.

    Still, this is a good reminder.

  8. It\’s a dessert and a floor wax, use \’em both as been suggested. But the Apostrophied Author as a point I wonder about when people email me (and a lot of times people in the ed tech field) about a piece of information where the way I find the answer is the way I wish they should do themselves- a crafted google query.

    Solving a tech error is a bit more specific than asking for the best restaurants- one is obviously more open to subjective-ness.

    Someone today DM-ed me because a twitter link did not work. Heck, how do you think I got the link in the first place? In Google. It seems some obvious people that Google is the Info Reflex, yet glaringly it is not exercised.

    In the end, where the answer comes from is not as important as getting an answer. Interestingly, I am ending up often these days in Yahoo Answers from a Google search.

  9. FRAG! For you being a captcha hater, Mollum SUX big wazoo. That one took 6 attempts, even tried the audio. I doubt if I have enough energy to try again.

  10. Doh! Alan, that was the last straw for Mollom. It’s been doing really well against spam, but if it gets in the way of real people, it’s gone. Back to Akismet for a bit…

    I get curious sometimes – I’ll be talking with someone and they’ll be lamenting that they can’t find something. So I hit command+k, type a few keys, hit return, and almost every time have the answer within a few seconds…

  11. So here is the real question (or should I ask Google) how in the hell did all my comments get set to closed? And then when I fixed that, a check box in my WP settings was set to “users must be logged in to comment” … I didn’t do that stuff. Hacked? Any help … and D’Arcy … can you try to leave a comment for me? It is working on my end and I need your help!

  12. In asking ‘the network’ a question, I believe people are not always simply looking for ‘the answer’. In some cases, there may be more to gain from personal responses than the results found through sterile web searches.

  13. @cole – I commented on your blog. it appeared to have failed (I sent you an email with details) but the comment eventually showed up. bizarre…

    @alec – agreed. most (all?) of the activity on the Network is about People, not Content.

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