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Why Wasn't I Consulted?

Posted by Josh Rothman  June 8, 2012 07:18 AM

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This piece is aimed primarily at people who create for the web professionally, but "The Web Is a Customer Service Medium," by the web developer and thinker Paul Ford, is really insightful about what it is that we're doing all day on the internet. To understand the web, Ford argues, you have to know what websites are really, really good at. And they're really good, he argues, at asking a single question: "Why wasn't I consulted?"

Ford explains:

“Why wasn't I consulted,” which I abbreviate as WWIC, is the fundamental question of the web.... Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that as effectively.

If you tap into the human need to be consulted you can get some interesting reactions. Here are a few: Wikipedia, Stack Overflow, Hunch, Reddit, MetaFilter, YouTube, Twitter, StumbleUpon, About, Quora, Ebay, Yelp, Flickr, IMDB, Amazon.com, Craigslist, GitHub, SourceForge, every messageboard or site with comments, 4Chan, Encyclopedia Dramatica....

In the most vibrant areas of the web, Ford writes, you can see multiple levels of WWIC at work. YouTube, for example, is three-tiered:

[YouTube] was created so that anyone could upload and distribute videos. So that's one level of WWIC -- to hell with TV, people should look at me! The site has comments, so people can discuss the videos -- a second level of WWIC. But there are now also thumbs-up/thumbs-down icons so that you can rank the comments and the video, a third level of WWIC.

Once you see that third level, a website is complete. You're down to the bedrock. A boolean or integer value is the digital equivalent of a grunt. You can't get any more basic than a like, or a thumbs-up, or a favorite.

This strikes me as absolutely true to my own experience of what's so great on the web. Read the rest at Ford's always excellent site, ftrain.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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