Web 2.0: Perfecting Imperfection

By Daniel A. Freeman |

When I was reading through Cindi's post on Drupal Camp earlier this week, one passage really struck me:

It was by far the most human conference I’d ever been to. Nearly all the people who presented brief "Lightning Talks" or breakout sessions were asked questions that they didn’t know the answer to, and in nearly all cases, another audience member had the answer. It was very gratifying to be in a room full of people who were openly supportive of each other, open to questions, open to making mistakes, open to learning and sharing, and champions of open source software in libraries.

While Cindi may have been talking about Drupal camp, there's something about that idea of being "human" that has a greater significance in the Web 2.0 world. It's no secret that imperfection is everywhere...you don't need to do more than look at the news to figure that out.

Today, more people are using social networking tools to broadcast more details about themselves and their day-to-day lives than ever before. With tools like Twitter and Facebook, people are starting to just put themselves out there, warts and all. Last summer, when The Police went on their reunion tour, drummer Stewart Copeland regularly used the forum on his website to call attention to every miscue and missed note that was played. Online support groups allow complete strangers to commiserate and share intimate details of some of life's biggest challenges. People use Twitter to communicate their joy, their pain, their successes and their failures.

What's amazing about these new tools is that they provide more than a simple forum for touting imperfection--they provide a forum for improvement. Have you ever tweeted or updated your facebook status just to have someone point out to you almost instantly that you misspelled a word or posted a link that doesn't work? Sure, that can be kind of annoying, but its that same technology that is allowing people thousands of miles apart to collaborate on important projects. It enables a journalist in a far away place to provide real-time coverage for readers back home. It enables people to share the imperfections of their work with others, so that they can get better feedback and more perspective.

As librarians, we know that there are few processes more imperfect than answering reference questions. There are many, many good ways to get information, but there isn't a "best" way. These new tools allow us to confer with one another at a pace and in a manner of our choosing. Ten years ago, if you couldn't find a given piece of information, and colleagues in your immediate physical surroundings couldn't either, the process of reaching out to people in far away places for help was complicated. Today, a librarian in New York City can reach out to one in Bangladesh in seconds.

That may not be a perfect system, but it sure is a great imperfect system.