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Getting The Message Out ~or~ How Not To Preach To The Choir

Posted by neuralgourmet on July 5, 2008

How Web 2.0 works

How Web 2.0 works

I’m going to forgo my normal weekly blog post here and instead point you to Tim Farley’s new blog Skeptical Software Tools. Tim only has one post of note up as of now, but it’s a doozy chock full of information on harnessing the power of Web 2.0 to promote skepticism. It’s based on a presentation given at The Amazing Meeting 6 a couple of weekends back.

In particular, Tim sees the primary goal of the skeptic as battling misinformation, and the internet is an important front in that war. As wonderful a tool as the internet is for disseminating information, misinformation is everywhere on the net. And the sad truth is that those who wish to spread misinformation tend to be far more numerous and much better funded than those who wish to combat misinformation. Like Tim says, “we are outmanned and outgunned.”

So what do we do? Tim argues that we need to be more systematic than we’ve been in the past. While blog posts and google bombs are all well and good, they are both primarily reactionary and often preaching to the choir. We need to find ways of getting the message out to people who won’t seek it out for themselves. And to that end, he believes that Web 2.0 technologies have a key role to play because they offer community, specialization, programmability and the ability to build a new site out of data provided by other sites (this is called a mashup). He also believes that we must tailor our message to those who are neither skeptics or believers and that specialization is crucial.

Tim goes on to give very specific examples of how skeptics can employ Web 2.0 in the service of contradicting misinformation. In particular he champions the use of RSS, Yahoo Pipes, Google Alerts, Google Custom Searches, iCalendar, microformats (particularly hReview), geo-coding, mashups and open data.

I won’t bother to summarize Tim’s excellent post any further because it really should be read by every skeptic seeking to use the net to get the message out. Ideally these techniques should be adopted by regional skeptical organizations as a way of both amplifying their own efforts and as a way of furthering skeptical community.

Tim Farley created and writes the web site What’s The Harm? dedicated to highlighting the plight of those who have suffered because of their, or others’, beliefs in misinformation.


7 Responses to “Getting The Message Out ~or~ How Not To Preach To The Choir”

  1. Theo Doersing said

    Wow. Cool. I hope this blossoms.

  2. I think it’s cool too and the ideas are similar to ones I’ve entertained in the past. For instance, a couple of friends and I have kicked around ideas about building microsites focusing on specific kinds of content (e.g. homeopathic remedies), designed in a way to lure in the credulous and instead present them with real information when they get there. We had planned to aggregate “news” from RSS feeds from dozens of woo-ish sources as a way of tricking google (and casual searchers) into thinking the site was about the woo when in reality it would present a skeptical message. Unfortunately, time and money (as always) torpedoed this idea.

  3. andyscathouse said

    This is cool. I am working RSS feeds pretty hard already but all the other info is great. Skeptigator, can we post the calender from skepchicks?

  4. For the record neural, I hate you… you totally stole my post for tomorrow.

  5. btw, I’ve been playing with Yahoo Pipes all night and I totally have a boner. I don’t even know where to begin on how i’m going to exploit this.

  6. Sorry about stealing your idea, but I knew I wanted to let people know about Skeptical Software Tools as soon as I saw Tim’s site. And yeah, Pipes is really exciting. For anyone just coming into this, Pipes is a web-based application built by Yahoo! that allows people to “pipe” in information from all kinds of sources and then set up rules to filter that information, connect it with other information and even build new web pages with the information after Pipes slices and dices it. The name refers to the pipes used in Unix/Linux to connect the output of one program to the input of another — except Yahoo’s Pipes is graphical (no arcane commands to learn!). To get an idea of what Pipes can do, there is the New York Times through Flickr application which scans the New York Times RSS feed, extracts keywords and then attaches photos from Flickr based on those keywords.

  7. Andy wrote,

    Skeptigator, can we post the calender from skepchicks?


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