Thursday, July 26, 2007

The latest end of (traditional) authority

Just walked out of a couple dozen hours of focus groups with college students in the deep middle of middle America, and I am here to remind us all once again that this coming generation does not care--I mean, really, does not give one little crap who provides their information, so long as it's relatively useful.

After a dozen agonizing questions in which I tried to generate some interest around now obviously inconsequential attributes like "credibility" and "trust," questions which were met with silent shrugging and clandestine text-message checking, I had to conclude that I was, well, old and my own interest in "valid" or "authoritative sources of information" about as old-fashioned and quaint as my habit of unfolding a paper NYT every morning.

Like everyone else, I'd already noticed how the Internet had displaced certain kinds of authority figures (accountants, travel agents, real estate agents, car salesman) but most of these people were basically in our way in the first place--jealousy guarding info, telling us we couldn't do it ourselves, keeping us from buying stuff when and how we wanted.

But I realize now that the impact is far more than practical. It's really and truly epistemological. The explosion of sources of info have, it seems, pretty much erased the importance of the source of that info as a key element of it's value. At least in the deep middle of middle America.

They just don't care. They assume it's accurate. And if it's not, they'll find out soon enough. Or not. It doesn't really matter. They can always check at another site.

Except for sports. In which case, ESPN still matters. Some things are still sacred.


Brad Noble said...

In user testing of sites on behalf on the Dept of Defense (in middle America and elsewhere), we've found that not only do users afford credibility to sites that seem official (gov't sponsored), but also users often do not recognize when they've clicked an external link and left those "credible" sites and arrived at another.

We've also found that users afford credibility to sites that rank well in search results at Google -- i.e., if Google likes it, it must be true.

sk said...

Interesting Brad.
that's consistent with what we saw. "Popularity" is more or less the new credibility.