“Even If We’re Wrong, We’re Right”

It can be a real thrill when you see someone give a fresh insight into your thinking, and that happened to me recently. The background was a talk on “What If We’re Wrong? Developing A Sustainable Approach to the Use of Web 2.0” which I gave at an online JISC Emerge event recently. I tweeted that I was giving the talk and Martin Weller,  Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University, responded expressing an interest in my talk. As it wasn’t possible for Martin to attend that online event, a few days later I pointed Martin in the direction of a Slidecast of a talk on “Exploiting The Social Aspects Of Web 2.0 In HE Institutions” which I gave the following day, and subsequently synched the slides with the audio of the talk.

The gist of my talk was the need for fans of Web 2.0 approaches to listen to concerns which may be raised and to seek ways of addressing such concerns. And in the talk I explored some of the legitimate concerns and suggested some possible solutions. But when Martin sent me a Twitter message saying that “even if we’re wrong we’ll still be better placed to understand what comes next than non-engagers” I felt he’d got the wrong end of the stick.

However in a post on Web 2.0 – even if we’re wrong, we’re right Martin explained his thinking:

Which brings me on to my even if we’re wrong, we’re right argument. Sure things won’t be the utopian vision of free services, open education and democratisation that some talk of, but whatever comes after the current trends will build on top of them. Just as web 2.0 built on what had happened in the first wave of web development. And the people who got it, the founders and the visionaries weren’t people who had dismissed the web and insisted it would go away. They were people who engaged with it, and could see how to take it forward. So, whatever comes after web 2.0 (don’t say web 3.0), the people best placed to understand it and adapt to it will be those who have immersed themselves in the current technological climate, and not those who have sat waiting for it to fail so they can say ‘told you so.’

These views were reiterated on the Scott O’Raw blog in a post entitled Will It Never End? who made the point that:

It doesn’t really matter that individual technologies will live, die, evolve, or be stunning success stories. I wholly expect that the version of WordPress I am using to write this post (or even WordPress itself) will be considered an anathema in the years to come. The key is to embrace not only the technology itself but the process of changing technology with a view to how it can help us all learn more and share in that learning.

My approach had been to seek to minimise risks and perhaps to be rather cautious. Martin and Scott are suggesting that we are now in a position to acknowledge that although there may be risks, in many cases we have already gained positive benefits over those who aren’t willing to engage. And I think there is a lot of truth in this. If, for example, Twitter were to fold (and I can’t see how it has a sustainable business model) or the recent performance problems which have affected Slideshare were to make the service unusable, I would still feel that I have gained tangible benefits during the time I’ve been used the services.  After all, that IBM mainframe technology wasn’t sustainable in the long term, and neither was MS Windows 3.0 – but we did use them when they were around, and in using them we gained a better understanding of how IT could be used in our organisations.  Does anyone seriously think that if one or two current Web 2.0 services fail that we will go back to a world of CMSs systems managing static information content for reading by a passive user community? Now who’s not being realistic?


  1. Hi Brian – I apologise for not expressing myself well on Twitter when we had the initial exchange. It made me appreciate the limitations of 140 characters and I think I came across as a bit aggressive or argumentative, which wasn’t my intention. That’s why we need blogs, to explain things in more detail. I don’t disagree with your approach – I wouldn’t say it was cautious but more that it was caring, you want to bring people with you and so have carefully considered their objections. I think this is the right thing to do – especially for IT services people who have to ensure all the dull stuff we observers can ignore, like uptime, reliability, etc. As Tony says on my blog, what I was arguing was really just a case of Amara’s Law “We tend to overestimate the short term effect of a technology and underestimate its long term effect.” Your last sentence sums it up prefectly.

  2. Hi Martin – You didn’t come across as argumentative in our Twitter discussion – we’re both aware of the limitations of the technology. And your post has helped clarify my understanding. Cheers!

  3. Hi Brian,

    Just echoing Martin’s sentiments here and to say that the debate is definitely enriched by your “caring” approach, as Martin puts it. It’s all too easy to get swept away with the hype and imagine the digital utopia that technology offers.

    But something, I feel, has happened / is happening. I’ll leave to the current poster boy of social media, Clay Shirky, to sum up better than I ever could:

    “Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won’t have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan’s Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.”


    P.S. Thanks for reading my post and quoting me. I am more than a little chuffed! 😀



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