One of the programs I’ve been working on at IBM relates to creating a system that enables IBM’s experts to appear in digital experiences at scale — this means going beyond the age-old editorial system for identifying key spokespersons and, instead, creating a web service to identify and describe tens of thousands of experts and put their pictures and profiles in relevant digital contexts. That first bit, it turns out, is the easy part. The tougher part is, naturally, trying to devise a system to make the expert interactions valuable and safe for all involved. I’ll talk about that more another time, but the past few days I’ve been thinking about the word expert itself.
I see a lot of companies using it in their web presences — Cap Gemini, Intel, Siemens, GE etc. But I wonder what the implications are in digital social spaces that, for one thing, span new cultural boundaries and cross new legal hurdles daily (sometimes with varying degrees of success) and how we can scale up the interactions meaningfully.
Despite its power as a word, I have always had misgivings about the term ‘expert’ because…
- I don’t think it is a culturally neutral term (as traveled to Korea, Japan, France etc last year I found that not every language uses this word in the same way…and not every group of people have the same level of comfort with declaring their expertise publicly as many Americans do.)
- The credibility of ‘experts’ is not always greater than the credibility of ‘just some guy.’ I’m in the midst of buying a new A/V receiver and have read countless reviews from ordinary consumers along with reviews from expert audiophiles…I’m balancing both inputs to my decision.
- I think people who self-proclaim as ‘experts’ can be in a pickle…it is hard to be wrong when you are an expert. My dad used to say “an expert is someone who can’t admit they are wrong.” That may be an unattributed quote from somewhere else, but still 🙂 Basically, I think the typical understanding of the term ‘expert’ isn’t really compatible with IBM’s notions of collaborative innovation.
- Asking people to self-select as an ‘expert’ can actually work as a passive filter that excludes people who would be worth including (such as extremely humble subject matter experts who might be the best face of our brand in digital interactions!)
- There is potential legal landmine here — if someone is declared and ‘expert’ by your company and they say something wrong, your company could be exposed.
How is your company/organization qualifying experts? Have you found a clever way to describe individual experts in your organization (I’d really love to hear about it!)?
By the way, you can see examples of the expertise-locator system we’ve built on IBM’s centennial site and IBM’s smarter planet site…we’ll be adding the service to many more sites, blogs, apps and experiences this year.