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30 October 2009 | Aidan Lawes Blog
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Democracy or Anarchy?
This week Aidan looks at how the Internet can be useful to obtain knowledge and information but at the same time it can easily mislead you...

The Internet is a very powerful tool. It enables a whole raft of activities including the ability for individuals and groups to express their opinions in blogs and through networking sites (resounding applause – as long as they aren’t swamped by sales pitches masquerading as something else) - and to set up websites that offer a range of information and services (muted applause).

The reason that I am ambivalent about the latter is because many of them are highly dubious. Type “ITIL” into Google and you get nearly 6 million hits. Roughly speaking they seem to fall into 3 broad categories: “official” sites run by organisations such as OGC, TSO, APMG, ISEB, EXIN, itSMF, etc. which are involved in the core day-to-day activities surrounding ITIL publishing, promotion and qualifications; “vendor” sites run by commercial organisations offering products and services (including research and commentary); and “vanity” ones that have no visible organisation behind them.

It is some of the sites in the latter 2 categories that are most worrying. “Vendor” sites are most frequently straightforward, offering a range of products and services that are clearly described and position them in the ITSM/ITIL market space in an appropriate manner. A few however make the most howling errors in the material that they publish and are clearly just looking for ways in which to make a fast buck without any real interest in informing the customer or encouraging a sensible understanding of the subject.

The last category sees the most diversity of accuracy and quality. Some have risen a long way from their early subversive beginnings to become almost mainstream – and these do provide different and interesting insights into the subject. Unfortunately, quite a few of them seem to have strayed from their original aims and have suffered for it.

I can (just about) understand how some individuals may have felt that there was a lack of opportunity for the sharing of knowledge and experience – at least in their country at a particular point in time. But those days are long gone and there are myriad opportunities for these activities through more structured and formal routes.

Why the concern about individuals sharing in this way? Well, depending on the people involved, there is always a danger that imperfect knowledge of the subject is perpetuated and reinforced so that the collective knowledge is not advanced, or worse, is misdirected. Let’s take just one example. On one of these websites, they have a “glossary of terms” despite the fact that there is an official glossary that it is available for free. The approach to entries is “wiki” style, i.e. contributors add entries, and there appears to little or no editorial control. Accordingly, a charitable description of the items and their definitions would be “strange”. Some of them are so loose and woolly as to be meaningless and they certainly wouldn’t assist anyone looking for useful information.

As with so many technology based offerings, the very openness and availability is a double-edged sword. Half-truths and misinformation are disseminated as easily as truth, and it isn’t always easy for the novice in the field to distinguish between them.

In other spheres, this openness allows the conspiracy theorists to expound the most unlikely and preposterous flights of fancy. Most rational people can easily see the unreality in the majority. However, just occasionally real injustices or hidden truths are uncovered, so a useful purpose can be served. As always the knack is in being able to distinguish between fact and fiction, or the balance of probabilities. So use the websites and networking sites, but be aware that they aren’t all true and the worst may well mislead you. Seek alternative views to confirm or refute the information provided.


PS. One snippet of info. In an earlier blog I exposed the illogicality of some of APMG’s accreditation rules for aspiring tutors. Good news is that the rules have been revised and you now only have to have “experience in delivering training” rather than “delivering ITIL training” in order to be accredited – the original rules effectively said you had to run unaccredited courses in order to get accredited, which was nonsense, so it’s good to  see commonsense prevail. I’m sure I can’t take all the credit, but it does show that if something is silly, it’s worth shouting about it. Change can occur. 

Any feedback and comments are always welcome!!

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