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The problem of experts

The problem of experts

How do we handle experts?  By "expert" I mean someone who has an acknowledged reputation in their field, independent of whatever they might do on Dream to Learn.  Here are some examples:

LawSupreme Court Justice
PoliticsPrime Minister of Canada
SingingWorld-famous opera singer
ActingFamous Shakespearian actor


There are at least two issues that need to be addressed if we want experts on Dream to Learn:

  1. we need to 'import' the external reputation of these experts into Dream to Learn.  A Supreme Court Justice, for instance, has already gone through a decades-long process of professional development and certification.  If we ask such a person to go through an analogous process all over again inside Dream to Learn, it's going to be a non-starter.
  2. we need to at least consider addressing the issue of celebrity.  Some people will want to talk to the world-famous opera singer because he is a celebrity.  The world being what it is, if we don't provide some 'fencing' for such people, they are likely to be overwhelmed or worse on Dream to Learn, and they are likely not to want to join. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebrity)

We could decide that everyone comes into Dream to Learn "fresh" -- we don't recognize external expertise at all, and the only way to achieve recognition on Dream to Learn is to earn it on the site over time.  But we are faced with a real use case for an alpha community -- Val's singing community -- that arguably will only work if we do recognize external expertise.  So I think it's important to address this question now, and make some conscious decisions.

My brain works by tacking iteratively between a description of the problem and imagining possible solutions.  So I'm going to outline a possible solution to this problem, but please remember that this is just brainstorming -- I'm not saying that we need to do things this way, far from it.

Brainstorming an approach

I want to talk about expertise and celebrity separately -- they are related but different.


First, it's clearly the case that many Dream to Learn communities will affirmatively not want experts.  They'll want to be exclusively open and collaborative.  This will be easier when communities are smaller, but even as communities grow larger, they will want to evolve other ways of channeling discussion that creating a hierarchy of expertise.  From this, I think two things follow:

  1. allowing expertise must be opt-in at the community level.  The founder of a community can choose to recognize external experts in their community if they wish.
  2. expertise must be per-community.  If I'm an expert in the singing community, for example, this gives me no special privileges in the acting community, unless the acting community chooses to extend those privileges to me.  If I'm a famous opera singer and I drop into a coding community, I'm just an ordinary Joe.

So if we did allow opt-in recognition of external expertise by the community founder, what might it look like?  Here are some thoughts:

  1. external experts are named by the community founder -- the founder gets to decide who the experts are, using whatever criteria they wish to use. 
  2. experts get heightened privileges immediately, within that community only -- they get to jump the line of the dream to learn process, and can immediately start posting comments, whatever.
  3. experts lose these privileges only if the community founder withdraws them.  that is, the community founder is responsible for the the experts within the community.  if the founder handles this badly, then the community is not going to be successful.
  4. experts will have a distinct incentive system, some score that is like the collegiality score, but more limited.  It will encourage behaviors like responding to comments, updating your blog -- the kinds of things that you want experts to do. 


Not all experts will be celebrities, and we could choose to limit the recognition of external expertise just acknowledging their expertise within Dream to Learn, as described above. 

And actually, as I think about it, I would prefer not to handle celebrity separately.  But that doesn't mean we can't address the concerns of celebrities.  I think we can handle the concerns of celebrities using the same permissions system that everyone shares.  That is, anyone should be able to restrict access to themselves, to limit colleague requests they receive from others, etc.  This is actually mostly already the case.

The one thing that we will want to do is to create templates that allow the community founder to easily attach a set of permissions to experts.  It would probably be at the level of the invitation that gets sent out inviting them to join -- I can invite someone as an expert, and set their permissions automagically such that they won't get bothered by others.


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About this document

how do we provide a safe place for "established experts" in their field, while at the same time remaining open and collaborative?

Created: October 28, 2013

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