Should Social-Created Content be Edited?

This is a response to a tweet I received this morning from @fuzedigital asking the question “Do you think KBs with editorially controlled content still serve a purpose in a social networked world?”.

Some time ago my stance would have been to NOT provide editing for network-created content.

The idea of pulling experts from across the world (literally) to write content for our knowledge-base is very appealing.  I wrote about this being the ultimate goal for a Customer Service organization back in 2004, when I started looking into social networks.  The level and quality of the available information would be astounding.  People that figure out solutions for problems with your products can write it into your knowledge-base as soon as they find it and make it available immediately to all your customers.  Your engineers and R&D people would benefit by accelerating the creation of an “official” solution in the form of  patch, policy, or process.

The power to access all that knowledge, package it, and make it available is almost too good to be true.  And that is when reality sets in.

Not all the experts, customers who figured out problems, even competitors should be allowed to publish freely.  Malicious or wrong information will corrupt your knowledge-base — and more importantly the trust your users place on it – faster that you can imagine.

There are two things that can manage this problem: reputation management, and self-cleansing knowledge-bases.

Reputation management ensures that the person posting the content has the knowledge, the required trust, and the proper disposition to write the content.  Reputations are built into the community, and grow over time with each positive contribution.

A self-cleansing knowledge base is a side-effect of large communities —  not defined in number of existing users, rather in number of active users. It could be customers, employees, users of your products, even competitors in some cases.  Their goal is to make sure that wrong or malicious information is immediately discredited (together with the author).

Unfortunately, reputation management is not yet well implemented in communities.  Alas, self-cleansing communities are also not yet into mainstream.  If both of these elements were to be in place, I would say go ahead an let the network-created content be free and the community will self-police it.

As things stand today, I have to recommend shackles until the community managers can figure out whether they have a large enough number of people to self-cleanse the content — or reputation management tools get better.

Mind you, I am not talking about censorship (which I don’t endorse), but rather editing of the content for accuracy.

What do you think? Do you endorse or use either one? Why?

9 Replies to “Should Social-Created Content be Edited?”

  1. Esteban,

    Interesting question. I feel that socially generated content should never be edited, per se, but can be updated for accuracy.
    The important points, for me, are:

    – All edited versions must be available for people to review. Thought ownership of the written word, even when inaccurate, should be maintained.
    – The ownership of changes must also be clear. If you edit a post of mine to say something different, it should be clear that John Moore made one comment and Esteban Kolsky came through and “corrected” it.

    This maintains trust in the system, transparency on thought ownership, and leads to a healthy system where information is accurate and people are engaged with the community.

    My two cents.



  2. Greetings Esteban:

    Thanks so much for responding to our question about whether KBs with editorially controlled content still serve a purpose in a social networked world. We appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.

    What we have been told by our customers is that the editorial control placed on content needs to be commensurate with the inherent risk associated with who is using the content and how it is being used. For instance, content about IT-related issues used internal to an organization may require only a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in IT to review the content, while IT-related content provided externally to consumers by a bank may require review first by an SME, then someone in Marketing and then someone in Compliance before it is available for consumption.

    As a techie who actively utilizes forums, I fully expect and appreciate the unedited and free flowing content created by the community, but sometimes I am most interested in just finding an answer that I can count on and that the company providing the related product or service stands behind as being accurate and comprehensive.

    I have found some wikis to be pretty decent about ensuring that the content remains accurate — like Wikipedia — but most communities do not have the number and breadth of actively engaged SMEs to continually review and refine the content, and depending on its usage some content cannot afford to be inaccurate for even a few minutes.

    As a knowledge base provider I may be somewhat biased, but I believe that knowledge bases can provide staff and consumers with the ability to quickly find content that resolves their issue and that the underlying brand can and should stand behind. However, the problem with most knowledge bases is that their content is not continually evolved based on the real-world insights of the people designing, building, maintaining, supporting and using the underlying product or service the content supports. Placing this responsibility on KB editors to keep content pertinent without active community participation is unfair and unrealistic.

    Our community knowledge base ( ) is the first and currently only knowledge base that has the necessary infrastructure to facilitate, motivate, recognize and reward internal and external users to openly participate in evolving the KB content while still preserving the appropriate editorial controls placed on the final KB content. Approaches that simply integrate a knowledge base with a community just are not sufficient since they will often allow the community to generate new KB content, but do nothing to engage the community to evolve existing KB content.

    In the end, I believe that both editorially-controlled and open and unfiltered content serve very important needs for consumers and staff. It all depends on who is using the content and how it’s used.

    Thanks again for the post and starting this discussion.

    Chuck Van Court
    President and Founder, Fuze Digital Solutions


  3. this is a tough one, but the simple answer yes.

    I say yes because there are some content that just needs to be deliberated on for the accuracy and the initiative to improve.

    Not all content is necessary, but some information does require it to be validated.

    Beyond that it’s all opinion.


  4. Esteban:

    I have heard varying opinions on the value of editorially-controlled content and appreciate you surfacing the discussion with your broad audience. You know how difficult it can be to get unbiased perspectives around topics you are immersed.

    Thanks for you reply to my post. I have a follow-up comment on your statement: “The long-term, standing, accepted knowledge does not need to [be] revised after a certain number of tweaks since there is probably no gain possible.”

    Much of the community evolution of KB content will indeed happen shortly after the content is published, but some will be evolved for much longer periods. For instance, content supporting underlying products or services that are used for slightly different purposes and/or in different implementations can continually benefit from expansion to address these broad and varying perspectives.

    The Microsoft knowledge base is a great example of a KB that would greatly benefit from perpetual community enhancement based on people’s real-world usage of their products and services while also exposing the unfiltered community dialogue used to evolve the content.


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