Crowdsourcing the Certification process

Even though Clay Shirky is making money off his book Cognitive Surplus – Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, it is still a good read. He describes how Television in the 90’s did the job that gin performed in London in the 1740’s. He then describes how online communities collaborate to do jobs once performed solely by other institutions.

Those Stinkin’ Badges: Who does the certifying?
Lately there has been discussion about the job of certifying people. Esri recently began its certification program. It appears to have more in common with Microsoft’s certification program, than with the GISCI’s GISP certification.

What if we crowdsourced the certification process? Take Gis.Stackexchange.com for example. This site is modeled after the highly successful StackOverflow.com. Like any good Q&A site, users are allowed to post questions and indicate acceptance of an answer. What makes it different though is the way “reputation” points are earned. You can earn reputation by posting a good question. As the community upvotes questions, a virtuous cycle is created. More experts with limited amount of time can quickly find and focus on good questions. Having experts quickly answer questions attracts more members.

The virtue of reputation has its limits though, as Shirky points out:

adding a price to a previously non-market transaction can reduce our willingness to treat each other as people we might have long-term relationships with.

Or, in the parlance of stackoverflow.com, you risk being a reputation whore.

Put the Lime in the Coconut*
This reminds me of the three tiered social architecture in a doctors office. The doctor occupies a sanctified tier, isolated from the desk where you pay. This allows the doctor to preserve the illusion that he is freely performing some act of compassion. The second tier is occupied by women who sit at the front desk and present you with the bill. The third tier is a remoting layer – a proxy for the drug industry. A man with shiny shoes stops in, flirts briefly with the women at the front desk then drops off free drug samples for the doctor. The patient may never see the drug salesman, but certainly appreciates samples that would otherwise cost a lot of money.

The challenge for stackexchange (which sounds a lot like stock exchange) is to build an architecture so that a community member can participate with the appearance that he is performing an act of love instead of for economic gain. If they figure that out, the stakes are large. Now that Facebook has assumed the role of social networking, certifying knowledge is now one of the few remaining jobs of university. As tuition skyrockets, students will be looking for some other institution that can do that job. With that in mind I recommend that the domain name for the GIS stackexchange site end with .edu .

* according to wikipedia, Harry Nilsson:

applied for a job at a bank, falsely stating he was a high school graduate on his application (he only completed ninth grade). He had an aptitude for computers, which were beginning to be employed by banks at the time. He performed so well that the bank retained him after discovering the lie about his education. He worked on bank computers at night, and in the daytime pursued his songwriting and singing career.

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1 comment so far

  1. matt wilkie on

    I’m inclined to trust public reputation more than official certification from organisation X.

    I’m one of those that don’t have degree, didn’t even finish high school for that matter, but worked my way up through dint of hard work, some natural aptitude, and a healthy dollop of being in the right place at the right time. I regularily see people with multiple sets of letters behind their name who can’t carry the work off, then I have to clean it up, and be paid less for it.

    Please don’t think I’m calling myself smart and them stupid, that’s not it at all. It’s just that I have the experience of doing the work, and they have the experience of doing school. They are different skill sets with some overlap, but they’re just not the same thing.

    The GIS professional certification, at least from what I learned by going through the GISP documents and filling out the forumlas, tries to balance work experience and shool learning but doesn’t quite make it. In my own case, by their lights I don’t qualify as a GIS professional. An assessment I strongly disagree with.

    One could make the argument this is because I have an inflated opinion of what my abilities are. It is certainly true that my view of my own being is woefully inaccurate, self delusion after all is almost _the_ definition of the human condition. However this just puts me in the same place as everyone else, and why we need/want certification or reputation in the first place. 🙂

    To return to the central idea, should or can we use social networking as a certification process or proxy, I say yes, with some reservation. The potential for gaming the system is great, as is the potential for the system simply not capturing otherwise qualified people. So let’s try it out, but with our eyes open.


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