Radical Trust

On the Assembly blog, Catherine Styles posted a paper she presented at the Austrailan Historical Association conference, How Web 2.0 will change history. It contains a brief introduction to Web 2.0 and some examples from mostly Australian websites. One concept (and term) in the paper that clearly stuck out was radical trust.

There is one aspect of the Web 2.0 landscape that is really significant for publishers, whether they are cultural institutions like archives or libraries or museums, or historians like yourselves. Web 2.0 demands a radical trust, on the part of publishers, of their users (Mazar, 2006).

That was the first time I had heard that term, so I decided to follow the source and found myself at Random Access Mazar blog written by Rochelle Mazar. She referenced a keynote speech by Stephen Abram which brought me to a post on Stephen’s Lighthouse blog. This post explained that the term originated with Darlene Fichter who, in her excellent post, Web 2.0, Library 2.0 and Radical Trust: A First Take, explains radical trust.

We can only build emergent systems if we have radical trust. With an emergent system, we build something without setting in stone what it will be or trying to control all that it will be. We allow and encourage participants to shape and sculpt and be co-creators of the system. We don’t have a million customers/users/patrons … we have a million participants and co-creators.

Radical trust is about trusting the community. We know that abuse can happen, but we trust (radically) that the community and participation will work. In the real world, we know that vandalism happens but we still put art and sculpture up in our parks. As an online community we come up with safeguards or mechanisms that help keep open contribution and participation working.

Many of the projects and discussions we’ve been involved in the museum realm have looked at this very issue. This is essentially the heart of what is “Web 2.0.” While it may seem obvious, it is nice to hear it so clearly expressed. It’s a big step for museum (or a library or achive) to trust (radically) the community online, but better understanding the issues involved certainly helps.

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