Over the last few weeks, in my financially beleaguered country, Internet and Web 2.0 experts have been debating about a controversial research on the real nature of Twitter followers. As I wrote at the time, this research is hardly substantiated so far, but the debate took a political spin as its author applied it to one of the political raising stars in the country.
More recently the debate has moved to whether the research was or was not associated with the academic institution the author is working for and, ultimately, to his actual academic title. Apparently in his bio he says he has a degree, but there is no detail about the particular subject he mastered in, and he said that it was issued outside Italy and “recognized” in the US (whatever that means).
Far from being interested in the nature and veracity of his academic titles, I spent a few minutes on LinkedIn, looking at the academic titles and relevant experience of a few pretty well-known figures in the Italian Internet scene. And that’s where things get interesting.
I would have thought that most of these self-proclaimed or recognized experts would have a technical degree or training of sort (engineering, computer science, telecommunications and the likes). On the contrary, some of them seem to have no degree at all or no technical degree or little or no experience in actual technical work. CVs are quite interesting as they mention experience as journalists or even radio or TV entertainers, but not much in terms of IT projects. In some cases the degree is totally unrelated to their actual Internet activity: while this is not an issue at all, what strikes me is that there is no information about what they did during the (sometimes many) years before they started working on or with the Internet.
Looking more closely at how their profiles look like in LinkedIn or Facebook, they tend to have plenty of followers and quite a few recommendations. However recommendations tend to be rather generic and sometimes circular: I had no time to follow in any detail where they came from, or to build and run an algorithm, but it was interesting to note that people recommending them often have equally obscure profiles in LinkedIn.
Now, it is entirely possible that I do not understand the new dynamics of web 2.0 and how versatility and the ability to build one’s reputation from nothing is a distinctive trait of the “new economy”. I am sure some people would point me to the incredible cases of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who created an industry and changed the world without a degree. My reply to those people would be that both lived and breathed technology and were not reporters or journalists or historians or accountants or else.
My old way of looking at things implies that before speaking about something and – even more – claiming to be an expert, people get their hands dirty with building a professional experience that gives them – indeed –. the ability to jump from one subject to another. But some of these self-proclaimed gurus who measure their clout through numbers of social media followers and klout indices cast doubt on how healthy and well-informed some of the innovation debates are in my country.