Yes, there are a lot of dark alleys and corners full of stupid. But there are also a lot of amazing, mostly-accurate pockets of information. So, my question to you today is how do you contribute to making the Internet a better place?
Now, I don't mean that you need to start a tell-all blog, sharing the daily minutia of your life. I'm really thinking outside of every day social networking activities. There are lots of simple and quick activities that if we all did, it would make the Internet even better.
Editing Wikipedia is, to me, the most obvious. (If you read my blog, I'm going to assume that you know a) what Wikipedia is and b) that normal humans can actually edit it.) I'm a Wikipedia contributor, albeit an infrequent one, but a contributor nevertheless. Now, I can't (accurately) edit articles on Heart Surgery or wax profoundly about the Biedermeier period in central Europe, but I can add in a missing link to the official website of a film I liked or put in who was a guest on The Colbert Report. These are small, but valuable efforts in contributing to a larger body of knowledge.
Now a lot of people FREAK out about the prospect of editing Wikipedia - I think, largely, because the formatting language is a little off-putting (remember Word Perfect's "Reveal Codes" feature - it's like that). But don't let that trouble you. Find something you love (a TV Show, an author, a location, an art movement) and check out the page for it. Is there something you can contribute? This video from ehow shows the steps in how to register as a contributor and make your edits. And of course Wikipedia itself has great info on how to edit it.
Nerd Alert - I'm also a librarian over at Goodreads. This I'm actually a lot more passionate about than Wikipedia. (I could go on for DAYS about how much I love Goodreads. Don't remind me that Amazon bought them. I will ignore you.) The thing is, being a librarian (at Goodreads) isn't super-sexy. Generally, it's just a lot of cleanup. Is the book cover finally out for a book that I want to read? I'll upload it. No picture for the author profile? I'll add it. No link to the author's blog? I'll fill it in. Book attributed to the incorrect author? I'll fix it. It's like being the Bob Vila of Goodreads (well, one of many Bob Vilas). It's quick, easy and it makes Goodreads better. I appreciate what the other librarians do - I'm sure someone appreciates my contributions too.
But maybe books or "facts" aren't your thing. That's ok. There are still a lot of places you can contribute. My lovely wife, Rosemary, is (for example) a prolific writer of travel reviews. After we've visited somewhere, she generally writes it up on Trip Advisor. Her ratings and reviews are read and marked as "helpful" by several Trip Advisor users. It's a great contribution as well as a fun digital souvenir of our trips. Same goes for reviews on Yelp (Rosemary writes reviews there as well); contributing to your local scene is so helpful. I go to Yelp all the time to look for a new place to take friends or when I'm in a new city where to eat out.
Product reviews are another area ripe for contribution. Did you just buy a new lawnmower? Taking 5 minutes to rate and write a couple of lines on the Canadian Tire or Home Depot sites about the product - super helpful! I always read these before I buy something and really appreciate the time people have gone to. Especially when they add info about how easy something was to assemble or how durable it is.
I know some people don't write reviews or be an editor on a site they don't own because they don't want to give their contributions to a site (like Yelp or GoodReads) where the site ultimately reaps the benefit. Well, I guess I can understand that. Sure, The Man owns Yelp and is reaping a benefit from all of us contributing. But each of us get our own benefit as well. So, I'm not sure that's really a good argument. And Wikipedia - that's a non-profit. So start there :) But think about it. Everyone I know has some really interesting expertise or perspective that is worth sharing. Find the best place to share that expertise online and do it!
I got started thinking about all of this because of some recent handwringing about some editing practices on Wikipedia that have highlighted the need for a diverse group of editors. Also, a few months ago was Wikipedia Contribution Month in Canada. I missed it this year, but next year I'd like to organize an event in Vancouver. And get involved in the WikiWomen Collaborative and maybe write for their blog.