Going Online, Anyone?
Republished from BrewingTechniques' March/April 1994.
Reliable information about brewing is in hot demand. Conferences, courses, books, and (of course) magazines are important sources of hard information, and homebrew clubs, competitions, and festivals satisfy the social dimension. But what if these options still leave you wanting?
Online information sources - covered in this month's feature article - offer brewers a wide range of alternatives. From technical tidbits to perspectives on philosophy, from recipes to product reviews and just about everything in between, there's something for every taste and need. But before running to your nearest modem, consider the pros and cons of online information.
Pros: The greatest strength of online services is the fact that they can give you direct, immediate access to thousands of brewers. By and large, those fellow brewers are friendly, helpful people, many of whom hold rich reserves of knowledge and experience. Online tools make it possible for anyone to tap into that pool of knowledge and experience, quickly and specifically.
Online communication is immediate and informal. It takes the form of text versions of conversations; a typed-out telephone call, if you will.
Online access is also a great equalizer. Your race, religion, sex, or hair style is invisible to fellow online brewers, opening opportunities for equal access to everyone. Posting messages online where they can be read by others - in essence, immediate electronic publication - is nothing short of revolutionary. Online tools remove the ultimate barrier to a free press and put the power of publication at everyone's fingertips.
Cons: Ironically, one of the strengths of online access is also its primary weakness - anybody can get published. With few exceptions, postings to bulletin boards, newsgroups, and mailing lists are unfiltered and unedited, and nothing guarantees that what you read is true. Piecemeal contributions from various people mean that information is often fragmented or redundant. "Noise" and lack of focus also degrade the value of online information.
In essence, the freewheeling postings and conversations found online are little more than creative anarchy - a fact that reassures book and magazine publishers that they will not go the way of the dinosaur anytime soon. Publications that depend on graphics for completeness and that make good use of prepublication review will always have an important place in the mix of information sources.
Electronic information offers exciting possibilities and will likely remain a permanent and expanding communication vehicle in the future. Like a great TV show, though, you can probably afford to miss it. But if you tune in you might just get something out of it.
Stephen A. Mallery
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