People like experts because people like clear answers and rules. On the Web, Jakob Nielsen is seen as an expert. It's one of the reasons he's so popular.
Every time I hear someone say that when it comes to the Web, there are no rules, I shudder a little. If there are no rules, if there is no best way, then it's all very random.The Web is extremely ordered. It's a sophisticated network and all networks have certain underlying rules. For example, network complexity and robustness has a lot to do with the links between its nodes (websites). In a network, it's good to be linked.
I always enjoy what Jakob Nielsen has to say. He has a strong and interesting point of view and is not afraid to argue it forcefully. Over the years, I have noticed that among web professionals, it is often not acceptable to say that you respect Jakob Nielsen.
There is a definite anti-intellectual, anti-expert bent among some web professionals. I notice this particularly with content, where many disdain the idea that a website needs an editor. In the opinion of some, the editor is no better than a censor.
The Internet has long been a magnet for libertarians, freedom of speech advocates, and techno utopians who feel that improving content quality is merely about developing a better search engine.
Wikipedia is a very popular free encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone. I have to say that when I first heard of Wikipedia I was very cynical. When I did check it out I was surprised by its quality, but that was partly because I was expecting so little.
Wikipedia often reads like a shopping list of minor facts, each one written by a different person. There is a lack of context and perspective, and an understanding of what really matters. For example, the entry on Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited spends the first couple of hundred words dealing with the Highway 61 itself, rather than the album. An editor please.
One of the things I really like about Amazon.com is that many albums and books have both expert and customer reviews. I like to read what expert reviewers say. They tend to bring depth and style to the subject matter.
It's also great to read what fans and other members of the general public have to say. The Web has this fantastic potential to combine the knowledge and communicative skill of the expert, with the opinions of the wider masses. That's powerful.
What is not so powerful is the mantra that everyone's opinion is just as valuable as everyone else's. Not true. Some people have boring and trivial opinions, and they express these opinions in boring and trivial language.
The Web is maturing. It needs more people like Jakob Nielsen who propose, explain and defend rules. There is a best way to manage a website. There is a best way to combine the talents of the editor with the opinions of the audience.
Rules will not restrict the future growth of the Web. Rather, they will allow it to truly mature and flourish.
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.