How the Web quells innovation

Posted on January 27th, 2007 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

One aspect of the Web which is seldom acknowledged is that it can stifle creativity and development. Huh? But isn’t the Web a place that encourages self-expression, allowing free reign of ideas that were once suppressed? Well, kind of. The trouble is that anyone with an innovative approach (that is, by definition one that has not been widely adopted previously) is likely to be ridiculed for it; to be told that it won’t work.

I’ve seen this happen in car modification many times, and in fact twice just this week.

Both were in discussion groups: that frequent scourge of progress. The first was in a Porsche discussion group. As I have said before, I don’t regularly read many discussion groups but I still get to see a lot by reading the AutoSpeed referrers’ listing. This listing shows the web pages that readers of our articles have come from – and these are often discussion groups. Someone in the Porsche group referenced one of our articles on the over-boost canister (see Killing Wastegate Creep) and asked if this would work on Porsches.

All the answers were negative: nope, it wouldn’t work; it was just like another type of boost control; it would cause boost spikes (duh!); it was of no benefit. Firstly, few if any of the respondents had actually read the article in any detail. Secondly, none (not one!) understood the purpose of the approach. And thirdly, the use of an over-boost canister will of course work on any turbo car – and its affect can be easily adjusted to suit personal preference or turbo/engine characteristics.

But the original poster gained from the group responses the idea that the approach was of no benefit.

And why were the responses universally negative? Because (a) none of the respondents had heard of the approach, and (b) because none of the respondents had tried the approach for themselves.

They didn’t know of it so they dismissed it.

The other discussion group that dismissed an idea (well, not all of them did so, just one who strongly wrote on the topic) occurred in a group that I do contribute to. It’s the Yahoo Groups Honda Insight discussion forum. After I found that Daewoo Matiz rear springs fitted straight into the back of the Insight and greatly improved the ride and handling, I felt duty bound to pass that information onto as many Insight owners as possible. This is in the context of a car that in standard form frequently bottoms-out its rear suspension and for which I have seen many owners asking for a fix.

I posted a factual account to the group describing what I had done and the results. But it took only a day or two before someone authoritatively stated that the approach was poor. The car would then have much less understeer (and that could be dangerous) and the ride would be worse. It would be better to use spring spacers – someone else had done this and that had worked well. [I had previously seen photos of one person’s approach to spring spacers (a cut up a child’s plastic play plank) and thought the result was amateurish and potentially dangerous.]

I argued back and forth a bit before I suddenly realised that the poster suggesting my approach wouldn’t work had never done anything with Insight springs and yet was, apparently, an authority on what would and wouldn’t be effective.

Again, judgement was being made in pure ignorance!

If you want to follow the flock, web discussion groups work well. There are plenty of people who will tell you what is commonly done and whether that works or not. In many cases, people can talk from personal experience – which is good! But if you’ve come up with an idea that is new or an approach that is different, be extremely wary of listening to what people in discussion groups have to say. In my experience, there is a near-universal tendency to be dismissive of the concept, despite the fact that those doing the dismissing having basically no idea.

If someone says in response to a posted idea: “I did that and it didn’t work (or did work)”, or “I did something that’s very similar to that and the results were…..” then I think it’s worthwhile paying attention. But if the responses are negative just because the “experts” in the group have never heard of the approach, well then, I think their opinion is worthless. And lots of people having that opinion doesn’t make any difference to the premise – ignore them all.

And the converse also applies. If you read of someone who has done something completely different, and they can say in detail how well the modification worked, pay attention!

After all, as has been the case in all of history, people who have actually physically done something and can report the observed results are far more important than people who theorise about something and simply guess at the outcome….

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