High Variance

Zebras and Expertise on the Internet

The Internet is full of people talking about stuff they don’t know much about. It’s common at Yahoo Answers and Answers.com, but Amazon reviews and Wikipedia are rife with it too. Even when bloggers are experts in one area, they often write much more broadly. As Maclej Ceglowski delightfully points out in his article about Paul Graham’s lack of expertise on painting, even the top of the food chain is not immune.

I think it’s fantastic. You don’t need to be an expert to have something interesting to say. Regular people notice things experts don’t, and they often have a perspective closer to mine. Non-experts can also be incredibly entertaining.

As a consumer I’m careful not to take anything too seriously, but many folks are more trusting than me of the average blogger. As a producer, I worry about this all the time, as I love thinking and writing about things on the edge (or well over the edge) of my expertise. When I wildly speculate I try to be clear about it, but I feel a little bad that some readers might not notice.

It has turned out that the most common way for people to find this site is by searching for “are zebras mean” or “do zebras bite.” I don’t know jack about this subject, but that didn’t stop me from writing a few hundred words about it a couple years ago. African Safari guide Rory Young recently wrote a terrific article on Quora that shares real knowledge about why zebras can be so nasty. It makes me very happy to be able to send my potentially disappointed visitors on to some real answers.