Anonymous opinion has zero information content.
Let me clarify that. The bulk of anonymous opinion has zero useful information content. Some anonymous opinion may contain useful thoughts, but it requires just too much effort to properly understand and judge.
In a perfect world, any statement by any person would be evaluated purely on the merit of the statement. In the real world, though, the identity of the speaker does matter. Here’s why.
Humans Communicate in Context
A simple statement such as “I took the bus to work” only communicates as much as we share context about what a “bus” is, what “work” is, what it means to “take” a bus, and who “I” am. For example, if I were to say “I took the bus to work”, I would have meant this:
I arrived at the bus stop early so I could wait in the
coldbracing winter morn for five tons of clunking boneshaker that was probably going to be late anyway, then resented paying $1.80 for the trip to the train station, where I caught the train into the city.
The more you know me, the more of that you would have caught from the simple, “I took the bus to work” statement. If I had said it anonymously, it would have been completely without meaning to anybody.
Context is also important when we communicate across the Internet about professional matters. If Mr Anonymous were to write, “I am excited about Microsoft Longhorn,” I honestly would have no idea what he meant. If Robert Scoble wrote “I am excited about Microsoft Longhorn,” I would know right away.
Context is required in order for communication to occur. Identity helps establish context. Anonymous opinions are more difficult to understand because more work is required to establish the context.
Humans Trust Expertise
I read lonita’s links log. Every time I click on one of her links and enjoy it, I mentally deposit a few cents in her trustworthiness account. On the rare occasions that she has spun a dud, it was easy to forgive. It has now got to the stage where I just go to every page that she recommends, because it is probably worthwhile. Even though I have never met Lonita, I have come to the conclusion that she is an expert link hound, and I trust her judgement.
Similarly, when I read the opinion of somebody that I trust, who has some expertise in a field, I give their opinion more weight than I otherwise would. It’s not the only factor I judge by, but it is an important one.
An anonymous opinion precludes any possibility of being able to judge the expertise of the speaker. This makes evaluating the opinion more difficult.
Humans Protect Reputation
When asked my opinion on a matter I know little about, I am faced with a choice. On one hand, I could make something up, presenting half-remembered snippets as university researched world’s best practice. However, since I’d rather develop a reputation for honesty, my answer is, “I’m sorry, I don’t know much about that.”
Anonymous pundits don’t incur any penalty for dishonesty, so they may feel free to say things that are untrue, or not well thought out.
Because of this, it is harder for me to give anonymous opinion credence. I have to work harder to verify the statement’s truth before it crosses the threshold of believability.
I find the to and fro of ideas that is engendered by a conversation stimulating. A typical blog “conversation” might stretch over ten people, three posts and twenty five comments and a few days.
A conversation is much more than the sum of the ideas expressed and it’s difficult to include someone when they are so rude that won’t even give a real name.
If you have something intelligent to say, saying it anonymously does not help your case. On top of finding your anonymity impolite, people will have trouble accepting your ideas because they don’t know your background, they cannot evaluate your expertise and they suspect your motives.
All this because you won’t leave your real name.
I recently gave up trying to evaluate anonymous opinions. It’s too hard, so I don’t bother. Because I don’t bother, they have zero information content. If you wrote an anonymous comment in order to communicate something to me, you may as well not have written it.