Posted by: Ian Bruk | April 4, 2008

Clay Shirky – Here Comes Everybody

Good write up of Shirky’s book. From the article:

In Clay Shirky’s account, the power of the web is that its networks make it “ridiculously easy” to form groups. In the UK, this might sound familiar: the “little platoons” of civil society, as outlined by Smith, Ferguson and Burke in the 18th century. The cheaply printed and distributed pamphlet or journal drove “gentlemen of ideas” to coffee-houses in Edinburgh and London, as a blog forum can enable devotees of a cause to turn up in a front room in Hampstead or Halifax.

What Shirky is claiming as revolutionary is the combination of power and cheapness that social software offers – greatly amplifying our natural desire to create associations. If traditional organisations want to get large groups acting together, they usually need a costly hierarchy of management to orchestrate their thousands, or tens of thousands, of employees. And organisations, particularly commercial ones, will only do those (profitable) things that justify the expense of all that managerial structure.

What the fecund social chaos of the net reveals is that so much group activity can easily happen, if the “transactional costs” of organising it (as the jargon has it) are brought close to zero. Which is exactly what Web 2.0 does. Take the exemplar of this new world, Wikipedia. This extraordinary resource exists because the web allows it: those who have an idealism about education and knowledge (remember the Enlightenment?) can easily come together, mutually monitoring their contributions to a global encyclopedia. They can take their own time, too: when there are no institutional overheads, “you don’t have to be efficient, just effective”.

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