Wikipedia, Second Life, Craigslist, MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, Flickr point the way to the lovely future where sharing caring groups of amateurs can connect in ways that will be experientially satisfying, community-boosting and, fingers crossed, democratically revivifying. So argues new media and social networking theorist Clay Shirky in his terrifically clever, though to my mind harrowing, book. He draws a parallel with scribes who laboriously handcopied the wisdom of the ages from fragile and decaying manuscripts. In , the Abbot of Sponheim wrote a tract called In Defence of Scribes urging that the scribal tradition be maintained because the very act of handcopying sacred texts brought spiritual enlightenment. One problem: the abbot had his book set in movable type so his argument could be spread quickly and cheaply.
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On the most basic level Here Comes Everybody is about the impact new digital media technologies have had on the organization, maintenance, and power of groups. Through his overview of the impact of digital media technologies on group organisation, Shirky discusses what made this conceptual and societal shift possible, and what the shift has changed. It may be tempting to simply ascribe the shift from institutional organisation to non-institutional organisation to the invention of social technologies, however as Shirky points out, this perspective overlooks two crucial factors that allowed the shift to occur: motivation and competition.
Technologies that aid in group effort have been widely adopted due to an innate desire in humans to socialise and work together. Social tools do not generate the desire to organise, they simply provide an alternative platform upon which social desires can be attained.
As these social tools provide a non-institutional platform for group organisation, they simultaneously destroy the previous advantages of institutions.
It was this combination of a motivated public, unprecedented social abilities, and the degradation of the institutional form that provided the foundation on which the organizational shift was able to occur. Shirky discusses several organisational theories to explain how non-institutional organisation is possible online.
Sharing is the easiest method of group undertaking, creating a communally available resource. Cooperation creates group identity and a sense of community, paving the way for collaborative production.
Collective action can be difficult to produce as the group must have a shared vision strong enough to overcome the inevitable decisions that will displease some members of the group. It is often argued that there are no leaders within virtual communities, Shirky illustrates how this is incorrect through a description of power law distribution. The power law distribution is a pattern that is repeatedly observable within non-institutional groups.
The most active participant is much more active than the second most active person, who is in turn far more active than the third and so on. This pattern shows not only that leadership is a natural element of groups, but that these systems cannot be understood through the examination of their separate elements.
Small groups are populated by highly connected individuals, while large groups are populated by sparsely connected individuals.
A small-world network exists when small, tightly-connected groups, are connected to each other, forming a large group that is sparse but also efficient. A large portion of Here Comes Everybody involves an examination of what exactly has changed as a result of the mass-adoption of new social tools. One of the primary points made by Shirky is that social tools have provided a third option to organisation that does not involves institutions or markets; organization of groups through the social web.
One industry that was hit hardest by the shift was newsprint. The adoption of social tools transformed news from an institutional prerogative to an element of a social ecosystem. Major problems with industrialized news, such as self-suppression, are resolved by the fact that news can now be produced by anyone. The new-found ability of anyone to generate news content resulted in a problem of filtering. It used to be that content was filtered before being published, due to the quantity of content on the social web this is no long possible.
Mass amateurization has led to a reversed form of filtering wherein content is published and then filtered. This filtering process is not orchestrated, but organically produced through a community of practice.
The visibility of the web provides an opportunity for the display of expertise, motivating people to not only create content, but correct or filter the content of others. The most drastic change outlined by Shirky, is the enlargement of scope of activities that groups are now able to take on.
Several primal elements of institutions limit what can be accomplished through them. There is a basic difference of interests between an institution and the public, regardless of what goals are stated by an institution, their own preservation is always the primary concern. Cost of management is also a very strong limiting factor; if the cost of attempting an activity are higher than the potential gains, the activity will not happen.
An institution will naturally stick with whatever coordination methods it can find, regardless of their efficiency, because seeking out more efficient methods is too costly and not a high enough priority. Removed from the institution, group organisation is not limited by the cost of management, as the cost is practically non-existent.
Even risk does not have the same negative impact as it does within institutions. For an institution, failure can have dire consequences, but through social tools failure is simply a form of free high-quality research. Shirky explores the concept of distributed exploration to explain how an activity than is too costly to be undertaken by an institution can be conducted by a group online.
For an institution, a specific group must undergo a task, if it fails, the time and money spent on the task is wasted. Online, anyone can try anything and positive results have a much better chance of being revealed.
Like any examination of the media, the shelf-life on Here Comes Everybody is not extremely long, and some signs of its age are already beginning to surface. Although the book was published in , it was likely written in , and a great deal of the examples used in the book occurred no later than This places the date of research for this text at approximately seven years ago. When dealing with the media, a great deal can occur within seven years, resulting in a general staleness to the book when being read in While the themes and arguments presented by Shirky remain intact, a level of their impact is taken away when they are illustrated through examples that are now relatively out dated.
There are two main points of contention that can be raised towards the theories and arguments made by Shirky in Here Comes Everybody. While Here Comes Everybody is no perfect, it does do a great deal of things well, and Shirky deserves recognition for these elements.
The book provides an excellent introduction to the new media environment for both laypeople and new scholars of communication and media. Practically all of the theories and concepts covered by Shirky are illustrated through real-world examples or classic analogies, this method, in combination with a relatively slow pace and the excellent flow between arguments places this work as a perfect introductory piece to the theory covered.
While some of the social tools and examples discussed in the book are no longer used, the theories that they are supporting are still valid. The central arguments and themes discussed within Here Comes Everybody, while well-illustrated through these examples and analogies, do not rely upon them to remain accurate.
The arguments made by Shirky that are directed at outdated social networks such as Myspace, can easily be transitioned to apply to the contemporary analogous tool, such as Facebook. Shirky appears to be very conscious of the common mistakes made within communication and media research.
Shirky does not attempt to hide his personal feelings about the new social tools, plainly stating his bias towards them. In an attempt to counteract this bias, Shirky covers not only what social tools are changing about organisation and society, but also what they are not changing and what problems are arising as a result.
In this type of research it can be easy to slip into a technological determinist perspective, but Shirky never does this. Throughout the text, Shirky is very clear that it was not the social tools that created change, but pre-existing human motivation. Through the use of examples and analogies, Shirky introduces many basic communication, media, and organisational theories and concepts.
The criticisms that have been directed towards the book are justified, but in this situation the good definitely outweighs the bad.
Ars Book Review: “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky
For readers of Ars Technica, technologies like online forums, blogs, mailing lists, Meetup, and Wikipedia are old hat. But Shirky contends that the really big impacts are still to come, as these technologies spread to our less geeky relatives, friends, and neighbors. As the Internet radically reduces the costs of collective action for everyone, it will transform the relationship between ordinary individuals and the large, hierarchical institutions that were a dominant force in 20th-century societies. Newspapers and magazines, book and music publishers, and Hollywood studios are all feeling squeezed as the printing and distribution services they provide become less and less valuable.
Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky
Synopsis[ edit ] In the book, Shirky recounts how social tools, such as blogging software like WordPress and Twitter , file sharing platforms like Flickr , and online collaboration platforms like Wikipedia, support group conversation and group action in a way that could previously only be achieved through institutions. Shirky argues that with the advent of online social tools, groups can form without previous restrictions of time and cost, in the same way the printing press increased individual expression, and the telephone increased communications between individuals. Shirky observes that: "[Every] institution lives in a kind of contradiction: it exists to take advantage of group effort, but some of its resources are drained away by directing that effort. Call this the institutional dilemma--because an institution expends resources to manage resources, there is a gap between what those institutions are capable of in theory and in practice, and the larger the institution, the greater those costs. Shirky also discusses the possibility of mass amateurization that the internet allows.