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Date: Monday, 05 May 2008 17:23
Continuing the pattern of readers adding value to books, not just consuming them, My Mind On Books has posted a webliography of Here Comes Everybody, pulling together links from the book with links of more general relevance.

"Webibliography" links for 'Here Comes Everybody' by Clay Shirky (part 1)

"Webibliography" links for Clay Shirky, 'Here Comes Everybody' (part 2)
Author: "Clay Shirky"
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Date: Thursday, 01 May 2008 20:00

Suw has a great post on social software, failure, and success over at Strange Attractor.

She was riffing on something from the cognitive surplus talk -- "The normal case of social software is still failure; most of these experiments don't pan out" -- and she goes into why most businesses still don't understand failure modes in social software, and how important sheer pigheadedness on the part of the founders can be in driving the successes:

Every now and again I'll be talking to a client or a journalist or some random person at a conference, and they'll ask me if I think that social software is a fad. Invariably they'll have anecdotal evidence of some company, somewhere, who tried to start up blogs or a wiki inside their business, and it failed. That, they say, is proof that social software has nothing to offer business, and that if we give it a few more years it will just go away. Quod erat demonstrandum.

The problem with this interpretation is that these failures - which are common, but largely unexamined and unpublished because no one likes to admit they failed - are part and parcel of the process of negotiating how we can use these new tools in business. They are inevitable and, were they discussed in public, I'd even call them necessary as they would allow us to learn what does and doesn't work. Sadly, we don't often get a glimpse inside failed projects so we end up making the same mistakes over and over until someone, somewhere sees enough bits of the jigsaw to start putting them together.

Read the whole thing.

Author: "Clay Shirky"
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Date: Thursday, 01 May 2008 05:46
Comments are broken. Thanks to everyone who's mailed in, I'm looking for the problem, will add to this entry when they're fixed. [Fixed! Sorry for the trouble.]
Author: "Clay Shirky"
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Date: Tuesday, 29 Apr 2008 20:08

(This is a lightly edited transcription of a speech I gave at the Web 2.0 conference, April 23, 2008.)

I was recently reminded of some reading I did in college, way back in the last century, by a British historian arguing that the critical technology, for the early phase of the industrial revolution, was gin.

The transformation from rural to urban life was so sudden, and so wrenching, that the only thing society could do to manage was to drink itself into a stupor for a generation. The stories from that era are amazing-- there were gin pushcarts working their way through the streets of London.

And it wasn't until society woke up from that collective bender that we actually started to get the institutional structures that we associate with the industrial revolution today. Things like public libraries and museums, increasingly broad education for children, elected leaders--a lot of things we like--didn't happen until having all of those people together stopped seeming like a crisis and started seeming like an asset.

It wasn't until people started thinking of this as a vast civic surplus, one they could design for rather than just dissipate, that we started to get what we think of now as an industrial society.

If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would've come off the whole enterprise, I'd say it was the sitcom. Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened--rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before--free time.

And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.

We did that for decades. We watched I Love Lucy. We watched Gilligan's Island. We watch Malcolm in the Middle. We watch Desperate Housewives. Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.

And it's only now, as we're waking up from that collective bender, that we're starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We're seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody's basement.

This hit me in a conversation I had about two months ago. As Jen said in the introduction, I've finished a book called Here Comes Everybody, which has recently come out, and this recognition came out of a conversation I had about the book. I was being interviewed by a TV producer to see whether I should be on their show, and she asked me, "What are you seeing out there that's interesting?"

I started telling her about the Wikipedia article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of this activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in an ruckus--"How should we characterize this change in Pluto's status?" And a little bit at a time they move the article--fighting offstage all the while--from, "Pluto is the ninth planet," to "Pluto is an odd-shaped rock with an odd-shaped orbit at the edge of the solar system."

So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, "Okay, we're going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever." That wasn't her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, "Where do people find the time?" That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, "No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you've been masking for 50 years."

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it's the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, "Where do they find the time?" when they're looking at things like Wikipedia don't understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that's finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

Now, the interesting thing about a surplus like that is that society doesn't know what to do with it at first--hence the gin, hence the sitcoms. Because if people knew what to do with a surplus with reference to the existing social institutions, then it wouldn't be a surplus, would it? It's precisely when no one has any idea how to deploy something that people have to start experimenting with it, in order for the surplus to get integrated, and the course of that integration can transform society.

The early phase for taking advantage of this cognitive surplus, the phase I think we're still in, is all special cases. The physics of participation is much more like the physics of weather than it is like the physics of gravity. We know all the forces that combine to make these kinds of things work: there's an interesting community over here, there's an interesting sharing model over there, those people are collaborating on open source software. But despite knowing the inputs, we can't predict the outputs yet because there's so much complexity.

The way you explore complex ecosystems is you just try lots and lots and lots of things, and you hope that everybody who fails fails informatively so that you can at least find a skull on a pikestaff near where you're going. That's the phase we're in now.

Just to pick one example, one I'm in love with, but it's tiny. A couple of weeks one of my students at ITP forwarded me a a project started by a professor in Brazil, in Fortaleza, named Vasco Furtado. It's a Wiki Map for crime in Brazil. If there's an assault, if there's a burglary, if there's a mugging, a robbery, a rape, a murder, you can go and put a push-pin on a Google Map, and you can characterize the assault, and you start to see a map of where these crimes are occurring.

Now, this already exists as tacit information. Anybody who knows a town has some sense of, "Don't go there. That street corner is dangerous. Don't go in this neighborhood. Be careful there after dark." But it's something society knows without society really knowing it, which is to say there's no public source where you can take advantage of it. And the cops, if they have that information, they're certainly not sharing. In fact, one of the things Furtado says in starting the Wiki crime map was, "This information may or may not exist some place in society, but it's actually easier for me to try to rebuild it from scratch than to try and get it from the authorities who might have it now."

Maybe this will succeed or maybe it will fail. The normal case of social software is still failure; most of these experiments don't pan out. But the ones that do are quite incredible, and I hope that this one succeeds, obviously. But even if it doesn't, it's illustrated the point already, which is that someone working alone, with really cheap tools, has a reasonable hope of carving out enough of the cognitive surplus, enough of the desire to participate, enough of the collective goodwill of the citizens, to create a resource you couldn't have imagined existing even five years ago.

So that's the answer to the question, "Where do they find the time?" Or, rather, that's the numerical answer. But beneath that question was another thought, this one not a question but an observation. In this same conversation with the TV producer I was talking about World of Warcraft guilds, and as I was talking, I could sort of see what she was thinking: "Losers. Grown men sitting in their basement pretending to be elves."

At least they're doing something.

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan's Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don't? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn't posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it's not, and that's the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it's worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

And I'm willing to raise that to a general principle. It's better to do something than to do nothing. Even lolcats, even cute pictures of kittens made even cuter with the addition of cute captions, hold out an invitation to participation. When you see a lolcat, one of the things it says to the viewer is, "If you have some sans-serif fonts on your computer, you can play this game, too." And that's message--I can do that, too--is a big change.

This is something that people in the media world don't understand. Media in the 20th century was run as a single race--consumption. How much can we produce? How much can you consume? Can we produce more and you'll consume more? And the answer to that question has generally been yes. But media is actually a triathlon, it 's three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share.

And what's astonished people who were committed to the structure of the previous society, prior to trying to take this surplus and do something interesting, is that they're discovering that when you offer people the opportunity to produce and to share, they'll take you up on that offer. It doesn't mean that we'll never sit around mindlessly watching Scrubs on the couch. It just means we'll do it less.

And this is the other thing about the size of the cognitive surplus we're talking about. It's so large that even a small change could have huge ramifications. Let's say that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people watch 99 percent as much television as they used to, but 1 percent of that is carved out for producing and for sharing. The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year. That's about five times the size of the annual U.S. consumption. One per cent of that  is 100 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation.

I think that's going to be a big deal. Don't you?

Well, the TV producer did not think this was going to be a big deal; she was not digging this line of thought. And her final question to me was essentially, "Isn't this all just a fad?" You know, sort of the flagpole-sitting of the early early 21st century? It's fun to go out and produce and share a little bit, but then people are going to eventually realize, "This isn't as good as doing what I was doing before," and settle down. And I made a spirited argument that no, this wasn't the case, that this was in fact a big one-time shift, more analogous to the industrial revolution than to flagpole-sitting.

I was arguing that this isn't the sort of thing society grows out of. It's the sort of thing that society grows into. But I'm not sure she believed me, in part because she didn't want to believe me, but also in part because I didn't have the right story yet. And now I do.

I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she's going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn't what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, "What you doing?" And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, "Looking for the mouse."

Here's something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here's something four-year-olds know: Media that's targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won't have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan's Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.

It's also become my motto, when people ask me what we're doing--and when I say "we" I mean the larger society trying to figure out how to deploy this cognitive surplus, but I also mean we, especially, the people in this room, the people who are working hammer and tongs at figuring out the next good idea. From now on, that's what I'm going to tell them: We're looking for the mouse. We're going to look at every place that a reader or a listener or a viewer or a user has been locked out, has been served up passive or a fixed or a canned experience, and ask ourselves, "If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a good thing happen?" And I'm betting the answer is yes.

Thank you very much.

Author: "Clay Shirky"
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Date: Sunday, 27 Apr 2008 19:25
Jay Rosen, a founder of OffTheBus, has written a great piece on how Obama's "bitter" comments got picked up by a citizen journalist, Mayhill Fowler, a 61 year old Obama donor who was at the West Coast fundraiser and heard those comments:

We're in uncharted territory here. Descriptor languages missing. People get mad when they don't know what to call things. Mad or daft. Like when Mike Allen of the Politico, listing 12 reasons 'bitter' is bad for Obama, couldn't even find the word "website" to describe the Huffington Post. It became "a liberally oriented organization that was Obama's outlet of choice when he wanted to release a personal statement distancing himself from some comments by the Rev. Wright." Sounds like some 527 group.

Citizen journalism isn't a hypothetical in this campaign. It's not a beach ball for newsroom curmudgeons, either. It's Mayhill Fowler, who had been in Pennsylvania with Obama, listening to the candidate talk about Pennsylvanians to supporters in San Francisco, and hearing something that didn't sound right to her.
Author: "Clay Shirky"
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Date: Monday, 07 Apr 2008 11:26

Britannica Blog launched a series of posts today on Newspapers and the Net. The seed essay in this case is a passage from Nick Carr's The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google about how the economics of unbundling are threatening newspapers.

My response is first up. In it, I agree with Carr's assessment about the end of the economics that have supported newspapers, and then ask 'What's next?'

My answer to that question is encapsulated in the title: What Journalism Needs Now: Experimentation, Not Nostalgia .

We should stop worrying about the newspaper as a whole, and instead turn our attention to the important question: taking unbundling as a given, what bits merit saving? It isn't the physical fact of newsprint, or the expensive yet ineffective classified ads, or having a movie reviewer in every town.

What's worth saving, as a critical function, is investigative journalism. We need someone, many someones, to do long, deep, boring research, for stories that may not even pan out. Without that, government at all levels will simply slide back into the nepotism and corruption of the 19th century.

That is the challenge we need to take on, and as Carr notes, it's not one currently being met well on the Internet.

Author: "Clay Shirky"
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Date: Friday, 28 Mar 2008 23:56

One of the common patterns in Here Comes Everybody is lightweight collaboration, not "Let's lock ourselves in a room for 5 days to work together" but "Let's make it easy for an individual to make a meaningful contribution with little effort." This patterns shows up in Linux and Wikipedia, where most of the contributors have made only one addition or emendation.

And now it's come to the book. Alan Connor has put up a Flickr page documenting typos in the first edition:

Now I know where to start for the second edition. As Eric Raymond might say, "Given enough eyeballs, all typos are shallow." Thanks Alan!

Author: "Clay Shirky"
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Date: Wednesday, 26 Mar 2008 19:57

In the book, and in presentations since, I've talked a lot about the Coalition for a Passenger's Bill of Rights, the group founded by Kate Hanni in early 2007 that lobbied for better treatment of passengers stuck on grounded airplanes. There have been several of these incidents in recent years, including the American Airlines diversions to Dallas in December of 2006 and the JetBlue JFK meltdown on Valentine's Day in 2007, and there is no question how the majority of the flying public feels about the issue.

What was remarkable about the Coalition's work last year is that they achieved a remarkable success in a legislative eyeblink, convincing the NY State legislature to pass a law creating passenger's rights in less than 8 months, with little staff or budget, and after a decade in which the airline industry simply fought off every previous attempt to create passenger's rights. And now the big test comes -- yesterday, the 2nd Circuit struck down the NY State law, saying that only the FAA can regulate passenger treatment. So now the issue goes to the US Congress, and maybe to the Supreme Court.

I've argued that the Coalition succeeded where early efforts at either lobbying or class action suits failed because the Coalition is ad hoc, amateur, and surprising. They didn't set up a big institution. They have a very specific and targeted goal. They attract people from across a political spectrum -- their members didn't need to agree about any other issue besides passenger's rights. And they appeared out of nowhere, getting the attention of legislators before the airline industry had time to frame a reaction.

However, the risk is that protest movements that rely on surprises simply get waited out by institutions. Once you get a tactic that works well, it can't be surprising anymore. (I speculated about this problem at Berkman about a month ago, and now here it is.)

So the test case here is: can a pressure group that doesn't have an institutional structure prevail in a situation where the airline lobby in the US Congress is well defended against citizen complaint? The next phase of the drama will be slower moving the first phase, but will ultimately matter more in what it tells us about protest culture in the current era.

Author: "Clay Shirky"
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Date: Friday, 14 Mar 2008 19:58
About to go on Ross Reynolds long-form radio interview, The Conversation, to talk about the book. The stream and podcast is here.
Author: "Clay Shirky"
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Date: Wednesday, 12 Mar 2008 19:32
Penguin, the publisher of Here Comes Everybody, has invited me to guest post this week on the Penguin blog, and I'm using the space to talk about how transitions in communications tools affect media.

First up, the comparison between the internet and the printing press:

It's worth noting that most of the arguments made against the printing press were correct, even prescient. Readily available translations of scripture did destroy the Church as a pan-European institution. Most of the material produced by the new class of publishers was flyweight. Scribes did lose their social function. And so on, through a battery of transformations including public scrutiny of elites, the international spread of political foment, and even literate women. (The book to read on these transitions is Elizabeth Eisenstein's two-volume work The Printing Press as an Agent of Change.)

All of which brings me to the internet. It too democratizes both production and consumption of media. It too is producing a staggering volume of new material, some good but most flyweight. It too is upending the role of traditional gatekeepers and destroying the older economics of scarcity. And it too is leading to a cottage industry of hand-wringing: "Why can't we just get a little bit of internet, but keep most things the way they were?"

Read the whole thing here. There's also a podcast interview about the book.
Author: "Clay Shirky" Tags: "penguinblogprintingpress"
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Date: Friday, 07 Mar 2008 22:30
I'm pleased to say "Here Comes Everybody" has been getting good coverage in the blogosphere. (Technorati, Google Blog Search, Summize. Not that I'm checking...)

My favorite review so far is from Radar, a magazine whose normal coverage tends towards the "Ashton Kutcher's Oscar Gown malfunction!" variety. (Actually, I made that up. Maybe Ashton Kutcher is a boy. I'm not really in the Radar demographic...)

The reviewer, Elizabeth McKenna, starts off saying "The mere mention of technology or sociology makes me want to run to The Hills and hide." But she goes on: "All it took was peppering social-networking theory with a little blogging, Facebook, and Paris Hilton context [...] Shirky makes convoluted theories such as Power Law Distribution and Nash Equilibrium accessible through colorful pop-culture references and real-life examples. He efficiently straddles two worlds and satisfies the needs of two seemingly opposite groups: the seasoned sociologist and the easily distracted." (Emphasis hers, btw, and a hat tip for finding literally the only bold-face name in the book and bold-facing it.)

More substantively, Jerry Brito wrote up my talk yesterday at the New America Foundation, and there are interviews up with Farhad Manjoo at Salon and Brooke Gladstone at On The Media. These kind of interviews are my favorite part of this phase, as I finally get to start mixing stories in the book with current events, which if of course the point of the book -- to provide a platform for talking about all this stuff.

Author: "Clay Shirky" Tags: "reviewinterview"
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Date: Wednesday, 05 Mar 2008 22:08
Last week I gave a book talk at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and they've posted a video of the talk (40 mins).

Berkman book Talk
Author: "Clay Shirky" Tags: "berkmantalkvideo"
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Date: Wednesday, 05 Mar 2008 21:10

WikiLeaks.org, a website for anonymous individuals to report illegal or unethical behavior, was briefly and famously shut down by Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco. Or rather, it was half-way shut down -- Judge White ordered that the WikiLeaks.org web address be de-activated, though the site itself remained intact. Judge White took this step because a former VP of Bank Julius Baer & Co., a Swiss bank with a branch in the Cayman Islands, leaked internal documents about the banks' practices in Cayman, documents the leaker claimed showed the banks' strategies for money laundering and tax evasion.

Judge White's action was a little like shutting down a newspaper, sports section and all, for a libelous article in the business section, and he eventually realized this, reversing his own ruling with the rueful observation that "Maybe that's just the reality of the world that we live in. When this genie gets out of the bottle, that's it."

Between the injunction and reversal, it was widely observed that the technical approach of revoking the Wikileaks domain name was ineffective, as the content could still be accessed through its IP address, as well as on other web sites and file sharing services. It's easy to mock Judge White for getting both the law and the technology so wrong, but underneath these seemingly simple issues, the WikiLeaks case exposes a much broader issue.

There is a tension between freedom of speech in general, and restriction of certain kinds of speech; how can society let people say what they like, while still restricting things like libel or publication of trade secrets? And although the law around these issues hasn't changed, the economics of media have been so transformed that the old legal bargains between freedom and restriction are breaking, and we have no easy way of replacing them.

The current way we have structured this bargain relies on the motivations of media professionals. Since media outlets are costly and complex to set up and run, every such outlet has a natural constituency, the professional publishers and editors and engineers who have a long-term commitment to the business. Because these professionals have a long-term commitment, it is possible to balance broad freedom of speech with specific classes restrictions, with laws that punish media professionals for publishing libelous material or trade secrets. The threat of these punishments motivate them to act as filters, not publishing such material in their newspapers or airing it on their stations. And because there are so few media outlets, society can rein in certain kinds of speech with very little little legal leverage.

Except none of those things are true anymore. Creating media is no longer costly or complex as an absolute case, it doesn't require trained professionals, and it doesn't require long-term commitment. Amateurs now have direct access, without going through a professional bottleneck.

Media, in its most elemental form, is the means of repeating a message thousands or millions of times, a capability that has become vanishingly cheap and held in common by amateurs and professionals. This mass amateurization is an end to the scarcity of media outlets. Now, if you have something to say in public, you don't need to ask anyone for help or permission. We can try to find you and punish you, but this will always be post hoc -- the self-interest of media professionals in keeping their jobs is no longer a way of preventing the amateurs from speaking out.

The motives of the Julius Baer VP were doubtless impure, but it didn't matter. He got the documents out anyway, and he could do it again tomorrow. Judge White could have gone a lot further in shutting down the WikiLeaks site, but even if he had, it is but one site of many, in but one country of many.

The question here is not whether we want to increase the ability of every employee able to violate trade secrets. Thats the situation we have today, and short of wholesale internet censorship it is the situation we will have from now on. The question is how (or whether) we can continue to carve out an exception to free speech for cases like Julius Baer without doing more harm than good. So many of our legal traditions around media assume scarcity, commercialization, and professionalization that our sudden lurch to a world of abundant, free, amateur media is going to threaten many existing social bargains, not just the the ones around trade secrets. Judge White's original injunction was a particularly bad solution, but that's no guarantee that there is a good solution to be easily had.

(Also published at HuffingtonPost.com)

Author: "Clay Shirky" Tags: "wikileaksfreedomlaw"
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Date: Thursday, 28 Feb 2008 22:36
I'm delighted to say that online bookstores are shipping copies of Here Comes Everybody today, and that it has gotten several terrific notices in the blogosphere:

Cory Doctorow:
Clay's book makes sense of the way that groups are using the Internet. Really good sense. In a treatise that spans all manner of social activity from vigilantism to terrorism, from Flickr to Howard Dean, from blogs to newspapers, Clay unpicks what has made some "social" Internet media into something utterly transformative, while other attempts have fizzled or fallen to griefers and vandals. Clay picks perfect anecdotes to vividly illustrate his points, then shows the larger truth behind them.
Russell Davies:
Here Comes Everybody goes beyond wild-eyed webby boosterism and points out what seems to be different about web-based communities and organisation and why it's different; the good and the bad. With useful and interesting examples, good stories and sticky theories. Very good stuff.
Eric Nehrlich:
These newly possible activities are moving us towards the collapse of social structures created by technology limitations. Shirky compares this process to how the invention of the printing press impacted scribes. Suddenly, their expertise in reading and writing went from essential to meaningless. Shirky suggests that those associated with controlling the means to media production are headed for a similar fall.
Philip Young:
Shirky has a piercingly sharp eye for the spotting the illuminating case studies - some familiar, some new - and using them to energise wider themes. His basic thesis is simple: "Everywhere you look groups of people are coming together to share with one another, work together, take some kind of public action." The difference is that today, unlike even ten years ago, technological change means such groups can be form and act in new and powerful ways. Drawing on a wide range of examples Shirky teases out remarkable contrasts with what has been the expected logic, and shows quite how quickly the dynamics of reputation and relationships have changed.
Author: "Clay Shirky"
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Date: Tuesday, 26 Feb 2008 19:24
(A version of this article also appeared at The Huffington Post.)

Senator Clinton's campaign has launched one of the oddest bits of political propaganda in the history of modern politics. Called DelegateHub.com, it is a web site that does nothing less than lay out, in glorious policy-wonk detail, their rationale for stealing the Democratic nomination.

DelegateHub is a mix of tone-deaf assertions about superdelegates ("FACT: Automatic delegates are expected to exercise their best judgment in the interests of the nation and the Democratic Party") and endorsements from politicians who support her goal of thwarting the will of the voters ("Rep. Clyburn (D-SC) says automatic delegate support should not be based on election results.") The idea that the campaign would spend its precious time, money, and energy in a public rebuke to voters in their own party suggests that they really don't understand what we are objecting to. If they keep this line of argument up, it may lead to a "Million Little Pieces" moment for Senator Clinton.

Remember A Million Little Pieces, James Frey's 2003 memoir? When important chunks turned out to be fiction, the most interesting public reaction didn't happen to Frey, it happened to Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey had praised Frey's book on air, selecting it in 2005 for her prestigious book club and adding millions to its sales. When the scandal broke in early 2006, she went in front of her adoring fans with what might be called the Hollywood defense: "Everything done for public consumption is a little bit fictionalized anyway. That's how it works. If Frey went farther than most, well, what's the big deal? As long as the book made you feel real emotion, what does it mater if the events didn't all actually happen?"

This did not go over well. Winfrey's audience turned out to care a great deal about the truth; writing about being in jail for three months, while never actually having spent even a night there, struck them as a violation of trust. Prior to 2006, Winfrey might have been able to weather the discontent she created in her audience with classic political techniques -- go publicly silent and deal with the complainers in private and one at a time ("Dear long-time Oprah fan, We were very sorry to get your recent letter...") A couple of months of that, and the whole thing should have blown over.

But it didn't, because of the internet. Winfrey had embraced the internet as a way to talk to her fans, and to let them talk back to her (or at least her staff). What she hadn't understood, 'til Frey, was that her fans were also talking to one another, not just in book groups of five or eight, but by the thousands, in mailing lists and bulletin boards all over the net. When her fans reacted, they reacted in public, and once they could see how general their anger was, it emboldened them. They didn't back down, it didn't blow over, and in short order, Winfrey, the most universally beloved television figure since Walter Cronkite, had to call for a do-over, this time going on air and castigating everyone involved on behalf of her fans.

Which brings us to Senator Clinton. Faced with fears that she may be planning to ignore our votes, she has gone public with what we might call the Washington defense: "Of course I'm planning to ignore you if you don't vote for me, because I want to win. That's how it works. If I get elected by seating the bogus Florida and Michigan delegates, and convincing party members to vote for me no matter what you want, well, what's the big deal? As long as the process selects a candidate, what does it matter if it isn't the one most of you want?"

This will not go over well. Democratic voters turn out to care a great deal about process; Gore's Electoral College loss in 2000 was a calamity, and the idea that that sort of end-run might be perpetrated on us again by a member of our own party strikes us as a betrayal of trust. And there is no way to integrate Florida and Michigan after the fact, because no competitive election took place there, so no one knows the will of the people in those states. Even worse, not only are Clinton's rationales for increasing the delegate count anti-democratic, they are mutually contradictory. DelegateHub explains her goal to seat Florida and Michigan as a question of fundamental fairness, but in explaining superdelegates, they call the popular vote an arbitrary metric. So which is it: fair, or arbitrary? The campaign never says, because of course, there's no actual principle here. Things that increase her delegate count are good, period.

And of course, the Democratic voters are starting to talk to one another about this, not just in groups of 5 or 8, but by the millions and in public. Given the Clinton campaign's willingness to use the rules of the election to undermine the its purpose, that public conversation is going to get louder, and when the voters see how general our anger is, it will embolden us, forcing a reaction. Winfrey handled her Plan B swiftly and completely, understanding and aligning herself with her fans wishes after her initial missteps. We'll see how Clinton handles herself with the voters.

Author: "Clay Shirky" Tags: "clintonpoliticsconversation"
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Date: Sunday, 10 Feb 2008 03:53
After I finished Here Comes Everybody, I was talking with the good folks at Penguin, and one of them asked me a question I should have asked myself.

The the preamble to the question was, roughly "If new forms of group action are going to affect every part of society, one of the places that effect will be strongest will be on business (because business relies so heavily on group effort" and the question was "What do people in business need to know about social media?" I thought about it for a few days, and here's the answer I mailed them back:

What do businesses need to know: Businesses need to know that the old simplicities of dealing with their customers are disappearing, because customers are now able to coordinate their actions in groups. The old model of engaging with your customers involved two modes -- en masse and personal. Messages were sent out over mass media, in hopes of affecting the behavior of individuals.

Now, thanks to social media, customers are part of active groups, groups that form and dissolve quickly in response to people's interests or needs -- most messages in this media flow within social groups, rather than from businesses to individuals.

Sometimes these groups are creative, as with the group that has created Wikipedia almost literally out of thin air. Sometimes these groups are oppositional, as with the amateur group that has brought the airline industry to heel with new laws regulating their treatment of passengers.

The airlines spent millions trying to prevent that from happening, and they failed, beaten down in less than a year, by a bunch of loosely coordinated amateurs with no budget to speak of. What the amateurs had going for them was that they now have media like weblogs and mobile phones that let them join together and take action quickly and effectively.

There is both opportunity and threat in this environment. The opportunity is getting these groups to amplify your message or help improve your product. The threat is that the group can upend your strategy, or even abandon your offering in favor of self-created material. (It's a bad time to sell encyclopedias.)

The good news is that both the opportunities and the threats rely on the same underlying change, the rise of media that is accessible to amateurs and ideal for group action. Understanding this change is the key to avoiding the threats and taking advantage of the opportunities.
Author: "Clay Shirky" Tags: "business"
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Date: Saturday, 09 Feb 2008 17:27
Here's a video of a talk I gave at Kevin Werbach's marvelous Supernova conference. It's about the importance of social cohesion in making large-scale effort work on the internet. It was the first talk I gave using material taken directly from the book, and I've been surprised at how much good feedback I've gotten from this one little talk. Shirky Supernova Video

From the talk: "We have always loved one another. We're human. It's something we're good at. But up until recently, the radius and half-life of that affection has been quite limited. With love alone, you can get a birthday party together. Add coordinating tools, and you can write an operating system. "In the past, we could do little things for love, but big things, big things required money. Now, we can do big things for love."
Author: "Clay Shirky" Tags: "Talk, supernovaloveperlshinto"
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Date: Saturday, 09 Feb 2008 17:26
We're done giving out copies, but thanks to everyone who has responded.

Here Comes Everybody isn't in stores for another month, but the good folks at Penguin Press (US and UK) are letting me send review copies to people doing the kind of experimentation the book is about. I've got a handful of copies to give to anyone reading this blog, with the only quid pro quo being that you blog your reactions to it, good bad or indifferent. If you're interested, drop me a line (clay@shirky.com), with your blog and real-world address, and I'll get you one (though there are only a few to hand out, so it's first-come, first-served.)
Author: "Clay Shirky" Tags: "Book"
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Date: Saturday, 09 Feb 2008 17:24
The folks at Penguin UK invited me to put up a guest blog post on some of the themes in the book, and I decided to excerpt the section explaining why the label 'user-generated content' doesn't make sense in a lot of cases:

Most user-generated material is actually personal communication in a public forum. Because of this personal address , it makes no more sense to label this content than it would to call a phone call with your mother "family-generated content." A good deal of user-generated content isn't actually "content" at all, at least not in the sense of material designed for an audience. Instead, a lot of it is just part of a conversation. Mainstream media has often missed this, because they are used to thinking of any group of people as an audience.
Read the whole post here.
Author: "Clay Shirky" Tags: "Book, mediaugcusergeneratedcontent"
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Date: Saturday, 09 Feb 2008 17:22
David Andelman over at Forbes asked about my thoughts about the proposed Microsoft acquisition of Yahoo. It's rarely the case that combining two bureaucracies speeds things up, and for Yahoo to be worth Microsoft's proposed premium, there'd have to be some capability Yahoo has that the market hasn't priced in. The only thing I can think of that falls in that category is Yahoo's social DNA:

Microsoft's end-of-the-week announcement that they would pay $31 a share for Yahoo!, a premium of almost two-thirds over Thursday's closing price, has created a new parlor game in Internetland: "Is Yahoo! really worth $44 billion?" To answer that question, you have to ask, what's special about Yahoo! [...] There is one thing that is true of Yahoo! and not of its rivals--it gets social apps, and it always has. Google is an algorithm-driven company. If there is a pattern in the data from which to extract value, they have a team on it, right now, and their team is smarter than your team. Microsoft has always had the individual user at the center of its universe--though they seem to have lost that particular spot with Vista, their Office suite remains the center of most business-users' days. But only Yahoo! understands, natively, how to either build or buy applications that are designed for groups.
Read the whole post at Forbes.
Author: "Clay Shirky" Tags: "Uncategorized"
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