Clay Shirky Speaks about His New Book: "Here Comes Everybody"

I had the good fortune to hear Clay Shirky speak last night at Harvard Law School. The event was hosted by Harvard’s Berkman Center as a lead-up to their 10 year anniversary celebration. The event also coincided with the release of Clay’s new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Clay spent the majority of the discussion outlining the book. He began by pointing out that the book is not necessarily targeted to just the folks in the room (various flavors of webophile), but rather to a wider and more generalized audience. His argument for this was that "the web is no longer a decoration on society, but a challenge to it," meaning that usage and adoption of the Internet has become ubiquitious and integrated into how we do things to the level that for many of us, the Internet has become "the dashboard for our lives". So, theoretically, the book should have more universal readership.

I attempted to Twitter the presentation. I tried to capture his sound bites and cogent points, but Clay is a veritable font of wisdom and one-liners. I ended up with a serious case of twitterrhea. Below is a slightly cleaned up transcript of my tweats over the course of about an hour. Shirky direct quotes are in quotes. Everything else that isn’t labeled as my own thoughts [Ed:] can be attributed to Clay Shirky.

From Clay Shirky website: "If I had to describe what I write about, it would be "systems where vested interests lose out to innovation."

Historically, media innovations that allow two way communications produce active groups. Broadcast technology... not so good at this.

If Clay had to boil the book down to one bullet point = "Group Action Just Got Easier"

"Groups get complex faster than they get large" [Ed: i.e. the network effect, Reed’s Law, etc.]

The Internet acts as a prosthetic for existing group activity.

New social tools on the Internet make group connections ridiculously easy to form

Email was an afterthought of the Internet

"Reply all" was the Internet's first social feature

Curiously, once the technology gets boring, the social effects get interesting [Ed: by this, he means once the technology gets out of the way, becomes commonplace, and slides beneath the radar of awkward attention, then it becomes integrated into how we function as social creatures and the most interesting social effects of a technology begin to emerge]

"Me First Collaboration" = social effects that emerge from self-serving behavior, e.g. del.icio.us lets me store my bookmarks, but ultimately becomes useful to all [Ed: Or Google extracting social relevance from individually created links]

The annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade is an example where amateur photographers leveraged ad hoc online sharing (via flickr)

HDR photography as an example of using a flickr group to accelerate innovation through a community of practice (what used to take 8 years for a technology/process to emerge from lead users to professional process to documented practice to trade magazines to amateurs to shared understanding now takes weeks)

"every URL is a latent community"

"Sharing + conversation leaves a residue of instruction"

A comparison of a Buffy discussion board moving to a new platform is like a hermit crab changing its shell

Sharing -> Conversation -> Collaboration -> Collective Action are things that require increasing amounts of synchronization of group action.

"Thinking is for doing" [Ed: by this, he means that the purpose for human thought is so that we can then take action; quote attributed to someone I’ve forgotten] => "Publishing is for acting"

"Flashmobs are the Flagpole sitting of 2003"

"Nothing says dictatorship like arresting people for eating ice cream"

Ridiculously easy group-forming improves sharing, conversation, collaboration, and collective action

Behavioral economics states that social behavior online is more than just enlightened self-interest, for example, see the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultimatum_game ">ultimatum game and the self-defeating individual act of punishing defectors

Irrational individual behavior spent towards generating social cohesion cannot justifiably be explained away by enlightened self-interest

Social technology can be used for more than just good… case in point, YM magazine shutting down their discussion boards because pro-anorexic girls were swapping practical tips

What’s the future of investigative journalism and its impact on smaller cities that can’t afford newspapers who have historically played this role? "I don't yet see a way that blogs can create sustained observation that stops civic corruption"

There are no good examples of long-term collective action - institutionalization becomes a problem over time

What works with collective action right now [to stimulate participation and worldwide attention] are surprises... but they are a wasting asset

Where individuals change their behavior BECAUSE they're members of the group is the key definer of collective action

"Immersive games get us out of the hell of continuous partial attention"