I have just finished reading “Here Comes Everybody”, by Clay Shirky.
The book discusses social networking, and the general direction of commerce and communication, now that we are fully immersed in the Internet Revolution.
Some of the more interesting topics cover wikipedia, the open-source movement, and other user-content driven sites, and the psychology behind their phenomenal success. (And why Encarta’s wikipedia attempt failed miserably.)
Then there’s the rise of blogosphere, which is increasingly blurring the definition of professional journalism, giving mainstream news corporations a run for their money.
Along the way the book is interspersed with fascinating anecdotes showing how it is now possible to bring about changes that would have been unheard of just five years earlier, ranging from retrieving a stolen sidekick in New York, creating new legislation, or causing the resignation of Senate Leader Trent Lott.
The book also covers other case-studies of group theory, and social engineering from times gone by, such as the peaceful revolution of Leipzig.
It started quietly enough, on Monday 4th of September 1989. A few silent protesters mingled during the annual Leipzig Jazz festival, handing out leaflets protesting the government regime. Although previously the Soviets had dealt with protesters harshly and in blood, this time round the police turned a blind eye, because the group was so small and not causing any trouble – the police did not want to disrupt an otherwise festive event.
Then, the following Monday the protesters were back at another social event, this time a few more. Bystanders seeing this, and seeing the same protesters reappear unharmed, started to join in, creating a snowball effect. Week after week the police did nothing, because they didn’t take action the previous week, and the group was only a little bit bigger the subsequent week.
Finally, the group was too large for the government not to notice. It announced it would apply serious measures to disperse the crowds. That coming Monday the protesters had ballooned to 400,000 people. The government was unable and unwilling to apply lethal force on so many of its own people. They let the protest go, and were finally forced to take action. The following day the entire government resigned in a desperate attempt to appease the people, but it was too little too late. Two days after that, on November 9th, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.
And all this happened before reddit, blogspot, meetup, and myspace. It was a real-world example of collaborating communities. It is the same principal followed by many successful online communities today.
Here Comes Everybody is an exciting account of how society and communication is changing, and the boundless potential the Internet now offers. And if like me, you’ve ever been disenheartened by humanity after reading YouTube comments, this book will convince you to take solace and that even those comments play an important role.
Clay Shirky estimates that it has taken 100 million man-hours to produce wikipedia, including all photos, comments and discussions. He then compares this with the 200 billion hours Americans spend watching TV each year. That is the equivalent of 2000 wikipedia units of cognitive input. Or put another way, Americans spend 100 million hours each weekend just watching the ads. That’s a pretty big wasted cognitive surplus. Imagine, if that time was instead invested into cognitive input.
Now, while cognitive capacity is not the same for everyone, and the users who are watching ads on the weekend are possibly more likely to produce a lolcat than an article on proton exchange membrane fuel cells, it doesn’t matter. Even if your contribution is the comment ‘Taht sooooooo cooool!!!!!!!!!!’, at least it’s a start, you’re contributing.
So turn off your TV and start writing.
Here Comes Everybody is available from the Central Auckland City Library