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158 of 163 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended as THE book to understand the fundamentals of social media collaboration, June 27, 2010
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This review is from: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (Hardcover)
Clay Shirky captured the ethos of social media with his book "Here comes everybody." He follows that book up with one that concentrates on the fundamentals of turning our cognitive surplus into value. Cognitive Surplus provides a compelling and clear description of the fundamentals of social media and collaboration as well providing principles that are guiding developments and innovation in this space.

There are many books out there that either describe the social media phenomenon or profess to provide a `recipe' for success. Neither of these approaches can provide you with the insight needed to effectively experiment and deploy social media for the simple reason that social media is changing too fast.

The book is organized into seven chapters that outline a complete way of thinking about social media.

Chapter 1: Gin, Television and Cognitive Surplus sets the context of social change and evolution of free time. This chapter sets the context for the rest of the story giving you the perspective to think through the issues.

Chapter 2: Means discusses the transition of the means of production from one of scarcity controlled by professionals to abundance and the participation of amateurs.

Chapter 3: Motive captures the essence of the reasons why people contribute their time, talent and attention to collective action. Here Shirky talks about issues of autonomy, competence, generosity and sharing.

Chapter 4: Opportunity recognizes the importance of creating ways of taking advantage of group participation. This chapter contains discussions of behavioral economics and the situations which generates group participation.

Chapter 5: Culture discusses the differences between extrinsic rewards - where people are paid to perform a task and the culture of intrinsic rewards - where compensation comes outside of a formal contracted pay.

Chapter 6: Personal, Communal, Public, Civic this chapter brings it all together giving the book a solid foundation illustrated by compelling examples.

Chapter 7: Looking for the Mouse is as meaty a chapter as any in the book. Normally the final chapter wraps up, but here Shirky discusses 11 principles associated with tapping into cognitive surplus. These principles are among the best in the book.

This book gives you a way to thinking about how people contribute their time, attention and knowledge and therefore how you can think about social media. In my opinion, this is THE BOOK to read if you are new to the subject of mass collaboration, social media, Web 2.0 etc. Here is why:


Shirky provides a comprehensive discussion of the fundamentals of cognitive surplus and how those fundamentals have changed over time. This provides the reader with a solid foundation to translate their experiences and understanding into a new media.

The book does not talk about specific technologies. I do not think I read the term blog or wiki too often. This is strength, because frankly the technology is changing is too fast. Shirky does discuss the reasons why applications like Napster met with such success.

The book has a gentle blend of academic and journalistic writing. There is real depth of thinking in the book. One example is the discussion about the fallacy of Gen X being different or irrational. At the same time the writing is clean, well organized and easy to read.

The book provides a thoughtful discussion of the principles that drive social media and give the reader a framework that they can apply to their own situation. A word of warning, you will have to think about your situation and these ideas


Readers looking for a recipe will be somewhat disappointed as Shirky recognizes that social media solutions will continue to depend on design principles more than detailed processes.

The book occasionally falls back into a policy mode as it describes social trends and societal implications. This can draw you off the main argument from time to time.

This book is dense with great insight and thinking. I list this as a challenge for people who are looking for quick read. You will get more than a simple 12-step process from reading this book.


Overall recommended for anyone who wants to understand the social media and mass collaboration phenomenon. This book is strongly recommended as a first book to start reading about social media.

Business executives reading the book can gain a deeper understanding of social media that will help them avoid the - we're on Facebook so therefore we are social solution.

Technologists will initially be disappointed as this is not a technical book, but I ask them to read the book carefully and think about how technologies create the means to bring collaboration together. After all, successful social collaboration involves a unique blend of social and technical systems. The technical piece is significantly more straightforward than getting the right social systems and this is what this book is all about.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 5, 2010 2:16:24 PM PDT
Thomas Wood says:
In the spirit of Wiki I should point out that you perhaps reversed the meanings of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards: "Chapter 5: Culture discusses the differences between intrinsic rewards - where people are paid to perform a task and the culture of extrinsic rewards - where compensation comes outside of a formal contracted pay."

I haven't read the book but cash is almost always considered an extrinsic reward and intrinsic rewards come from activities that are rewarding in themselves just by virtue of doing them. Forgive me if Shirky is redefining intrinsic and extrinsic to mean differently.

Thanks for the review.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 5, 2010 6:52:45 PM PDT

Thanks for your post and you are right, I had it backwards. I fixed it in the review and thanks for catching the point. Shirky has not redefined these terms, only my confused typing.


Posted on Jul 17, 2010 7:50:37 AM PDT
Thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed and thoughtful review. Very helpful! Combining this book and the book, "Buddha's Brain", I hope to start my own collaborative social revolution.

Posted on Jul 20, 2010 9:21:52 AM PDT

I love to read the writings of a clear thinker and communicator. You seem to be both. I will purchase and read this book more because of your introduction/review than the good reputation of the author or the subject per se.

Thanks for the insight.

Posted on Aug 15, 2010 5:18:21 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 15, 2010 5:20:01 AM PDT
This review has been replicated at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, with links back to both the Amazon Page for the book and the author's review directly. Following added there, all with links not allowed here:

Recommended by Dr. Kent Myers. Eleveated by Phi Beta Iota to 6 Stars and Beyond because this book is much more readable than The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom and captures the essence for the general reader in a manner more likely to accelerate understanding and transformation.

See Also:

Review: Global Mind

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Review: SMS Uprising: Mobile Activism in Africa

Review: Nonzero-The Logic of Human Destiny

Review: The Hidden Wealth of Nations

Review: Knowledge As Design

Review: The Genius of the Beast-A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism

Review: IDENTITY ECONOMICS-How our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being

Review: The Politics of Happiness-What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being

Review : Global Shift-How A New Worldview Is Transforming Humanity

Review: Building Social Business-The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanity's Most Pressing Needs

Review: The Empathetic Civilization-the Race to Global Consciousness in a World of Crisis

The Rise of Global Civil Society: Building Communities and Nations from the Bottom Up

Review: Organizational Intelligence (Knowledge and Policy in Government and Industry)

Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Common Wealth

and the generic review lists:

* Information Operations (104)
* Information Society (166)
* Information Technology (84)
* Insurgency & Revolution (71)
* Intelligence (Collective & Quantum) (84)
* Intelligence (Commercial) (65)
* Intelligence (Extra-Terrestrial) (17)
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* Intelligence (Public) (166)
* Intelligence (Wealth of Networks) (45)

Posted on Mar 18, 2011 8:16:27 PM PDT
Eric Jensen says:
Thank you for this poignant and thoughtful review. It is certainly an interesting book!
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Review Details



Mark P. McDonald

Location: Chicago, IL United States

Top Reviewer Ranking: 2,461