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Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations Hardcover – February 28, 2008
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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From Publishers Weekly
Blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 accoutrements are revolutionizing the social order, a development that's cause for more excitement than alarm, argues interactive telecommunications professor Shirky. He contextualizes the digital networking age with philosophical, sociological, economic and statistical theories and points to its major successes and failures. Grassroots activism stands among the winners—Belarus's flash mobs, for example, blog their way to unprecedented antiauthoritarian demonstrations. Likewise, user/contributor-managed Wikipedia raises the bar for production efficiency by throwing traditional corporate hierarchy out the window. Print journalism falters as publishing methods are transformed through the Web. Shirky is at his best deconstructing Web failures like Wikitorial, the Los Angeles Times's attempt to facilitate group op-ed writing. Readers will appreciate the Gladwellesque lucidity of his assessments on what makes or breaks group efforts online: Every story in this book relies on the successful fusion of a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users. The sum of Shirky's incisive exploration, like the Web itself, is greater than its parts. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Here Comes Everybody is a remarkable book. Shirky states that the Internet is the biggest disruptive force since the telephone, television, transistor and the birth control pill combined. I've heard others say the printing press, and a blog I read recently compared the Internet to the invention of alphabet. In any event, it's a watershed event.
In this book's well-edited pages Shirky says, "Philosophers sometimes make a distinction between difference in degree (more of the same) and difference in kind (something new)." Social Media and the Internet represent something new. He adds, "When society is changing, we want to know whether the change is good or bad, but that kind of judgment becomes meaningless with transformations this large."
Central to this book is Coase's theorem. Coase won a Nobel Prize studying the economic factors of production inside of firms, a radical departure from traditional macroeconomic focus. Coase looked at transaction costs within and between firms (Contracting, Cooperating, Control) as a key unit of economic study. What he found is that three transaction activities have historically required significant cost and energy:
3. Collective Action
The Internet makes these activities much less expensive. Shirky sees the cost of sharing plummeting to zero, creating bargains for shoppers, and new challenges and opportunities for business. The Internet is also reducing the cost of categorization, digital reproduction and distribution. All of this is creating significant disruption for newspapers, advertisers, the post office, encyclopedias, the music industry, etc.
Shirky also sees disruption for attorneys, doctors, journalists, consultants and management professionals because of the readily available knowledge on the Internet. He says, "Professional self-conception and self-defense, so valuable in ordinary times, become a disadvantage in revolutionary ones, because professionals are always concerned with threats to the profession." And further, "Novices make mistakes from a lack of experience. They overestimate user fads, see revolution everywhere, and they make this kind of error a thousand times before they learn better. In times of revolution, though, the experienced among us make the opposite mistake. When a real, once-in-a-lifetime change comes along, we are at risk of regarding it as a fad"
Shirky sees cooperation as more difficult than sharing because it requires behavior synchronization -- and collective action harder still because it requires the commitment to the group and group governance, "or, put another way, rules for losing." He states that as a group grows arithmetically the complexity grows logarithmically. More people, more potential problems.
One potential solution to cooperation is shared awareness. He states that shared awareness in collective action has three levels: 1) When everybody knows something; 2) When somebody knows what everybody knows; 3) When everybody knows that everybody knows. For example, he talked about how radios transformed German Panzer tanks from military hardware into a new form of coordinated weapon, while the French saw tanks as accessories to infantry units. And today Internet apps are more pervasive and powerful than Walkie Talkies.
On a human level, Shirky shows how Social Media and the Internet is changing the way we interact, and how reciprocity, altruism, and even love are central in this new world. He even says that the Internet is making the physical world and relationships more important than ever. For these values to succeed, however, he states the need for social density and continuity, factors present in social media and in big cities. Shirky also tips his hat to Gladwell's work in the Tipping Point, which points to the value of mavens, connectors and salespeople (a hypothesis recently contested, however, through a research by Duncan J Watts PhD that indicates good ideas are actually the keys to memes going viral).
Following along on the human trail, Shirky explains Dunbar research indicating that human beings can only have about 150 meaningful relationships, and that the way these dense interrelationships interact can enhance or slow progress. Dunbar sets the stage for Metcalfe's Law, which says, "The value of the network grows with the square of its users" so when you double the size of the network, you quadruple the number of potential connections. Metcalfe's Law is the topped by David Reed's Law, which says that the value of the group actually grows exponentially since groups can splinter into numerous subgroups. As a category these theories are related to Power Laws, which include Zipps Law and the 80/20 Rule. All of this is seriously academic stuff, but when you think about it these theories explain the growth of Google, The Huffington Post and Facebook -- and why big established companies are valuable but have a hard time innovating.
Given the theoretical fixed limit of 150 meaningful human relationships, one of Shirky's solutions for the problem of Collective Action is to use connectors as ambassadors to different small groups. This is what cross-functional leaders and managers traditionally do, so it would be good to hear more about the behavioral nuances he sees. If you know of such work, send it to me @ideafood on Twitter.
This book has also made me curious about what new interpersonal behaviors this technology is creating and requiring on an individual level. How will the Internet, Social Media and Games lead to new behaviors at home work and school? What new behaviors are needed? He hints at this with his most recent book, Cognitive Surplus, which envisions could happen if people stopped watching mind-numbing TV and started doing things like write Wikipedia pages or Amazon book reviews.
And Here Comes Everybody does have interesting thoughts about business operations. Shirky says, "All businesses are media businesses, because whatever else they do, all businesses rely on managing information for two audiences -- employees and the world." He adds further, " In economic terms, capital is a store of wealth and assets; social capital is that store of behaviors and norms in any large group that lets its members support one another." Once old costs are shed, time and money can be applied to different things.
He also talks about innovation, with the value of networks as a foundation: "It's not how many people you know, it's how many kinds," and then he extols the advantages of cognitive diversity for innovation. At the same time, organizations have a difficult time innovating, because creative people are harder to manage, disruptive, and difficult to compensate, and they often don't scale well. And then there is the natural human tendency to destroy things, which Shirky believes is because destruction is easier than construction. As he says, "Anything that increases the cost of doing something reduces what gets done," and doing nothing is always easiest. The cherry on top is the personal interests and rivalries at play with regard to new ideas. Little wonder that Machiavelli advised against doing new things! Yet the world requires it more than ever.
One buried solution for innovation is simplicity. He says, "Communication tools don't become socially interesting until they become technologically boring." I love this line.
What Here Comes Everybody did not predict is that Twitter and Facebook would be used as tools to overthrow despots in Arab lands. Although Shirky did lay-out the theoretical groundwork for the multi-billion dollar valuations of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Groupon and Zenga. Now Flipboard and Zite are putting further pressure on traditional media. A lot has happened since this book came out three years ago in 2009.
It makes me wonder, "Where things will be three years from now in 2014?"
Maybe Clay Shirky will tell us on another book. In the meantime, here are some other books on the Internet worth reading:
Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace (Helix Books)
The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly, 2nd Edition
Simply to exist at the size of major corporations, these organizations take on all the costs of management. Every organization exists in contradiction to itself. It is a paradox. It directs group effort more efficiently but its resources must be drained to support that coordination. Org charts and managerial structures were developed to solve the explosions of complexity from railroad growth in the 1840's. But when designed, a key component of the segmented managerial infrastructure was that daily reports should not, `embarrass principal officers nor lessen their influence with subordinates'. Hence the organization that seems like little more than an endless stream of wastepaper baskets, designed to keep information from the CEO. It is this very structure that social media tools collapse because they need no principal org chart. Information can rise and fall through "hierarchies" because of their implicit structure. All we need to do is filter. In the past it was "filter then publish", now that publishing costs have collapsed it has become "publish then filter". Example: photography has collapsed as a profession because the formerly specialized infrastructure, cameras and darkrooms, that formed the profession have become accessible to everyone. Now the true value in photography lies in communities like Flickr that tag, comment and filter the world of photography for end content viewers.
And our society is in a revolution. Revolutions don't occur when a society adopts new technologies. The technologies we use now have been available for decades. What makes the ubiquitous internet a revolution is that it is quickly changing our social behaviors. Hence journalism's transition from a profession into an activity. As it turns out, journalism was created from an accidental scarcity of publishing equipment. Once the act of publishing become available to everyone, everyone eats away at the hold of professional on our finite hours of attention.
Sadly though, the current institutional structures have ensured that everyone remembers you saying yes to a failure instead of saying no to a radical but promising idea. Something I have faced when pitching CLT Blog.
We hear: "What? You have no true competitors?" Well, maybe our competitor is the status quo. Investors have to move away from safe choices and into looking for Taleb's Black Swans. Ideas that change everything, ideas that no one could predict.
Institutions have existed because they lower the transaction costs between individuals. However, working for a major corporation, I can do many functions of office work with tools from social media start-ups more efficiently rather than through the "approved" tools like MS Outlook and Microsoft SharePoint. Give me Gmail and Dropbox any day.
Sadly, as Bill Joy said best, "No matter who you are the smart people work for someone else." but that is changing as expertise becomes infinitely accessibly through Twitter and blogging.
Shirky ends the book with an examination of how new social media companies can build tools to harness the ability of people to organize on the internet. The key to the success of new internet businesses is answering, `Do the people who like your software take care of each other' rather than answering, `What is your business model'. Creating a promise to users is the key component of media that harnesses community. Second, the tool must be easy and intiutive. But perhaps most importantly, the bargain between the tool and the users must be upheld.
This book is a wealth of case studies and examples. My own neighborhood of North Charlotte even got a few shout-outs for its Stay-at-Home-Moms meetups.
As someone involved deeply with the future of citizen journalism through CLT Blog this was an essential read and should be for anyone preparing to know the depth of revolution we are experiencing intimately.
One thing that Gladwell does well (sorry, Shirky, but you have a tough yardstick to measure up to) is that each chapter is a (seemingly) unrelated element that, slowly, becomes part of a larger picture. And, when you think you've got it, Gladwell gives you another, unexpected insight. Add his lesser known examples and it is clear why Gladwell is in the position that he is. Read "The Tipping Point" and "Outliers" if you have not, yet.
That said, Shirky is no slacker. His book is solid. Indeed, it moved me from seeing social media as something happening to others to something that I could use to enhance my life. Certainly worth reading, but it made me wish that Gladwell had written it (or at least advised him on it).