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on May 30, 2011
The subtitle of this book is "Revolution doesn't happen when society adopts new technology, it happens when society adopts new behaviors." Nice tag line, and a good entry point into this penetrating examination of how the Internet and Social Media are transforming the world we live in. Shirky covers complex content with humility, humanity and skill.

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:

1. Sharing
2. Cooperation
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
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on November 3, 2009
As I compile the bible for our new millennium, I will include Here Comes Everybody as "The Book of Clay". For, it is a gospel that explains the "structure" of the organization in an internet society. In his exploration of the newly augmented ability for humans to organize, Clay Shirky exposes the power and depth that the current social media revolution will use to change society forever. What Shirky doesn't do is offer solutions. Solutions in the sense of, "Here's how we are going to use citizen journalists to replace newspapers" or "Musicians can do this to ensure album sales". But that's ok, simply understanding the ubiquitous internet and how it is changing everything will help individuals answer those questions through start-ups and business ventures.

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.
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on December 13, 2008
So why am I writing this review? Well Clay Shirky would probably tell me (in part) that my sharing of perspectives "anchors community" and that sharing also enhances my standing within the community. So I'm helping build our society (Woohoo. I have a high social conscience!!!) while also enhancing my own social standing (Oops. I'm a social climber?). On the other hand ... I may also be an artful evader of real world responsibility (and what could possibly be a more artful evasion of real work than a book review!). Or on the other other hand, I may be a digital Don Quixote always tilting at intellectual windmills, or I simply prioritize poorly and thus waste energy on unimportant matters like Amazon reviews. I dunno. Let's all decide. Such matters are, per the author, to be understood collaboratively.

More seriously, Clay Shirky is examining yours and my willingness to establish an online personae and our willingness to collaborate freely across the internet (eg. including the rationale for my spending a moment to write this review). Conversely, he explains how and why the internet is structuring itself around the ways we naturally interact with each other. Shirky connects these matters to life in describing how we, as members of one or many little societies, now continuously (re)congregate around people, information, projects, and ideas.

Much (digital) ink is already spilled regarding this book. I will just take a step back and note that Mr. Shirky is chronicling an interesting parallel evolution of the Internet. The internet continues (on the surface anyway) to shift to where the money is: as a global platform for delivering monetized content. Like the old television networks, today's internet content providers of various ilk have created "walled gardens" and private streams of content through their emerging control of end point devices (See Zittrain's "Future of the Internet and How To Stop It" for worries about your cell phone and your television set top box). These providers then create communities for the purpose of monetizing that content (Yes you do Amazon). Social networking technologies are creating the possibiility that we first form our own communities and associations - all for our own reasons - and just like in the real world!. We then individually and collectively introduce and evaluate information within those communities and we collectively enhance and advance that information (or diminish it) - all for reasons distinct from external influence or interest. Clay Shirky details all of this deeply. But most interestingly his insights move us away from a world of often anonymous informational gatekeepers who in his words "filter then publish" and toward a world of infinite individual media sources (you and me) whose generated information is "published then filtered" by trusted individuals and groups. The result is an ever-richer base of information leavened with supporting context and perspective.

Read this book to understand what's sociologically so interesting about Flickr, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, and the such.
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on October 26, 2009
The book begins with an intriguing story of a girl who found a cellphone that was forgotten in a cab and later refused to return it to the owner. It happened in New York in May 2006 and was reported widely on the Internet as well as in New York Times. This story demonstrates the power of Internet crowd. They are powerful enough to change the course of action of government. A mere 10 years ago such things were impossible.

The book is full of such examples. In other chapters it describes the story of Wikipedia and its unsuccessful predecessor Nupedia, the story of Linux, multiple political riots, as well as unusual cases from American life. Thus it is possible to think of this book as a series of case studies. But the author goes beyond that. Being an NYU professor, the author find out what made such things possible.

He discusses multiple historic examples, for example how McCallum have thought of an org chart when he was working at New York & Erie Railroad. Another example is the invention of the printing press. Before that, the books were copied by hand. No matter how many people were doing that the literacy did not spread. It was impossible to teach people to write using book copying. What was needed was a vast increase in the number of books being read - and only after that people began trying to reproduce what they were reading themselves. The invention of printing press increased the literacy significantly.

The author studied the distribution of number of contributions to Wikipedia. It turned out that most people did very few short contributions. For example, many people attempted to start an article but were not competent enough to write the whole thing. Thus they left after writing only an introduction. But such small contributions when accumulated build a solid encyclopedia.

IRC was mentioned as one of the most convenient means of communication but it is probably the hackers' paradise. But the author mentions an Internet company Meetup almost in every chapter. This is just one example of a web site that facilitates group building. In Europe it is not as popular as in the United States. The author describes other companies that his students have developed. There are lots of ideas that will inspire people from around the world.

Well written, with lots of examples, thought provoking, this book will entertain IT professionals and non-computer people alike. The book greatly benefits from the fact that the author is a professor and teacher as the clarity and structure of the text is of very high quality. To me it is an invaluable historical evidence of present day changes which people will keep analyzing for a long time.
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on July 18, 2009
Finally finished this one. It took longer as it's on paper, not Kindle so only read at home.

Shirky rocks. 99% of the About the New Ways of things type books are either repetitive, weak or otherwise simply suck. Other reviewers have pointed out places where he's missed a couple of references or been repetitive of other work. This is usually true of any non-fiction which has research within it's basis. Shirky's themes and concepts though, are truly well presented and add something to the perspective on today's social media. If you've ever heard Clay Shirky speak, you can tell fairly quickly he's the real deal. I especially like the way he weaves in Transaction Cost Theory, (from Ronald Coase's Theory of the Firm in 1937), as related to Social Media. I've always liked this theory for other general business reasons, but it makes solid sense here. Here's a favorite passage from the book. (This one doesn't have to do with transaction costs, but rather, helps frame the 'why' around why what's going on now may be a confusing sort of change.

"The social urge to share information isn't new. Prior to e-mail and weblogs, we clipped articles and published family newsletters. Recalling these older behaviors, it's tempting to conclude that our new tools are merely improvements on existing behaviors; this view is both right and wrong. The improvement is there, but it is an improvement so profound that it creates new effects. Philosophers sometimes make a distinction between a difference in degree (more of the same) and a difference in kind (something new). What we are witnessing today is a difference in the degree of sharing so large it becomes a difference in kind."

So here's the thing... I think people do get confused by these sorts of things. They don't necessarily see the fundamental aspects of certain changes because they may think they've already happened. (Kind of like the proverbial frog who doesn't get out of the pot as due to the slowly rising temperature, he doesn't realize the water is boiling.)

There is a fair amount of anecdotal filler in the book. But that could just be me since I work in the industry and already knew a lot of the stories. But in general, if you're someone who doesn't quite understand why people contribute in social media, this is a book you should read. If you're in any kind of business doing any kind of online marketing at all and you don't get this stuff yet, it's a book you need to read.
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on May 3, 2009
Subtitled "The power of organizing without organizations," the latest edition of Skirky's 2008 book is a rich collection of well-documented case studies illustrating the affects social media have on the way that people behave. Shirky contends that social media platforms such as Facebook, Flickr and Wikipedia are successful because they feed an underlying human desire for group participation. That is, it's less about the technology and more about overcoming obstacles to our natural group-oriented desires.

The advent and growth of social media technologies in recent years creates an entirely new ecosystem for communications. As a result, information-age industries (such as newspapers) that depending on the old ecosystem to thrive are gasping. Laws related to freedom of the press and whistle-blowing still depend on outdated definitions of `media' and `journalist'... It's difficult to differentiate between `blogger' and `journalist'... These symptoms the underlying `loss of professional control' newspapers are experiencing in the new ecosystem.

One of the key learnings from Here Comes Everybody is how well social networks thrive through inefficiency. The power of social networks doesn't come from connecting everyone to everyone else. It comes from the power of connecting enough dedicated, like-minded people within huge overwhelming population of passive and inactive peers on any given topic.

Via social media, we've become a thriving microcosm of the infinite monkey theorem, which states "that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare." In Here Comes Everybody you see how chaos feeds the underlying organization that drives social networks.

See the full review here: [...]
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on May 6, 2010
This book made me really appreciate Malcolm Gladwell. Shirky certainly knows his stuff, and has interesting (although predictable) examples that illustrate his point; reading another telling of the Linux and Wikipedia story offers little excitement but some really interesting ideas.

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).
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on July 14, 2008
I've read almost all the books on how social media is changing business and I can say that "Here Comes Everybody" is the very best. Don't even think of blogs, communities or social networks as part of your marketing strategy until you read this book. Why? It explains clearly -- yet oh so thoroughly -- why people want to connect and contribute(or not)to communities and groups.

It also puts the tools discussion into the proper context: First establish the group's promise, and then select the tool to support the promise. In my experience too many companies are investing in the tools and then trying to figuring out how to create business communities with those tools.

Clay also provides some fascinating insights into what makes a community coalesce: you don't need huge numbers of highly-active people for a community to be effective. Because today's tools remove barriers to participation a small number of highly-involved people can do most of the heavy lifting and "people who care a little can participate a little, while being effective in the aggregate."

Bonus points -- the book is well written, rich in illustrative stories, and well organized.
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on November 20, 2014
What I really liked in this book is how people can be organized in complex relationships by referring to each other, no matter what is the media and not depending on various levels of hierarchy. The ability of human kind to function in large groups becomes crystal clear through this simple, interesting and easy to read book!
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on May 19, 2013
This book really captures one of the main elements about how the Internet is changing our society and our world. The accessibility that everyone has not only to the Internet, but by extension, to each other has significantly changed our lives in ways we can't begin to imagine, but Clay Shirky has tried and, I think, succeeded in nailing down some definitive elements of what those changes mean and what they are. This book is one of my favorites for describing the impact of modern technology on the modern era.
It's a great audiobook; well-read and well-produced. I'm lovin' it.
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