Thursday, May 15, 2008

Here Comes Everybody

I finished Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody last night. I had read a review on Shelfari that said this book didn't say anything new, but was still worth reading. I think that sums things up. Anyway, here are some of the interesting points I took away.

  • Communications between groups is part of what makes us human, so any technologies that change how we do that will change society.
  • There are three levels of interactivity that increase in difficulty: Sharing (Flickr), Collaborating (Wikipedia), and collective action.
  • Not just anything counts as "user-generated content," it has to find an audience first.
  • Lots of the stuff on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter (etc.) seems so banal and pointless. Why is that? Because they're not talking to you! This is interesting since it's a public place to write messages to only certain people.
  • There are some times when people don't want professionally-produced content. He gives the example of singing Happy Birthday to his kids, they don't want a recording. This extends to journalism, photography, and other things as well.
  • In the past, there was Broadcast Media, which was one-way and one-to-many; and there was Communications Media, which was two-way and usually one-t0-one. Now we have ways of producing content that can be many-to-many. However, fame still applies. A famous blogger cannot give each reader individual attention, it's not socially possible with the imbalance of writers to readers.
  • "Communications tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring" (105).
  • Wikipedia is the result of a never-ending, collective argument.
  • In the 1960's, they thought improved communications would cut down on people's reason to travel. Evidence has since shown that the opposite is true. The better communication systems are, the more people travel.
  • New technologies make it easier for odd people to find each other, such as Meetup helping stay at home moms (SAHMs), witches, ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. It also helps terrorists and groups that don't have societal approval like the pro-anorexia movement.
  • Throughout the book, there is a theme of the online influencing real life, rather than replacing it. People are using online tools to act on real problems, to create support groups, and to meet up with people who have unusual shared interests. People aren't just sitting around on their computers and not meeting people face to face.

There was an interesting quote that involved librarians that I would love to hear him talk about more, since he studies information but not in the context of libraries. The first quote was this:

"In particular, when a profession has been created as a result of some scarcity, as with librarians or television programmers, the professionals are often the last ones to see it when that scarcity goes away. It is easier to understand that you face competition than obsolescence" (58-59).

That's the last time he mentions librarians, but shortly after he continued a similar train of thought:

"Professional self-conception and self-defence, so valuable in ordinary times, become a disadvantage in revolutionary ones [...] In some cases the change that threatens the profession benefits society, as did the spread of the printing press; even in these situations, the professionals can be relied on to care more about self-defense than about progress. What was once a service is now a bottleneck."

The printing press comment was talking about its effect on the professional scribes, and how it made them obsolete. I don't think he thinks that tv programmers are in danger, but I don't know what he means by librarians. Does he think we are obsolete? I really want to ask...

So overall, after being very impressed with the talk he gave at a Web 2.0 conference, I guess I had expectations that were too high of this book. Still, I got some interesting points. It may have all been said before, but it is said in a new way, he's very easy to read, and he illustrates his points with great examples.

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