Brendan's Reviews > Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky
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's review
Sep 09, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: 2009, non-fiction, digital-era, advice-theory
Read in November, 2009

Shirky’s book makes a strong argument for ways to understand how the new digital environment shifts how we behave and how we collaborate. He outlines a number of key concepts (none particularly striking or new, but a good primer for them) and explains how the digital era has changed them. A few notes:

* Tagging and digital groups reverse the order from “gather, then share” to “share, then gather.” In other words, groups like those on Flickr spawn independently of organized effort.
* The power law that applies to online collaborations is an useful idea: a few people contribute a whole lot, while most contribute hardly anything. Oddly, it’s the same distribution as money in our current system.
* As costs of failure drop, online communities can afford to have lots of it. This explains the open source community, which has literally thousands of failed projects, but which isn’t hurt by these in the way a commercial business would have been.
* I like Shirky’s careful approach to the realm of the digital, neither lauditory nor grim. He suggests that the changes bring about changes, but that they cause disruptions in some places and benefits in others, often at the same time.

One quote for you today:

One of the arguments for new technologies is that they enable new freedoms to their citizens. This argument “assumes that the value of freedom outweigh the problems… because freedom is the right thing to want for society. The pro-freedom argument does not imply a society with no regulations. Two acts of civil disobedience in the twentieth century history of the United States demonstrate this. The decisions of much of the population to ignore the constitutional prohibition on alcohol consumption in the 1920s, and the fifty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit in the 1980s, ultimately destroyed those restrictions. The restrictions failed because the cost of enforcement, especially the level of surveillance, was incompatible with a free society.” (306)

I couldn’t help but hope that in fifty years a third regulatory change will be in evidence: the demise of old-style long-lived copyright.

It’s an interesting book, and worth reading.

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