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Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

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'Here Comes Everybody' is an examination of how the spread of new forms of social interaction enabled by technology is changing the way humans form and exist within groups, with profound long-term economic and social effects, for good and for ill.

327 pages, Hardcover

First published February 28, 2008

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About the author

Clay Shirky

22 books243 followers
Mr. Shirky divides his time between consulting, teaching, and writing on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. His consulting practice is focused on the rise of decentralized technologies such as peer-to-peer, web services, and wireless networks that provide alternatives to the wired client/server infrastructure that characterizes the Web. Current clients include Nokia, GBN, the Library of Congress, the Highlands Forum, the Markle Foundation, and the BBC.

In addition to his consulting work, Mr. Shirky is an adjunct professor in NYU's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), where he teaches courses on the interrelated effects of social and technological network topology -- how our networks shape culture and vice-versa. His current course, Social Weather, examines the cues we use to understand group dynamics in online spaces and the possible ways of improving user interaction by redesigning our social software to better reflect the emergent properties of groups.

Mr. Shirky has written extensively about the internet since 1996. Over the years, he has had regular columns in Business 2.0, FEED, OpenP2P.com and ACM Net_Worker, and his writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review, Wired, Release 1.0, Computerworld, and IEEE Computer. He has been interviewed by Slashdot, Red Herring, Media Life, and the Economist's Ebusiness Forum. He has written about biotechnology in his "After Darwin" column in FEED magazine, and serves as a technical reviewer for O'Reilly's bioinformatics series. He helps program the "Biological Models of Computation" track for O'Reilly's Emerging Technology conferences.

Mr. Shirky frequently speaks on emerging technologies at a variety of forums and organizations, including PC Forum, the Internet Society, the Department of Defense, the BBC, the American Museum of the Moving Image, the Highlands Forum, the Economist Group, Storewidth, the World Technology Network, and several O'Reilly conferences on Peer-to-Peer, Open Source, and Emerging Technology.

Prior to his appointment at NYU, Mr. Shirky was a Partner at the investment firm The Accelerator Group in 1999-2001, an international investment group with offices in New York, Los Angeles, and London. The Accelerator Group was focused on early stage firms, and Mr. Shirky's role was technological due diligence and product strategy.

Mr. Shirky was the original Professor of New Media in the Media Studies department at Hunter College, where he created the department's first undergraduate and graduate offerings in new media, and helped design the current MFA in Integrated Media Arts program.

Prior to his appointment at Hunter, he was the Chief Technology Officer of the NYC-based Web media and design firm Site Specific, where he created the company's media tracking database and server log analysis software. Site Specific was later acquired by CKS Group, where he was promoted to VP Technology, Eastern Region.

Before there was a Web, he was Vice-President of the New York chapter of the EFF, and wrote technology guides for Ziff-Davis, including a guide to email-accessible internet resources, and a guide to the culture of the internet. He appeared as an expert witness on internet culture in Shea vs. Reno, a case cited in the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Communications Decency Act in 1996.

Mr. Shirky graduated from Yale College with a degree in art, and prior to falling in love with the internet, he worked as a theater director and designer in New York. His company, Hard Place Theater, staged "non-fiction theater", theatrical collages of found documents.

Mr. Shirky's writings are archived at shirky.com, and he currently runs the N.E.C. mailing list for his writings on networks, economics, and culture.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 490 reviews
Profile Image for Caroline.
498 reviews557 followers
May 20, 2015
I love the title of this book - Here Comes Everybody - and that is exactly what is celebrated here.

Shirky discusses the way the internet has made coming together and communicating infinitely easier for people, and the ways in which the structure of certain groups at places like flickr or Meetup facilitate this getting together. He also talks about internet groups that have had startling effects in the real world.....like the organisation of flash-mobs, or mass protests that have made big corporations change their policies, or channels of communication that have enabled political activists to keep tabs on one another.

He also discusses the intimacy found in groups on the internet, which explains why so much of the conversation on Facebook or Twitter appears to be so facile. These aren't people tweeting messages of importance to the world, but rather people tweeting to five or so close friends - friends who are happy to see pix of their new haircut, or to read about what they had for lunch. These snips are not meant for the cold outsider's eye, but for the close coterie of friends that most people have, within the giant outer wrapper that is Facebook or whatever.

He also discusses celebrity - be it the celebrity of a well known film star or the celebrity of a famous blogger. In these instances two way communication is obviously severely restricted, and the role of friend (found in intimate groups) morphs into follower. There is massive disparity between those on the internet whose work is popular verus not so popular. Basically there are very few people whose output is prolific, or who are extemely popular.

There is also a lot of fascinating discussion about Wikipedia - about how its ethos has encouraged good practice, about the rules in place to prevent vandalism, and about the ways in which different people contribute towards it. Did you know that they 'lock' contentious topics until people's temper tantrums have quietened down? Whilst the likelihood of these pages being vandalised is high only Wikipedia members are allowed to edit them. At any given time about 10% of Wikipedia's pages are locked in this fashion. Another thing I found fascinating is that a lot of its pages start out as 'stubs'. This means that someone will just put down a sentence or two - merely to indicate that the topic needs covering. In time, more and more detailed information will be added to the topic. One example is 'asphalt'; the original description laid down for this was "Asphalt is a material used for road coverings". One hundred and twenty-nine people went on to edit this topic - and the description for asphalt now has the level of detail we associate with Wikipedia entries.

The book also celebrates other generators of open source information available on the internet. All the hundreds of people working on things like Linux programmes, or contributing to Genbank (a public database of genetic sequences), or contributing to one of the myriad other organisations giving out their knowledge and expertise for free. I am personally always blown over by the generosity of people on the internet, and the amazing access to information that is there for the asking, and thoroughly enjoyed these parts of the book.

Another aspect of modern communication that was explored was the collapse between amateur and professional in several areas of life. The reproduction of music, journalism and photography, have all been deeply affected by the rise of the internet and technology which enables all of us to cheaply and easily do these things. The author doesn't say that these boundaries have disappeared completely, but the perimeters have changed.

All in all I found this an interesting read. A good book for anyone who uses the internet - and as the title suggests - don't we all.


My favourite example of cooperation via the internet - Matt Harding dancing his way around the world...

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Ken.
128 reviews17 followers
July 12, 2008
Why did you log in to GoodReads today? What is behind the explosion of Internet-based social networking in all its forms, from e-mail, to listservs, to Facebook, Flickr and Twitter? And more important: what does this new wave of truly participatory media bode for the future?

Clay Shirky takes on these big questions in Here Comes Everybody, and the result is an engaging, eye-opening book that draws upon social change theory, economics, and psychology. Shirky contends that the Internet, cell phones and other two-way communications technologies have lowered the barriers to group formation, such that people are organizing to great effect in ways that would have been impossible just a few years ago. This is taking place in all sorts of ways: social groups, political action groups, photo sharing, news and information sharing, lifestyle support groups, the list goes on and on.

Shirky believes that the power of these new tools at our disposal will be harnessed collectively in a positive direction. He acknowledges that many individuals seek to disrupt cooperative efforts (look at spammers, or "trolls" on mailing lists, for instance). Tools that are overrun by those seeking to disrupt them, though, were flawed in some way, and will fall away in favor of tools such as Wikipedia that correct for such vandalism.

What of corporate and governmental entities trying to screen/censor Internet content? Shirky believes that such efforts are doomed to failure: due to the nature of the technology itself, people will find a way around those attempted impositions. So far, world events bear out his perspective.

Shirky doesn't deal much with inequities in access to these communications tools. But that may be peripheral to his point: after all, not everyone had access to a printing press, yet its relatively widespread availability led to great change all over the world. And anyway, Shirky isn't crazy enough to say that the new ease of organizing will eradicate inequality throughout the world.

Here Comes Everybody is an important counterpoint to those who think that social networking is just a popularity contest for kids, or who bemoan the "narcissism" of people who put their information into MySpace. There's a whole lot more going on there, and people of all generations are beginning to figure that out.
Profile Image for Catherine.
354 reviews
June 24, 2009
If you're someone who wonders what those kids are up to these days, and you've heard of facebook but don't know what it does, and someone mentioned twitter to you once, but that pretty much escapes you - this is the book for you.

Needles to say, it was not the book for me.

Much of this book is spent describing various social networking / new media sites, and exploring their function as part of an altered vision of social organizing. The internet, runs Shirky's argument, allows users to cut out the middle man - they write their own news stories; they offer their own editorials; they organize their own events; they act in concert to focus on issues of social justice, and in short, the whole world's experiencing a revolution.

Except . . . that's where his book falls down. Beyond the first chapter, there's no mention of the 'whole world' in this book, or the vast numbers of people who live without, say, electricity, much less an iPhone. New technologies and social media sites may be changing the globe, but that change is top down, from wealthy countries to poor countries; from certain classes within countries, and there's a set of power relations being appropriated and expanded there that Skirky's book doesn't address. Power may - may! - be becoming more diffuse in the United States (although I find that a little hard to swallow, to be honest) but the power dynamics of the United States vs. the rest of the world are only exacerbated by new technology, not erased. It's a serious lack in the book that this doesn't come up.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,168 reviews68 followers
August 26, 2009
This should be required reading for all librarians, if for nothing else than Chapter 3, in which he mentions how the people inside the institutions have the hardest time seeing how the institution is becoming obsolete. (yikes! but true!) AND Chapter 5 in which he explains how Wikipedia works. I also loved the later chapters on the importance of failures, and how institutions often have a hard time letting things go because they've already paid for them.

This "failure"concept first occurred to me in about, oh 1987 or so, when I went to the Newport Music Hall in Columbus to see Nazareth. Yes, this was about 10 years past Nazareth's "prime" such as it was and I remember having the epiphany "I've already spent $10 (or whatever) to get in here, and I can't get it back, wouldn't I rather be ANYWHERE but here right now? Why should I be even MORE miserable just because I spent $10? He uses this analogy (only talking about people sitting through bad movies) for the same reasons people don't pull the plug on projects that obviously aren't working.

Not to mention he answers many of the unenlightened critics of blogs, Twitter, and Facebook in beautiful, easy to read language. Even if you're in his "choir" I challenge you not to think while reading this very thought provoking book.
Profile Image for Irena.
396 reviews83 followers
November 6, 2013
After reading Morozov, I just can't take this seriously. Shirky sounds super enthusiastic about group forming, power of groups, yeey..
First anecdote with the lost phone makes a great point and then the book goes downhill.
Shirky is cyber-utopianism galore. I can't--
Profile Image for Josh Braun.
9 reviews7 followers
May 8, 2008
Reprinted from my website:

Clay Shirky's new book, Here Comes Everybody is at once highly readable and a massive undertaking. He sets out to explain, as many recent authors have done, how new communication technologies and the people who use them are changing the world we live in. This is a task so large that, to my mind, no one's really done it successfully. But watching people try is always enlightening. In effect, reading through books on Internet and society is like watching a multitude of really smart blind folks grope the proverbial elephant. I claim no special knowledge as to what the final shape of the beast may be, but I will say that some descriptions are more satisfying than others, and this is one of them.

The author makes a number of fascinating arguments in the book, but these I see as the main ones:

(1) The Internet and new communications technologies have caused the cost and difficulty of forming groups to collapse, and as a result, online groups frequently perform tasks that traditional organizations won't take on because the resources involved in traditional infrastructure and management would make these tasks unprofitable.

(2) Because of the traditional cost of publishing, much of the overhead involved in the workings of traditional organizations has been in the cost of selecting, gathering, and filtering information and ideas that are ready for prime time. But this only makes sense when it costs something to put your product out there. New groups aren't limited to the number of column-inches they can print, or the amount of airtime they can spare. It makes more sense for them to "publish then filter." To put everything out there, then see what sticks among users and readers. As a result, the Internet is filled with a few great things, and near-endless crap. But on the whole, this system produces more cool stuff than the expensive professional systems of production that came before. Moreover, online groups get value from users who contribute next to nothing, simply because they don't have to pay for the privilege of using those people's good ideas, however few and far between they might be. Organizations can't afford to hire one-hit-wonders, and while they may benefit from hiring the most productive people, they also can't take advantage of the tiny contributions made by the least productive folks, which are actually valuable in aggregate.

(3) Shirky concludes that three things are necessary, but not sufficient, for new-style groups to be successful. First, they must put forward a "plausible promise" ( Eric Raymond's term). That means, they must promise users something for their efforts that seems both engaging enough and realistic enough to inspire their participation. Second, they must employ an appropriate tool for users to work together. A blog or a wiki isn't good for just any task. Shirky emphasizes that tools must take into account the number of people a group involves and the length of time a group must exist. Finally, the group must strike an appropriate bargain with users. This ranges from the terms in the license agreement—"Wikipedia will never sell your work"—to the rules and norms that are set for participation.

Overall, I think Shirky makes a compelling case for these theses. The second chapter, on Cosean economics, is particularly well-argued, and I'll be assigning it to students next semester. Casual readers should get a great deal of food-for thought out of Here Comes Everybody, and academic readers will be pleased as well.

From a theoretical standpoint, Shirky's book provides a lot of mill-grist for scholars engaged in the long-standing debates over technological determinism. He denies that the mere act of technological invention changes societies, saying that technologies only become socially interesting once they've become ubiquitously adopted. Discussions of how people co-create tools and content are also at the heart of his book, and he suggests at the outset that technology merely offers affordances for our hardwired group-forming instincts. In short, there are many paeans here to the notion of technology as socially constructed.

At the same time, Shirky is at times very much in the "technology as revolution" camp. He suggests that our control over technological adoption is limited—comparing the progress of the information age to steering a kayak. We have some control, but the path is largely inevitable.

Shirky may be synthesizing constructionist and determinist perspectives in interesting ways, but he's bound to draw some criticism from entrenched theorists in the process. He employs the widespread adoption of the printing press and moveable type as an example of a previous world-changing technological revolution, which has been one of the most contentious historical examples with which social scientists examining technology have bludgeoned each other.

His claim that online communities succeed or fail based in large part on whether their tools support the longevity and size of their endeavors mirrors Harold Innis' claim that successful empires require communication technologies that extend their rule over time and physical expanse—scholars who read Innis as a technological determinist may push on this notion in exploring Shirky's work.

In the end, though, the book is a collection of sharp, highly readable thinking about not just the possibilities, but also the hard truths, surrounding new communication technologies. It's a must-read for people interested in these topics, and an early entry into what I hope will become a larger corpus of academic literature detailing the influences on, and day-to-day realities of, online groups in as thorough and critical a manner as previous generations of scholars looked at media professions from filmmaking to journalism.
Profile Image for Raluca.
721 reviews30 followers
March 17, 2020
The book starts with a story on how some guy retrieved his friend's stolen phone through the power of social media. A few pages later, Shirky speaks about "weblogs". And I thought I knew where this was going, and I was already pre-planning my "well, what do you expect from a book from 2008" review.
I was wrong. Move past the somewhat clickbaity beginning and you'll discover a thorough, well argumented, and accessible commentary of why social media isn't like traditional media, and a balanced, non-partisan account of its triumphs and tribulations. Shirky's academic background shines without him being smug and obfuscating. I thought this book would be outdated, turns out it's a classic.

(Did not fit into the PopSugar Reading Challenge 2020 - it would've, but I've already used those captions)
Profile Image for Natali.
422 reviews301 followers
July 10, 2009
This may be one of the best ethnographies of our time. Clay Shirky explores the ways in which technology has altered news consumption, social work, networking, self expression, and more. He argues that new media technologies are as revolutionary as the printing press and movable type once were.

Shirky takes examples from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Digg. Those tools are still the leaders in social media but he could just as easily have written this five years ago using Friendster, Yahoo Groups, Kodak Gallery, or Lycos. The message would have been the same: people use the tools at their disposal to be heard. The beauty of open source and the socialistic nature of the Web allows the next generation of social media to learn from the first generation and create increasingly effective tools. It can only get better.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in user behavior and (post)modern communication. A few thoughts that I am still chewing on include:

"The definition of journalist, seemingly a robust and stable profession, turns out to be tied to particular forms of production as well."
So when the barriers to production drop and anyone can disseminate news, how does a professional journalist adapt and remain relevant?

"This potential seems as if it should allow everyone to interact with everyone else, undoing the one-way nature of television. But calling that potential interactivity would be like calling a newspaper interactive because it publishes letters to the editor."
Precisely my thinking when I see newscasters pushing their Twitter accounts on the air! So what is true interactivity in mass media? I don't think we've figured it out yet.

"We have lost the clean distinctions between communications media and broadcast media."
Can we get it back? More importantly, is that desirable? And if it is not desirable, will the outcome be a more informed news audience that places different (more socially responsible) demands on the professional media? Or is that overly Utopic?
Profile Image for Georg.
Author 1 book39 followers
January 18, 2010
This book unfolds and explains an interesting theory about the internet and how it changed modern communication, our day-to-day life and our thinking. I liked his description of the steps from the medieval scribers to Gutenberg's printing technique, from the telephone and the radio/TV to the first years of the Internet and then the generation of Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. It opened my eyes how much this revolution arose from economic (and time sparing) facts and rules and how professional writers saw the wrong danger for their professional future (not "America Today", but "The New York Times-online"). I learnt a lot of details I have never been aware of: That flash-mobs took place in Belorus for political reasons, that the Germans tanks in the Blitzkrieg were inferior to the French ones, but were equipped with radios, the development of Small World Patterns, and Linus and Meetup, and many other interesting details as well.

Now we get two the two stars I did not give to this book. First it's the lack of speed, especially in the beginning chapters. I mean how many words do you need to explain that it is slightly cheaper, quicker and more efficient to create a website to reach a million of readers in 2006 A.D. than to do the same by distributing hieroglyphics in 2006 B.C.? I think 34 words are enough to get he idea, but Shirky thinks it should take at least 20 pages.

Second – and that's probably only my problem – I have too often read about the "Birthday Paradox" in the last months. In many books and in most of the big papers. Seems to be en vogue nowadays. And it never works for me. Asked if I would take a bet if two of 50 people share the same birthday I would always say yes. Not because I look through the obscure rules of probability-math because I – as a professional gambler (lawyer) – take ANY wager no matter how bad my chances are. The same has to be said for the Evergreen “Prisoner’s Dilemma”. Next time I will read about his I will swear to whistle-blow everyone for every atrocity, no matter if he’s guilty or no
January 29, 2009
This book really hit home in terms of the amazing changes that are occurring because of the read/write web and the digital tools that are available to everybody. Amazing cultural and social shifts are occurring. One of my favorite quotes from the book (and there are many) is - We're not dealing with information overload, that's been happening since the 1500s with the invention of the printing press, we're dealing with filter failure.
Profile Image for Mike W.
59 reviews35 followers
August 23, 2010
Clay Shirky's book is enjoyable and worth reading, though the main point--that technological change has lowered communications costs tremendously, thereby also encouraging group formation--is obvious. The book is really a collection of anecdotes illustrating this central point. These anecdotes cover a wide range--from the creation of Wikipedia to a fashion obsessed blogger undermining a military coup to an online chat group for anorexics--and are generally interesting.
47 reviews1 follower
August 26, 2016
I really ought to write a fairer review. Alas, time constraints mean that I never get around to it. I end up snarking or kvelling way more than a book deserves, and never correct my initial impressions with a systematic review. So, I'll be lazy again and simply paste a few things I wrote to my friend, Dwayne Monroe:

Breaking: Clay Shirky discovers the sun. News at 11!

Clay Shirky needs to stop drinking kool-aid laced sterno. In his book, Here Comes Everybody, he concludes with this amazing news!

"What the open source movement teaches us is that the communal can be at least as durable as the commercial. For any given piece of software the question "Do the people who like it take care of each other?" turns out to be a better predictor of success than "What's the business model?" As the rest of the world gets access to the tools once reserved for techies, that pattern is appearing everywhere, and it is changing society as it does."

good christ on a broken pogo stick!

Watch out people! The revolution is coming. Any day now. The newsgroup alt.i.hearts.cats, Wikipedia, Myspace, Facebook, and even the programming language, Perl -- all of them are instantiations of a new, exciting world. Whereas community "has not historically been a good guarantor longevity," that is all changing with the advent of the InterToobz, social networking sites, and open source software. With this new technology community and love are remade in ways that have never been possible before.

Wide-eyed statements like this and claims that community "has not historically been a good guarantor of longevity" make me wonder if I'd do the world a favor by spending my free time looking for the rock Shirky lives under and turning it over so the guy can get some sunlight and vitamin D or something.

Yeah. Completely unfair. Whatever. (But please note: this is the internet, and this unfair review - my worse nature - is encouraged by it with the incessant demand for speed, short news cycles, new-new-new, and - most of all - short and easy to read. Alas, I'll get to that later.)

While there are some decent aspects of Shirky's book, I think my friend Dwayne is right. Shirky was awesome to follow, years ago. He was writing for an Internet [1] audience, typically a lot of bright programmers, developers, and network admins. This book seems to be written for marketing people and Vice Presidents (whatever that means these days): the technologically sophisticated and even restrained analyses I used to read from him are no more. Instead, his writing seems dumbed down and ginned up with the wide-eyed posturing in an effort to push an idea. As noble as it might be, I'd rather have the sophisticated analysis.

Here's an example of what I mean, in Shirky's first chapter, a quickie I dashed off to Dwayne Monroe and Doug Henwood after reading the first chapter:

Shirky opens the book with the story of a lost/stolen Sidekick phone. The woman who lost it in a cab told a friend about the loss, distraught because it contained all her information for planning her wedding. The friend creates a web page, stolensidekick.com. The link to the site gets passed from friend to friend, then on to Myspace, and then to Digg.

The friend was motivated to start the site because, while he'd figured out who had the phone and managed to get hold of the young woman, he had made no headway with her. She refused to return it and was getting pissy with him. She told the sidekick's owner that she and her friends and family would beat them up if they tried to come to their home and get their phone back.

The guy was outraged and did what a lot of people do. They share their story online, in order to vent. Friends picked it up, passed it on, it went viral. With the encouragement of outraged readers, and on the advice of people trying to help him to get the cops to see it as a theft issue, not just a loss issue, he keeps at it, writing 40 updates on the issue across ten days.

Eventually, the police agree to treat it as a theft and the girl is arrested. The Sidekick is returned to its rightful owner.

Shirky thinks this is a revolutionary example of how "we are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action -- all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations."

Except one big thing. Well, two things, both of which are traditional institutions and organizations: the New York Times (and the rest of the 3v1l MSM) and the cops. In all likelihood, he would never have gotten the sidekick back without these two, uh, "traditional institutions and organizations."

Shirky, himself, points out that things never would have changed -- the cops would never have treated it as a theft issue -- had the NYT not gotten wind of the story. But he manages to completely forget that bit when writing his wide-eyed-with-wonder "hallelujah! it's a revolution going on right before our eyes"-summary of how the story illustrates his thesis.

fish. barrel. smoking gun.

Shirky makes it too easy to blow holes into his tales of how the Web is supposedly changing everything -- and Everybody. They are coming alright. But it's not going to be pretty, lemme tell ya.

[1] (yes: I capitalize the word Internet. shoot me. I'm old anyway. )

Profile Image for Alexander Smith.
210 reviews34 followers
June 3, 2018
This book argues through stories what people thought technology was going to do back in 2010, but it never exactly did. It utilizes a lot of really useful theories, but it takes a lot of liberties in interpreting them into a heuristic for how people use technology (or don't) often using anecdotal evidence in a really formulaic pattern:

(1) anecdote to support a future claim -> (2) social theory -> (3) unpacking of social theory in context of the anecdote, usually with extreme liberties -> (4) several small anecdotes which support loose ends of liberties taken.

I find myself wanting better justification for almost every claim made in the book even though I have already read significantly about many of the subjects here and largely know what is accurate and not.
Profile Image for Judyta Szacillo.
173 reviews24 followers
June 17, 2014
If you have spent the last 20 years of your life in blissful ignorance of what was happening around you, it may as well turn out to be a fascinating book for you. However, if you are capable of watching the world around you and making your own conclusions, I wouldn't bother in your place, and I feel sorry that I did. It was a waste of time as I have not learnt anything new. The narrative flows nicely enough, but there are far too many repetitions, too many occurrences of only slightly rephrased points, some faulty translations and a number of spelling mistakes, at least in my edition.
Profile Image for Jerry.
28 reviews40 followers
March 31, 2008
Clay and Yochai Benkler have been the best recent chroniclers of how business is being changed by the new self-organizing capabilities of the Net.

Where Yochai's writing is pretty academic (sorry, Yochai), Clay's is crisp, accessible and full of nuggety goodness.

Clay's a great storyteller, and chooses his stories wisely to drive home the points of how much things have changed in a decade.
Profile Image for Patrick Brown.
141 reviews2,453 followers
April 2, 2010
A life-changing book, comparable to The Omnivore's Dilemma in how it reshaped my thinking on a subject. Highly recommended for anyone interested in how the web is impacting social interaction. While Shirky can drift into techno-utopianism from time to time, he seems to always look at the world with fresh eyes. Unlike other writers on the subject, Shirky's prose is clear, and his examples are quite convincing.
Profile Image for Magdelanye.
1,621 reviews197 followers
August 25, 2019
The hallmark of revolution is that the goals of the revolution cannot be contained by the institutional structure of the existing society. p107

The tech revolution that CS documents here continues to disrupt not only the way business is done but the way we think about business. This includes not only our business relations but extends insidiously to all our relationships, including our intimate ones. CS seems to believe that this is the cutting edge of exciting developments foreshadowing a time when social problems can easily be fixed by motivated collective action via networked groups.

One of the most severe problems with a book like this is the fact that it so quickly becomes redundant if not obsolete. This book was published 10 years ago and while it contains some lovely insights and interesting anecdotes, the enthusiasm for social change that CS displays seems misplaced. It is not tech that will initiate social change but people who are willing to change.
How we use tech and how tech is used to control us is given only cursory attention here, and accessibility is not considered much of an obstacle. Ten years on, virtual companionship notwithstanding, people are still lonely and possibly more disconnected than ever from their own lives.

At least some of the motivation to buy comes from the desire to alleviate the loneliness of watching television. p88

On the internet, because of the many kinds of transactions that are available, we can easily fool ourselves into thinking that we are in control of a vast amount of information and resources. In my observations, this is turning us lazy and relegating us to the lowest common denominator.

In fact, I wish I could share CS's optimism. More than anything I would like to believe that people are all essentially goodhearted and that all we need is a chance to connect. Instead, we are bombarded with evidence that people are fearful and greedy and mean-spirited and that many people couldn't give a flying fuck about meaningful connection. The electric interface may dangle the illusion of interaction, but all the earnest little blogs, web pages and fundraising efforts of well intentioned individuals are barely noticeable amidst the gigantic advertising/brainwashing campaigns and the slogans that have taken over the minds of those who have never learned to think for themselves.

In his epilogue CS concludes:Our principle challenge is not to decide where we want to go but rather to stay upright as we go there. I tend to disagree. I believe it is imperative that we make some necessary changes and it is up to us to decide on a new direction or carry on to extinction.
Whether the internet will be a helpful tool or a massive diversion remains to be seen. Over-reliance on our tools and toys just seems dangerous.
Profile Image for Bernard O'Leary.
305 reviews57 followers
February 4, 2017
A book that describes the exciting new text-messaging service called Twitter can only be described as quaint, but I see how it would have been revolutionary at the time of publication. Shirky understood the significance of online collaboration back then, at a time when everyone else thought MySpace was an amusing toy.

He also comes close to guessing, at various points, that these changes won't all necessarily be positive. For the most part, he sticks with the tech-utopian populist vision of a world where The People, unencumbered by The Elites, will only do good things, because The People are inherently good. Occasionally, however, there is a dark note, and a fear that things will go wrong. One observation that really sticks out in 2016: when a group emerges online, it very quickly reaches a state of homeostasis and becomes almost immune to influence from the outside.

Fairness to Clay, a lot of his contemporaries are still upbeat utopians, while the run-up to the election saw Clay become one of the angriest pundits on the text-messaging service known as Twitter. I hope he writes a book about what just happened in 2016.
Profile Image for Lena.
11 reviews1 follower
August 6, 2009
Well, it's now official: I made it to page 161 and stopped reading. I've now returned it to the library.

I realized a couple of things that made me stop:
1) The parts I enjoyed were the parts that I knew less about. The parts I knew a little bit more about (community based media and participatory art practices) contained some big factual holes or innacuracies. This made me skeptical about the parts I knew less about and therefore couldn't get so mad/annoyed/whatever about the things he glossed over or got wrong.

2) I said this in a reply to Ann's comment:
In my mind, his point is weakened because he used a traditional media channel to send out this message of the revolutionary times we are living in. I wish that he had successfully used the technologies he's claiming are changing our lives to hammer home his point. Instead, he resorts to a wonderful, yet what he seems to consider soon to be outdated media channel. Worse yet, it's one that he isn't terribly skilled in using. He would have been far better off sticking to short form and internet strategies.

2a) I'm pretty shocked at how much adulation this book is getting. I knew writing standards were rapidly on the decline, but at some point I think you have to have a good command of writing out an argument in order to be considered one of the authorities on the subject. Or (I'm not letting it go!) stick to formats that you are more effective communicating in.

Here are my previous comments, which are still true:

This book has been a moderately painful, but quick read.

I feel like this book is falling prey to so many of these "must read" books. It appears to me that Shirky is primarily a journalist used to short, punchy writing; and that he had a word count that needed to be met, so he's cobbled together some better thought out articles with some filler.

The first several chapters were full of sweeping statements about how revolutionary the internet is, with examples that are overused at best (moveable type/gutenberg press) and downright trite (shepherds and sheep? for real?!) at their worst. A discussion of media channels completely failed to even hint at the existence of community-based and -generated media pre-Internet.

At the half-way point, Shirky finally seems to be finding himself on more solid, better researched ground.

I think I'd enjoy reading an article in Wired, or on a blog, that was the wikipedia chapter. He seems generally interested and engaged in its evolution. He nicely points to larger social impacts tools like this might have while also noting that it feeds into social behaviors that have existed all along. I was relieved to get to this chapter.

I wish I could say I'm disappointed, but this is about what I expect from this type of book. It's being discussed a bunch, so I need to know what all the fuss is about. And it is, afterall, a fast read. To use a Shirky-esque cringe worthy analogy: it's like removing a band-aid or waxing your legs. You just take a deep breath, use one quick gesture and it's over quickly.

I have a few other thoughts that I will leave until I've finished the book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Martha.
6 reviews19 followers
June 2, 2009
Here Comes Everybody opens with a story of the everyday: someone loses a phone. But it is not just a someone and it is not just an everyday. This person happens to have a friend who is a savvy programmer and the day is now, where millions of people are connected through various online networks. The phone is found and returned, but Clay Shirky’s point is made: communities are growing so you need to understand them and how they change things.

Each chapter of the book covers a different way online communities have grown and changed our understanding of how things today are different because of the networks at our fingertips. Shirky discusses the delicate balance of sharing among communities; how it brings people together and how too much or too little can doom a network. He shows how more people with amateur capabilities can cause entire professions to have to adjust as is happening with journalism now. He also describes how lowering the barrier to allow more contribution permits more failures which means more avenues are explored and more creativity and insight gained.

Clay Shirky has a great understanding of the different values people place on networks. Not all groups must exist forever, and each case is different. Freedom of speech means that there may be groups forming that we do not approve of or think are valuable, such as pro-anorexia online forums. And even within the same network, people take on different roles. Some people remain active for long periods of time and anchor the group, while others drift in and out adding bits of value as they go.

The book is full of very strong observations and excellent stories. It is a wealth of knowledge for people who want to understand the motivations of individuals who are online today. It is equally important for those who think their job or company will remain the same throughout their lifetime.
Profile Image for Jakub.
40 reviews8 followers
February 10, 2012
This probably should not have been a book. It probably should have been an essay, in Wired magazine or maybe in The Atlantic. Shirky is a good writer, he writes clearly and entertainingly, but there just isn't enough substance in here to justify an almost 400 page book. There are a few [maybe two or 3] central ideas that are then expanded upon, examples are given, then more examples are given, and then finally padding is added.

I got the same kind of feeling reading this book as I do reading Malcolm Gladwell: least publishable unit. That is, both these writers have one or two solid ideas and then magically manage to expand them into full–length books.

The only way I can justify the length of this book and all of the examples and supporting materials that are used for his basically simple ideas is that he believes [or believed at the time that he was writing it] that these ideas are somehow controversial. But they are not controversial to me!

Yes, the Internet makes the formation of groups trivial. Yes, this changes the kinds of groups that can form, and what they can do, in a fundamental way. Yes, this will probably change how our society functions. Yes, this will have both good and bad implications for human society. These really are simple ideas and I don't understand why he needed 379 or whatever pages to explain it all.

Finally just like with other trendy books [like Gladwell], this is not a book that ages well. It was published in 2008, and already so much has changed with its subject matter [social groups on the Internet] in the last four years that this book feels incomplete, and almost [ALMOST] irrelevant.

There are a few interesting anecdotes, about the founding of Wikipedia for example, but again, nothing that could not have been contained in a feature essay in a good magazine.
Profile Image for Jami Kumar.
16 reviews3 followers
April 20, 2009
I learned about a new application called dodgeball (http://www.dodgeball.com/) but it looks like the site is being shut down. Basically, the service allowed you to subscribe and then if you were out on the town and you posted your location, it would notify everyone affiliated with your account and any of your friends accounts if you were in the same vicinity. It included a pic of the person in the phone so you could essentially meet a friend of a friend out without being previously introduced. Cool service.

This book also talked about the theory behind why open source and Wikipedia is so successful. This relies in the inherent desire of humans to improve something and so they will work harder or work on something period if they think they can contribute to making it better. This is essentially why Wikipedia does so well. There was a programmer that developed this hypothesis and he put two programs out for the public. The first was a simple program, the second was a very elegant program. The simple program eventually took off and was more widely used and developed due to the desire of others to make improvements to an initially simple function.

The author addresses the way social media sites give people the tools to act, but emphasizes its the design of the tool, along with other sometimes unforeseen circumstances, that allow people to mobilize and create an impact.
Profile Image for Jill.
876 reviews14 followers
March 6, 2009
Fantastic stuff. I'm already finding ways to use this (or at least have seen it) in so many places in my life. Those who are technological immigrants (Baby boomers, and early Gen-Xers) should read this to keep up on what is happening, and technological natives should read this to make sense of why the old way will be the ruin of some businesses (and non-profits, and political campaigns, and clubs, and...).

Of particular fascination to me was the way he talked about explicit and implicit promises, and the three things you need for an organizing tool to be successful today.

This was also a good meta analysis of many of the other sociological "greatest hits" of the last 5-10 years. He pulls in information from books like Bowling Alone, authors like Malcom Gladwell, and many of the most popular websites and writers. (And by popular I mean good, not just well liked.)

I even read the bibliography/end notes, it was that good. :)
Profile Image for Tasha Christensen.
Author 1 book14 followers
September 6, 2012
Clay Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody" is an anecdote-rich look into the changing world of social media and digital collaboration. He uses examples as varied as one man's quest to bring a phone thief to justice to Thai censorship during a military coup.

Perhaps one of the most important things that I garnered from this book is the switch we are undergoing from a vertical hierarchy to something much more spread out and amorphous. Almost monthly a new website becomes popular that enables users to upload, create, and collaborate in a new, creative way. From Facebook to Wikipedia to Goodreads, smart people are putting out these ingenious structures for users around the world to discover. The users then are responsible themselves for formulating the main content, a far cry from the past elitism of publishing houses and editorial staff.

Shirky's book is not necessarily mind-blowing, but it's an interesting read and written on a topic that definitely deserves attention.
Profile Image for John Gentry.
291 reviews2 followers
November 13, 2017
I had to read this book for one of my classes, Anthropology of Media and Culture. Perhaps this is what created my dislike of this book. The whole time reading I felt like it was all old news. I understand that Shirky is one of the foremost authorities when it comes to new types of media but I think his effort in creating this book was in vain. The events he references, the websites he talks about, etc. are all yesterdays news. This led the book to be dry and boring to me. I felt like the author was repeating himself over and over in order to make the same point: people can use the internet to get together and create change. There is the entire book in a nutshell. You don't need to read it any further everyone!
The only reason I give it two stars instead of one is because I give Mr. Shirky props for giving it the ol' college try and writing a book that is basically about something that is completely changing constantly.
Profile Image for Kressel Housman.
970 reviews222 followers
April 14, 2011
I read this immediately after What Would Google Do?, and I liked it much better. With its stories about organizing class action suits over the Internet and the example of Wikipedia, a collaborative labor of love, the book was much more human and much more like the Internet I use. Also, this book introduced me to the "tragedy of the commons." Why didn't someone explain it so simply when I was hanging around the communists? (Oh, well. At sixteen, would I have listened?)
Profile Image for Lilly.
409 reviews142 followers
February 25, 2009
This book's all about the rise of social tools (think twitter, facebook, meetup, etc) and how the lowered costs of social interactions have changed group dynamics. It's a great overview of the various movements and episodes they've inspired (who thought I'd look upon Twitter with such respect?) and of the role of technology in our lives. I thought it was well-written and a quick read, and it made me feel kinda cool again. You digg?
Profile Image for Atila Iamarino.
411 reviews4,362 followers
May 3, 2013
Ótima perspectiva sobre o que a internet tem trazido. Como a facilidade de agregar pessoas e formar grupos muda as relações que estabelecemos e o que é possível fazer. O livro mistura relatos que ilustram lições sobre como aquela situação só é possível através destas novas interações, uma boa combinação. Acho o complemento ideal para o What Technology Wants.
Profile Image for Lauren.
116 reviews30 followers
November 16, 2009
This book is a nice counterwork to Andrew Keen's (rather infantile) "The Cult of the Amateur." I first saw Shirky speak in a TED video, only to discover he'd taken many of the ideas I'd worked with in my college thesis on Wikipedia and brought them to a more well composed fruition. A recommended work for anyone with optimism for the future of the internet as it pertains to knowledge and learning.
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