Book: Here Comes Everyone by Clay Shirky

Good only if you don't already know about the social effects of the internet

Clay Shirky
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
Penguin, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59420-153-0
304 pages (main text)

The thesis of Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations is that the internet and the tools we use over it make it far easier for people to collaborate and that that sort of collaboration is producing a revolutionary change in society. The only problem with the book is that I don't know very many people who don't already think that's true. Of course, that may be a function of the people I know.

In the process of making his point, Mr Shirky gives us some interesting facts (who knew that Wikipedia was its founders' Plan B), some excellent examples, and many clear explanations. For example, he elegantly relates some of the changes that are happening to observations about transaction costs in Ronald Coase's 1937 essay "The Nature of the Firm". And it was news to me that it's almost impossible to characterize an average participant on Wikipedia (or in many social systems) because activity roughly follows a power-law distribution where mean, median, and mode are far apart. Mr Shirky even tells of some non-trivial uses of Twitter. But taken together those interesting aspects aren't enough to warrant reading the book unless you need to be persuaded that Mr Shirky's thesis is true. It's also a bit of a pity that he doesn't speculate a little about the sorts of social changes that will be coming next.

There are a few small factual errors in the book: High-dynamic-range photographs, when displayed in traditional ways such as on a computer monitor, do not have lighter highlights or darker shadows than ordinary photographs (p. 99). They have detail in a wider range of brightnesses. It doesn't require a philosopher to make a distinction between a difference in degree and a difference in kind (p. 149). GPL is generally used to refer to the GNU General Public License, not the GNU Public License (p. 241). The GPL that the Linux kernel is licensed under does not directly prevent Linus Torvalds (or anyone else) from selling or patenting it (p. 273). Instead, it ensures that the source code for it and any derivative works is available. Trolling does not just mean trolling for newbies (p. 281). And eBay's feedback system is not an especially good example of a successful reputation system at the moment since it is currently fraying a bit at the edges (p. 284).

Posted: Thu - June 12, 2008 at 07:04 PM   Main   Category: