Overview: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (Part 1)
I started reading this book because I’ve always been interested in people’s behavior, and in particular how that behavior is modified when people are in groups. I’ve read some of Clay Shirky’s work previously and have always found it very interesting and well thought out, although usually it is a bit long winded.
Here i’ll overview a few of the main concepts that Clay discusses in the book that I found the most interesting and what my thoughts were on them.
The first chapter of the book is an interesting story about a woman who forgot her phone in a cab which was then taken by another person. Through photo’s taken on the phone and put on the internet the original owner was able to see that someone was actively using the phone. After attempts were made to recover the phone it was clear that the person currently holding the phone had no intention of returning it. The police refused to treat it as stolen and insisted on keeping the case file under a different status like lost or misplaced. Through some creativity on the part of the person who lost the phone they were able to attract a huge audience online which was able to do a number of things, most notably figure out exactly who the person with the phone was, and also lobby the police successfully to convert the case file to consider the phone stolen instead of lost. The happy ending was the phone being returned and the person who had it being arrested.
The relevant information from the story was the large following the story had online. Hundreds and thousands of people followed the story and participated in an online discussion forum to talk about the incident. This all happened in a matter of days. How was this possible, to have thousands of people from around the world interested in this story and participating in it? This was something new that had not been experienced before. A group of unrelated people quickly forming in to a large, powerful, and most importantly influential force that were ultimately responsible for the return of the phone. Had it not been for the new ability to quickly and easily form a group that was able to lobby the police department to change the case to stolen rather than lost, the phone would have had no means for legal recovery.
I thought this story was a perfect first chapter for the book. It was interesting and captivating, and definitely got me excited to read the rest of the book. It gave a clear example of a scenario where a large group was able to come together in a flash, accomplish something that nothing less than a large group could have done, and then just as quickly as the group had formed, it vanished. This was something in the past that would have taken considerable coordination and effort, but those days are over.
The next chapters talk about how the simple desire to share things with other people interested in those same things is all it takes to create a community. The author’s example revolves around sharing pictures of a parade. Before the digital age this was a pretty complex task, people who are fans of a specific parade would have no real way to communicate with each other or share their pictures with each other. Then along came digital cameras, the internet, and Flickr (coincidentally my favorite photo sharing site/tool, if you aren’t using it, start now!). All that the people interested in a specific event need to do is post their pictures on Flickr and tag them with the name of the event, and they have instantly created a way to link themselves together. A search for images tagged with that event name will show them all the other people posting pictures of that event. The ability to share your work with others interested in the same thing allows new groups of people to come together that would not have been able to before.
The interesting point for me in this section of the book was the illumination of how much easier it is to find people with common interests. It’s no secret that people like to find other people who have something in common with themselves, so now that it’s easy to find those people, what will change? Some things like simply being able to see pictures from other people interested in the same event as you, to a large group that are mad about somebody finding a phone and refusing to return it to the rightful owner are only 2 examples and barely scratch the surface.
The next interesting portion of the book talks about something that has been getting a lot of media attention lately, and that’s the fact that anybody who wants to can now be a media outlet. If you’ve published a blog post, podcast, or put photo’s online, you’re a media outlet. This is causing a large shift in the way people receive and distribute news and information. People who don’t have to go through an editor to have their work published often get their information out faster. They also don’t have any of the same regulations and guidelines in place for their work as professional journalists do. There are a number of things changing because of this, like the inevitable end of the way people currently receive news. This doesn’t mean that the companies that currently deliver the news will cease to exist, but it does mean that they’re going to have to change their business model to take advantage of the new tools available.
This covers the first few chapters of the book and was some of the most interesting reading. It really got the thought processes going on how easy group forming and easy collaboration has changed the way that things can happen, as well as how slowly new technologies actually change societal patterns of behavior, but once they do, how profound the effects actually are.
I’ll follow up with another post covering the rest of the book and more of my thoughts on the best material.
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