Book review of “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations discusses how the web has created tools that makes collaboration among people continuously easier. This is leading to more innovation is happening faster, better. This disruption to traditional organizations is threatening to displace formal structures like corporations. It’s also reeking havoc on governments all over the world.

Clay uses many examples to back up his beliefs. For example, how Flickr and cell phone cameras are getting news to people faster than the traditional media outlets. The specific example he uses is the London subway bombing. He calls this phenomenon, “Everyone is a media outlet.”

He also plays around with the Internet as a tool. A bride-to-be loses her Tmobile Sidekick. He titles this chapter: “It takes a village to find a phone.” Through the web, they’re able to locate the person and through a chain of events, ultimately, gets it back. I did not care for this example b/c he spent way too much time covering something that is not that interesting and over all pretty pointless b/c it was mostly luck.

Then he moves into the concept of creating groups and organizations using sites like Meetup. His example was a group that protests their government. Throughout the book, there are some very good insights like the role uncertainty plays in assimilation. People use Meetup, so they can organize. This is similar to the dynamic of a walk out or work strike. Today, you can band together and protest almost anything, even a menu item leaving your favorite restaurant. You don’t need to be part of a big union. This was my first exposure to Meetup and I was impressed.

Another more interesting subject is his chapter, “Publish then filter.” Wikipedia dominates this chapter. The founders of Wikipedia started out with the idea that experts would create a free online encyclopedia. Along the way, they realized that the collective action of may people was superior to a small group of experts. Eventually, the community takes on a life of its own and things start to happen. He gives this a name, “The power law distribution.” The distribution curve of contributions is interesting b/c most people do very little and as the workload increases, it’s inversely proportional to the number of contributors. Basically, there is a huge drop off at the top. Most people contribute a little and the difference between the top contributor and the next person is usually pretty big.

I love Wikipedia, but you have to wonder why there has not been another site like it? Just b/c this concept works for information does not mean that it can work for everything.

In Chapter 10, he talks about open source and uses Linux as his example. Loosely knit groups working together to create a piece of free software. Of course Linux is very popular and it dominates the the server market, but is it the future of software? Well, this book does not say and that’s not really the point. His point is that open source works b/c no one is under any pressure to get it right. Really innovative software does not get written by large companies b/c of what he calls the cost of failure. Spending lots of time and resources on a piece of software that can fail, is not typical.

“Open systems lower the cost of failure….. because they can integrate the contributions of people who contribute only a single idea.” This is why community based projects have a future. It’s basically saying that getting 100 people to contribute a little is better than 1 or 2 people contributing it all. Sometimes that person that contributes that one idea makes a huge contribution.

I give the book a mild recommendation. I enjoyed reading it, but do not feel like it helped me or provide me with anytime of A-ha moment. Clay is definitely insightful, but he jumps around a little too much. He makes some very good insights when dealing with the nature of organizations and does a good job of deconstructing his examples, but I think he tried mixing a few concepts together for the sake of filling this book, like using the Internet as a tool and making it easier for a group to organize. Sure, the Internet is leveling the playing field. We all know that.

I can see this book getting dated really quick. It’s vague for my standards. I was hoping to get more of that.

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