This Crowd is Not a Madding Crowd

Continuing my theme of great books on social media – or on the state of things in general – recently I found Clay Shirky’s treatise on crowdsourcing called Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.

I found this book engaging and easy to read. It opens with an entertaining story about a women losing her cell phone in a New York City cab – and the process that gets it back to her. It’s a great example of crowdsourcing in action.

I became intrigued by Shirky when I listened to a full-length interview with him on CBC Radio’s Spark. The professor in him makes him a great story teller and he had some solid theories on how we as a society deal with new tools.

One of his trademark ideas is the “cognitive surplus” – this is what we used to call “spare time” (Remember that?) Here’s a quick version – in centuries past we devoted all our time to survival, then as life got a bit easier television arrived and in the past 50 years – according to his theory – our cognitive surplus has been “soaked up” by watching television.

So, the question many people ask about Wikipedia and the like – how do people find the time – has its answer in the cognitive surplus. He says we dip into our cognitive surplus to create Wikipedia entries. And he sees this as a Good Thing – interacting, researching, engaging online is better than the “pure consumption” which is tv-watching. It’s a value-judgement I suppose, but I have to agree with him!

Shirky takes a wide-angle view of the ways current communications tools support group conversation – and what that means to the way we now operate. For example, the photo-sharing site Flickr creates the kind of interaction no corporation would have wanted to create. But it works because we have the technology and it’s hugely popular so obviously fills a niche.

Another thought I found intriguing was his idea that it’s not when a new technology is introduced that we see big change – but rather it’s when you can count on the majority of people using it that it really has an effect. The introduction of email wasn’t a big deal, but now that a huge percentage of the population uses it to communicate – it’s achieved “social density” – it affects our lives. Well it certainly affects mine.

Here Come Everybody is a good read. I think Shirky’s a guy to watch.

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One response to “This Crowd is Not a Madding Crowd

  1. Interesting, this was my first intro the the term crowdsourcing, along the same lines, Daily Planet (on the Discovery Channel) had a segment on this company

    http://www.innocentive.com/

    Which does crowdsourcing for corporations, non-profits etc.

    Pretty neat stuff from an “elightened” sort of business model

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