Social Revolution. Here Comes Everybody

August 17, 2008

In Here comes everybody, one of the most interesting books about the latest changes in the way people behave online, Clay Shirky observes and deeply analyzes the social revolution. Anything that have happened it recent years in the field of technology, fundamentally changed the way people communicate and act.

Shirky wasn’t the person who proclaimed the social revolution. However, he is considered one of the finest thinkers on Internet revolution. In Here comes everybody Shirky explains that it used to take a lot of time and resources to gather people in groups and make them act. Nowadays, the lowest transaction costs ever allow people to share information and cooperate with no boundaries/restrictions. That’s one of the key messages the book delivers.

Shirky believes that people are really good at working in groups. With the new set of tools, they are able to do it even better. Anything that makes group communications faster and cheaper also makes them more effective and brings new changes to the society. What’s really important to realize here, is the fact that people are willing to collaborate with no obvious material benefits for them (non-financial motivations) and those newly appeared tools just amplify the influence of groups.

Here is the fresh example of people’s willingness to act together. Let’s call it Surprise for CNN.

CNN decided to conduct a poll on Wednesday Aug 13, 2008. They asked cnn.com visitors a question: “Do you think Russia’s actions in Georgia are justified?” with two proposed answers:

  • Yes – it’s peacekeeping
  • No – it’s an invasion

3:06 AM PST (2:06 PM, Moscow time) the post on one of the fairly popular web site www.bash.org.ru (web site where visitors share funny quotes from their day-to-day talks with friends) appears:

“[I] just saw a poll on cnn.com if Russia’s actions in Georgia are justified. Results:

Yes — it’s peacekeeping 27%

No — it’s an invasion 73%

Let’s go and vote for the first option. It’s serious“

As of 11:08 AM PST results were:

Yes — it’s peacekeeping 91% – 239018 votes
No — it’s an invasion 9% – 22225 votes
Total Votes: 261243

One simple message made thousands of people go to CNN web site and vote. People went there and participated in the poll just because:

– it seemed to be important for them

– it didn’t take a lot of efforts to do so

– they received the information about the active poll quickly.

As the result, just few hours later the article appeared in a couple of online mass media outlets: CNN Poll Showing 92% Americans Who Support Russia’s Action. One hour later there was no trace of the poll at the CNN pages; neither in the search engines, nor even in the search engine of the CNN web page itself. Still unsure about the power of new communication tools and social impact of group communications? Shirky has a lot of other examples.

Here comes everybody in not a stand-alone book. It covers the social aspects of computer networks and information technologies, presenting a broad overview of how new social tools transform business and society. However, it doesn’t focus enough on the net-centric economics itself, covering some of the basic economics topics other books pay more attention to. The overlaps with Anderson’s The Long Tail are obvious throughout the book. Shirky refers a lot to the power law distribution, especially while covering to topic of the costs of failure, which arise due to publish-then-filter concept. However, talking about the same phenomenon, Here comes everybody focuses mostly on the reduction of publishing costs, while The Long Tail pays more attention to cutting the costs of consumption by democratizing distribution and connecting supply and demand. Thus these two books don’t interfere, they just supplement each other.

Shirky successfully completes a difficult task, presenting a big picture of how the fusion of newly appeared online tools (like blogs, wikis and social platforms where people meet to talk – Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and affordable hardware (cell phones with built-in cameras and Internet connection, cheap cameras, laptops and pocket-PCs/Palms with Wi-Fi) empowers group communications. The influence of human groups is hard to underestimate: fans saved their favorite Jericho series by sending thousands of pounds of peanuts to CBS; few people proposed and lobbied the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, challenging the power of a large American Airlines company.

Talking about the impact of a social revolution, Shirky answers a lot of questions, piecing raw ideas into the insights. However, he asks a lot of questions still to be answered. All of the above definitely makes Here comes everybody a must-read book. It’s truly the essential reading for those who want to understand the real impact of social revolution and the new era of social media.

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