To summarize the book in one paragraph, Here Comes Everybody is an exploration of the effect of the Internet on society. Clay’s central thesis is that the Internet and related technologies have dramatically lowered the barriers to information sharing and group formation. As a result, new sorts of social groupings have emerged and many previous assumptions about organizations have been overturned. The effects of this are subtle and pervasive, and modern society is just beginning to adjust to the new logic of group structure and dynamics.
Two examples of these new kinds of groups include the open source movement and flash mobs. He also discusses the communities that form around Web 2.0 sites like Wikipedia, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter.
There key difference between these groups and organizations established without the new technologies is cost. Prior to the Internet, coordinating a group of people to do anything imposed relatively heavy costs. It took time, money, and effort to coordinate and direct people. But those costs have fallen dramatically in recent times. Where before you needed funding, offices, employees and experts to build complex software, write encyclopedias, or collect and organize a photo exhibition, you can now do so with volunteers working in their spare time.
Not all of these groups succeed, of course. Most of them don’t produce anything of lasting value. But since the cost of forming these groups is so low — requiring just a “Promise, Tool and Bargain” to get started — it leads to massive experimentation. With low barriers to entry and a large enough scale, trial and error emerges as a viable strategy. It leads to innovations that in the past would never have passed institutional muster.
Here Comes Everybody is a thought-provoking read. The explanations are clear, the anecdotes well told, and the analysis hits close to the mark. Others, notably Nick Carr, have taken issue with Clay’s enthusiasm for his subject (read their ongoing debate on britannica.com) but I found it helped knit the book together. You can’t understand the changes happening to the Internet and society today without understanding the viewpoint of technologists and technophiles like Clay Shirky. A lot of us are caught up in the Internet revolution, and we’re determined to follow it as it unfolds.
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