Posts Tagged “clay shirky”
May 11, 2011
Looking for the mouse
Transforming free time into cognitive surplus is not just about social tools. We need motive and opportunity, too. The open question is what benefits will emerge from our ability to form this time into cognitive surplus. At the lolcats end, experimentation won’t stop, but we can’t count on new kinds of socially beneficial activities just happening. Creating a participatory culture with wider benefits for society is harder than sharing amusing photos.
While it’s tempting to imagine a broad conversation about what we should do as a society with the possibilities and virtues of participation, society doesn’t work like that. The essential source of value right now is coming less from a master strategy and move from broad experimentation, that’s why we need to improve the ability of small groups to try radical things. We’re still disoriented by having two billion new participants in a media previously operated by a small group of professionals (this is the paradox of revolution: the bigger the opportunity, the less anyone can extrapolate the future from the present).
Lessons for social software (in three categories):
Creating new opportunities: Start small (it’s harder to imagine how a service will be useful when it doesn’t have many users; but if they only work when large, they’ll probably never grow); Ask “Why?” (different people have different motivations, not necessarily close to that of the designers; take into account); Behaviour follows opportunity (if you want different behaviour, you have to provide different opportunities); Default to social (not opt-in; Delicious vs. Backflip story on p.196).
Dealing with early growth: A hundred users are harder than a dozen and harder than a thousand (there’s a medium size that doesn’t have the advantages of intimacy or of big communities); People differ. More people differ more (when given a narrow range, people converge; but when anyone can create media, the array of interests goes full crazy; in participatory systems, “average” is an almost useless concept; people running the service can’t insist on participation being equal or universal; long tail of participation); Intimacy doesn’t scale (but you can cluster participants into smaller groups, like Yahoo! mailing lists); Support a supportive culture (“quiet car” behaviour, p.202).
Adapting to users’ surprises: The faster you learn, the sooner you’ll be able to adapt; Success causes more problems that failure (success brings people, not always with realistic expectations or good will; trying to prepare in advance works very poorly in real life; “if you want to solve hard problems, have hard problems”); Clarity is violence (groups tolerate governance only after enough value is generated to make the burden worthwhile; since it builds over time, rules have to follow, not lead); Try anything. Try everything (the single greatest predictor of how much value we get of our cognitive surplus is how much we allow and encourage to experiment, because the only group that can try everything is everybody).
And that’s it. I hope you enjoyed it :-)
May 11, 2011
This is the second part of my summary of “Cognitive Surplus”, by Clay Shirky. It will cover chapters “Culture” and “Personal, Communal, Public, Civic”. EDIT: You can read parts one and three in this blog.
Day care fines story on p.131. Knowledge is the most combinable thing we have, but taking advantage of it requires special conditions (“The Economics of Knowledge” by Dominique Foray): (1) size of the community, (2) cost of sharing knowledge, (3) clarity of knowledge shared (also for people outside the group) and (4) culture (ie. community’s set of shared assumptions about its work and member relations with one another).
Society is shaped as much by inconvenience as by capability. When things that used to be inconvenient stop being so, things change. Some inconvenience-managing professions, like restaurant critics, stop being so useful or change their role when it’s easy to access dozens of opinions of people who have eaten there. A common objection to the spread of shared knowledge is that we need professional skill (“you don’t want a brain surgery from someone that learned it from Wikipedia”). Two weaknesses of this thought: (1) you don’t want a brain surgery from someone that learned in Encyclopaedia Britannica either, and (2) it suggests you should always choose professional over amateur, which nobody does (even people using that argument).
Personal, Communal, Public, Civic
We come from an era in which sharing was thought to be inherently (not accidentally) limited to small groups. Big change in social production is not utopia: throwing off old constraints won’t leave us without constraints, just with new ones. For most groups, the primary threat is internal: the risk of falling into emotionally satisfying but ineffective behaviour (p.163-164).
Increased communication and contact with others isn’t risk-free, and new opportunity requires ways to manage risk (couch surfing vs. “Brides on Tour” story, p.166-168).
Our new freedom to act in concert and in public is good at a personal level, but also others. Sharing has a spectrum, with four interesting points:
Personal. Hobbyists, think icanhascheezburger. Between uncoordinated individuals.
Communal. Inside a group of collaborators (eg. meetup group for post-partum depression).
Public. People actively creating a public resource (e.g. the Apache project).
Civic. Groups actively trying to change society, like Pink Chaddi.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have lolcats of fan-fiction: it’s that the latter groups are harder to create and maintain (“what you want” vs. “what you need”), and they benefit society more.
No fixed set of rules for governing groups that create social value (eBay cheater story, p.177-178), but two universals: a group must defend itself against external and internal threats. The former are more attention-getting, but the latter are more serious in keeping a group of volunteers committed and focused. Understanding how to create/maintain a group like this is one of the great challenges of our era.
And that was it for the second part. The next part will cover the last chapter, “Looking for the Mouse”.
May 10, 2011
This is the first part of my summary of “Cognitive Surplus”, by Clay Shirky. It will cover chapters “Gin, TV and Cognitive Surplus”, “Means”, “Motive” and “Opportunity”. EDIT: You can read parts two and three in this blog.
1. Gin, TV and Cognitive Surplus
The Gin craze in early 1700 in England didn’t stop because of laws. It was treated as the problem to be solved, but was the reaction to the problem (dramatic social change and inability to adapt). Since World War II, increases in GDP and others have forced the industrialised world to deal with free time on a national scale. We didn’t watch good or bad TV: the decision to watch it often preceded any concern about what was being shown. TV became the gin. We have known the effects of TV on happiness for long, but it kept growing because it was the reaction to the problem (free time).
Wikipedia is roughly 100 million hours of human thought. Americans watch roughly 200 billion hours of TV a year: that’s 2000 Wikipedias annually. Something that makes today remarkable is that we can treat free time as a general social asset that can be harnessed for large, communally created projects. Society never knows what to do with a surplus at first (hence “surplus”). Passive participation is easier… but things are changing (less TV watched, not pure consumers anymore). Some TV executives think that youngsters behaviour will change when they grow up and they will want to just sit in front of the TV (“milkshake mistake”, p. 13).
Lessons learned from the Ushahidi service (p.15): People want to do something to make the world a better place. They will help if invited. Access to cheap, flexible tools removes many of the barriers for trying new things. No need for fancy computers to harness cognitive surplus, phones are enough. One you have figured out how to harness, other can replicate your technique.
For the first time in history, being part of a globally interconnected group is the normal case for most citizens.
Story of Korean boy band fan activists, p.32. The old view of online as a separate space was an accident of history. Back when the online population was tiny, most people you knew in your daily life were not part of it.
Edgar Allan Poe quote, p.47 (summary: “multiplication of books is evil”). Correct, but freedom has compensating values, like increase of experimentation. It’s not choosing between trash or classics (p.50), we get both. And we can’t get new classics without experimenting.
We have to rethink the basic concept of media: it’s society’s connective tissue. It’s how you know about anything more than 10 yards away. It used to be separated into public media and personal media (letters, phone calls). People surprised at new behaviour assume behaviour is a stable category, but it isn’t: human motivations change little, but opportunity can change a lot.
Story about Grobanites for Charity on p.67-68. The important question is not “where did they find the time?”, it’s “why create a separate entity for themselves?”. They didn’t take any money for expenses (see p.75)! Reference to experiment when people are less interested in a task after being paid for it, p.71.
There are two intrinsic personal motivations: be autonomous and desire to be competent. Social motivations: connectedness/membership and sharing/generosity. Benkler and Nissenbaum (p.78) conclude that social motivations reinforce personal ones.
When coordinating group action was hard, most amateur groups stayed small and informal. With today’s tools, we see a new hybrid: large, public, amateur groups. Globalisation isn’t necessarily about size, but about scope: you can have a tiny global organisation. Amateurs generally use public access not to reach the broadest possible audience, but people like themselves. If you give people a way to act on their desire for autonomy, competence, or generosity and sharing, they might take you up for it. Only pretending might make people want to revolt (Angry Drunken Dwarf story, p.94).
Story of experiment rejecting unfair splits (p.106-108). People derive pleasure from punishing wrongdoing, but doesn’t happen against computers.
Generations do differ, but less because people differ than because opportunities do.