Here Comes Everybody: Chapter 5

Posted by tom | Apr 28, 2010

Cover of Carl Shirky. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing
Without Organizations. NY, NY: Penguin Press, 2008.Personal Motivation Meets Collaborative Production.  Tell me more!  As many of you know, collaborative production rests in the soul of my understanding of being part of the Body of Christ. Let's dig in to find out what we can learn from Chapter 5 of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Oranizing Without Organization (Clay Shirky. NY, NY: Penguin Press, 2008):

Collaborative production, where people have to coordinate with one another to get anything done, is considerably harder than simple sharing, but the results can be more profound.  New tools allow large groups to collaborate, by taking advantage of nonfinancial motivations and by allowing for wildly differing levels of communication (p.109, Chapter Abstract, italics in original).

Yes, collaboration's harder than simply sharing.  Shirky focuses upon the history of and the continuing development of Wikipedia as a coordinating resource via the spontaneous division of a community of love (!).  He points out two (actually three) surprising lessons learned about collaborative web projects:

1.  the imbalance is the same shape across a huge number of different kinds of behaviors. ... The general form of a power law distribution appears in social settings when some set of items -- users, pictures, tags -- is ranked by frequency of occurrence.  You can rank a group of Flickr users by the number of pictures they submit.  You can rank a collection of pictures by the number of viewers.  You can rank tags by the number of pictures they are applied to.  All of these graphs will be in the rough shape of a power law distribution. ...

2.  the imbalance drives large social systems rather than damaging them.  Fewer than two percent of Wikipedia users ever contribute, yet that is enough to create profound value for millions of users. ... Though the word "ecosystem" is overused as a way to make simple situations seem more complex, it is merited here, because large social systems cannot be understood as a simple aggregation of the behavior of some nonexistent "average" user. ... Any system described by a power law, where mean, median, and mode are so different, has several curious effects.  The first is that by definition, most participants are below average.  This sounds strange to many ears, as we are used to a world where average means middle, which is to say where average is the same as the median.  You can see this "below average" phenomenon at work in the economist's joke:  Bill Gates walks into a bar, and suddenly everyone inside becomes a millionaire, on average.  The corollary is that everyone else in the bar also acquires a below-average income.  The other surpirse of such systems it that as they get larger, the imbalance between the few and the many gets larger, not smaller.  As you get more weblogs, or more MySpace pages, or more YouTube videos, the gap between the material that gets the most attention and merely average attention wil grow, as wil the gap beween average and median (p.124-125, 127).

Comment:  You can see where this is going with regard to the readership of most blogs, of which Groshlink fits the category.  But the comparatively low readership of the various pages with which Theresa and I are involved in provides the opportunity for concentrated, deeper connections.  The larger our friendship circles (such as on Facebook) and the number of groups we find ourselves managing, the lower our personal interaction.  How does one choose proper size and work toward those ends with a project such as the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) blog?  Any proposals on an open project for InterVarsity's Graduate & Faculty Ministry related to ESN?  Is it best for us to turn attention to pilot campuses or through the door open for campuses to tap into a national open project?  Clarity in direction and fluidity in structure is important for growth/development.  Turning to Chapter 6:  Collective Action and Institutional Challenges.  Maybe that's more of what I was referring to at the beginning of this post.

Here Comes Everybody: Chapter 1
Here Comes Everybody: Chapter 2
Here Comes Everybody: Chapter 3
Here Comes Everybody: Chapter 4

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