Just finished Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, which I think it’s a very interesting book. The author shared his insights on how the Internet effectively gathers the power of people, and how it is rapidly reshaping the society today. Book starts with a story on how Internet helps a lady to regain her lost cellphone with the assistance and pressure from people online, and expands discussion to what why it could happen, and what we should do about it. The world is smaller and people are closer than ever before, for better or worse, because of technologies. In this book, the author carefully analyzed ways Internet could affect our lives, what it means to the world.
I listed several observations the authors provided in this book, which I find very interesting.
The Internet provides most people the ability to access information from everybody else, which makes everyone a media outlet. It has always been a trend that new technologies lower the barriers of professions, and causes mass amateurization. Just like ancient scribes has been replaced by Gutenberg printing technology, the technological barriers of printing, editing, distributing news and etc. has been lowered by the invention of Internet, and made accessible to the public instead of the elite few, blurring the lines between amateurs and professionals.
One outcome of mass amateurization is that the contents provided by the general public is often not of good quality as professionals. However, the accessibility of the Internet has extremely lowered the costs of publishing, and the new form of media has adapted to the ‘publish, then filter’ pattern.
– “Fewer than two percent of the Wikipedia users ever contribute, yet that is enough to create profound value for millions of users.”
The distribution of participation in large projects always follow power law: the most active contributor contributes ten, to hundreds of times more than average contributors. And the larger the project. This is true for almost all online participants. Most Wikipedia’s pages are contributed by a handful few, but maintained by many users who contribute a few lines, or fix some typos. Most large open source projects are maintained by a few core developers, yet receive small contributions from everywhere. Interestingly, I quote the book: “most large social experiments are engines for harnessing inequality rather than limiting it.”
Before Wikipedia the founders started off their ideas of an open online encyclopedia by creating a site called Nupedia, with contents contributed from experts only. Apparently this experiment failed, but the succeeding non-profit, volunteer-only Wikipedia soon gained popularity. One of the many interesting questions about Wikipedia is: what gave people the motivation to contribute?
The author’s answer is: the love to Wikipedia. ‘When people care enough, they can come together and accomplish things of a scope and longevity that were previously impossible; they can do big things for love.”
Wikipedia provides a power engine (the wiki engine) to protect the love from contributors. Wiki allows revisions and histories, thus made iterative improvements possible, and at the same maintains history versions to keep wiki pages from catastrophic damages from evil-minded people. Together they are indispensable ingredients to Wikipedia’s success.
“The order of promise, tool, and bargain is also the order in which they matter most to the success of any given group.”
The promise of a group provides the ideology for one group and is the main reason why people are willing to participate. It sets the tone for this group activity. “Let’s try to see if we can come up with something together”, is actually the very first promise Torvalds put in the mail introducing his toy OS Linux. It was not as sweeping as a promise like “Let’s make a world-changing Operating System together” (although it did at last), but it provides just enough interest to people for this small infant project.
Tools define how interactions happen among the groups, setting tones for interactions. A wiki is good for shared knowledge and judgment, while a mailing list is more convenient for open discussions.
The bargain is more like the adjustment to the culture inside one group. “We expect politeness of one another, and we rebuke the impolite” is a bargain’s most likely creating a culture which is friendly and respecting.
This is an interesting book on how large groups, especially groups on Internet works, and how the “wisdom of the crowd” is collected, and should be collected. As my energy is so limited, I can’t even list out all the important ideas in it. This post is my best effort. Anyone who’s interested in building a society online might benefit from this book. In all it might be interesting to take a look at.