Why you should read Clay Shirky’s latest book

I wanted to mention a few of the things I learnt while reading Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: the Power of Organizing Without Organizations, before I forget. I got a copy from the lovely people from BookRabbit who were giving out free copies at Social Media Café London last week – more about them in another post.
I’ve been noticing from quite a few blogs that many people have read it, but they haven’t said much apart from the fact that it is an excellent book – which it absolutely is. My curiosity was aroused from the little that I’ve heard, but with all respect, nothing I’ve heard so far does justice to the book. It is a well-researched, engaging piece of work, that will make sense for laymen as much as it will for media professionals, and it is a very relevant discussion of the ongoing revolution in the communications industry today – and by that I mean social networks, e-mail, blogs, and everything in between (and more). Most importantly, it is quick and easy reading. So a few things that you’ll like reading about (I’m just touching upon these topics):

 

1. The Birthday Paradox: With three people, you’d think that the odds of two of you sharing a birthday is two in 365 (days of the year) – you, let’s say X, either share it with Y or Z. But the error that most people make is that in a group, you have to count the links between people and not just the number. So in addition to the chance that you may share a birthday with Y and Z, they may share a birthday among themselves. And this number increases exponentially as the number of people grows. The other day I was wondering how two completely unconnected people in my friends list in Facebook knew each other. I still don’t know, but chances are, within the set of common friends the three of us have, there will be some connection, however vague. It’s isn’t just about how I know A or B, it is how A and B know each other. That is something I often overlook.

 

2. I heard of this briefly when the event happened: the stolen Sidekick phone issue in New York. Evan Guttman, a friend of a woman called Ivanna who lost an expensive phone in a New York City cab, created a social media campaign that was so strong it led to the thief, who knew that she had been identified, being arrested. Think of the odds of that if you forget your phone in a city. Evan made use of social media in a way that forced NYPD to reclassify the phone as ‘stolen’ from just ‘lost’. This is something that would have been inconceivable even a decade ago.

 

3. This one I didn’t know about: the HSBC-Facebook standoff. Yes, we have the power to change rules when companies try to use them to their benefit – at our cost.

 

4. The fact that Sourceforge is the largest online warehouse of open source projects. I know a few developers who hope that they will be the next Page or Brin. Building on common knowledge, they absolutely can be, who knows. Also, on a somewhat related note, see this very interesting piece by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker, and then this article on multiple independent discovery.

 

5. Why Microsoft’s Encarta failed versus Wikipedia: apparently the managers, seeing Wikipedia’s success, tried to involve users but with the not-so-subtle caveat that Microsoft had permission to “use, reproduce, edit, modify, translate and reformat your Submission” for a product that they would make money out of. Duh – not happening. Today, I go straight to Wikipedia for descriptions and histories of people, places and events. Encarta doesn’t even enter the frame, forget the picture. In fact, I don’t know a single person who has ever mentioned using Encarta.

 

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts that came to me from the book. Yup, this post is sort of like a teaser. Go read the book and see what you think – and come back and tell me. (If you already have, then you have no reason not to comment – NOW!).
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