Monday, May 26, 2008

Social Networking and Organizing

One of my favorite pundits on community, social networking and the Internet is Clay Shirky.

He hasn't been active in his blogs lately probably because he was writing this book. It is a quick read and captures in one place some of the important differences between social networks and community.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

I particularly like the author starting each chapter with a story that illustrates his topic of social media and then exploring the phenomena and why it is important.

A few of the more interesting quotes:
  • Every institution lives in a kind of contradiction: it exists to take advantage of group effort, but some of its resources are drained away by directing that effort. Call this the institutional dilemma - because an institution expends resources to manage resources, there is a gap between what those institutions are capable of in theory and in practice, and the larger the institution, the greater those costs. . . Self-preservation of the institution becomes job number one, while its stated goal is relegated to number two or lower, no matter what the mission statement says. p. 19-20 & 30.
  • If markets are such a good idea, why do we have organizations? Why can't all exchanges happen in the market? . . . Activities whose costs (time, money, attention) are higher than the potential value for both firms and markets simply don't happen. . . . New social tools are altering this equation by lowering the costs of coordinating group action? p. 30 - 31.
  • The key components of group activity - Sharing, Cooperation, Collective Action
  • "The alternative to institutional action was usually no action. Social tools provide a third alternative: action by loosely structured groups, operating without managerial direction and outside the profit motive." p. 47

Some key tidbits from the book(p. 49 -51):

  • Sharing creates the fewest demands on the participants. Knowingly sharing your work with others is the simplest way to take advantage of the new social tools.
  • Cooperating is harder than simply sharing, because it involves changing your behavior to synchronize with people who are changing their behavior to synchronize with you. Unlike sharing, where the group is mainly an aggregate of participants, cooperating creates group identity.

  • One simple form of cooperation is conversation - conversation creates more of a sense of community than sharing does, but it also introduces new problems. . . for any group to maintain a set of communal standards some mechanism of enforcement must exist.

  • Collaborative production: The litmus test for collaborative production is simple: no one person can take credit for what gets created.

  • Collective Action, the third rung, is the hardest kind of group effort. It requres a group of people to commit themselves to undertaking a particular effort together, and to do so in a way that makes the decision of the group binding on the individual members. All group structures create dilemmas, but these dilemmas are hardest when it comes to collective action, because the cohesion of the group becomes critical to its success. Information sharing produces shared awareness among the participants, and collaborative production relies on shared creation, but collective action creates shared responsibility, by tying the user's identity to the identity of the group.
There is lots more here in a wonderfully readable book so hopefully the above will entice you into Here Comes Everybody.

For those who haven't read any Clay Shirky here are a few online article pointers and videos: