I've been reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky.  I'm not actually that far into the book yet, so there's time for him to come back around, but as yet, I'm finding a lot in the book to disagree with.  Yesterday's discovery of Dooce's clotheswasher issues have added to my dismay.  I'm taking a completely different angle than the readers she complains about.  Really, I'm not complaining about her at all -- I'm glad she got her washer issues sorted out.  But in a similar way to what irritates me about Here Comes Everybody, she makes a point to say that the power of Twitter that we should all use is one that empowers the common man to make changes for the good.  I simply don't think that power exists for people who aren't Dooce or Clay Shirky.  And what really ticks me off about it is that they write blog posts and books about how anyone can use the Power Of Twitter (or similar crowdsourcing online social whatevers) to change the world, but what they seem to fail to mention is that it doesn't hurt - nay, it's required - to have a million followers, or to be the first person to do a thing.  If it was that easy, then Bosch would have heard the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake crying for new appliances and heeded their call.  It's not that easy.  You need someone with a million followers to bring it to light.  And even then, it works once: There aren't free Bosch appliances going to every rescue mission everywhere.  I think that if everyone who lost a cell phone wrote about it online and submitted it to Digg, we'd pretty much not care about that any more.  In fact, just after reading the one story presented in Here Comes Everybody, I already don't care about your lost phone being found by some defiant teenager.  What I doubt is that the promise of the power of the crowd extends to my 251 followers, most of whom are bots trying to sell me better hosting, porn, or more followers.  Ultimately, I think that the internet, the social web, has the power to do what these pundits describe, but only under very special circumstances, and certainly not for the people who need it most.  In the worst case, this tripe is bought and consumed by people who want to use it to sell me more junk.  The altruist in me wants to see positive social change, but I don't see this ending that way.  It looks to me like email, yet another avenue for spam.

Comments

I liked "Here Comes Everybody". I think Shirkey had some really good observations about the ways in which online communication can help us in unexpected ways.

I think, also, that he specifically selected extreme examples, in order to make his point more clear. If he spoke only about something mundane -- like where he should go to get car repairs, or something similarly local -- most people would say "Oh, sure, I can do that now with my friends by calling them on the phone."

I don't do it much myself, but I know that a lot of people rely heavily on Twitter and Facebook and more, to access the collective knowledge and wisdom of their network. It's not likely that every day will require you to solicit input from everyone, but when you do, it's nice to know that a broad spectrum of opinion and experience is available to you.

I agree that if every stolen cell phone were to make headline news at Digg we'd soon grow tired. We'd look for a Digg-like site that didn't report such trivia. But I can see instances where the inverse would occur: a hyperlocal version of Digg for your community. I'm much more interested in knowing about cell phone theft in my community than in your's. I think the tools are getting there, but still have a ways to go. Craigslist seems like a good first draft, in terms of minimalism and core functionality combined with community focus.

Certainly having millions of followers helps with some things, but it isn't a firm requirement for successfully using "The Internet" to get stuff done in the ways described.

My take is that by focusing on the extreme examples, the narrowband utility that would benefit a common person is lost. These books bring the promise of a recipe for success via these social networks that I don't believe exists, or at least wouldn't be the implied glorious utopia.

I think the problem is that while a hyperlocal Digg sounds like a good idea, the more hyperlocal a thing gets, the less global interest it gathers and the less power it has. The reason why these things are so effective is that they're able to gather momentum outside of the audience range they would normally entertain.

My take on Here Comes Everybody is not so much that he's saying individuals with thousands of followers are going to be able to get their washers fixed, but that when thousands of people have the same broken model of washer that they'll be able to get together an coordinate, and perhaps then effect some change where no individual could have done so.

I'm not finished the book. So far though, I'm not impressed with the idea that many people can get together to solve all their problems, possibly for the same reason that our local tech meetups aren't optimal.

If the unruly mob of disgruntled washing machine owners consisted of the people who could do something about it, then it wouldn't be a problem. So how is that overcome? I hope that the book eventually addresses that.

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