Thinking back on it, I’m not sure I really learned anything new – not in terms of ideas nor anecdotes – from Here Comes Everybody. And yet I’ll probably end up buying copies for both sets of my grandparents and anyone else I care about who wants to know why it is that I do what I do. And just what it is that I’m doing.
Shirky doesn’t argue that the internet and social media bring about only positive change, but he describes those changes – both positive and negative – with more clarity than anyone else I’ve read. The value isn’t in the content of the book – all if which is available for free just a few clicks away – but rather how well it is presented.
For me, for anyone who has been passionate about social media over the past few years, Here Comes Everybody ends just where it starts getting most interesting. Though the book itself is much broader than its subtitle (“The power of organizing without organizations”) would suggest, it does tend to concentrate on how social media are disrupting organizational structures. But he doesn’t spend any time discussing how ‘non-organizational organizations’ are organizing.
WordPress, Drupal, Mozilla, Creative Commons, Wikipedia, Global Voices, Ubuntu: we all really got going around four to six years ago when the business community still saw the internet as one big flop, but we saw social media as a huge opportunity for doing good rather than making money. We started out as communities that were brought together by a creative passion (be it writing, knowledge, programming, whatever). In a relatively short amount of time those communities expanded exponentially and the product/service we collectively created took on both a real and perceived value.
We have all had growing pains as we’ve scaled up and we have all become much more hierarchical. Much more like a traditional organization. It might be possible to organize without organizations, but sustaining those communities – especially when they are collaboratively creating a product or service – seems to bring back those very same structures and chains of command that social media enthusiasts (utopianists?) like myself have spent so much time railing against. I can think of a few different reasons for this, but there are surely many more that I have not thought of. It’s a fascinating topic of research, which is why I will have my eyes on the blog of Lokman Tsui, co-editor of The Hyperlinked Society, who will be researching Global Voices for his Ph.D. dissertation.