Notes from Clay Shirky’s Book Release @ ITP

I’ve started to post raw notes from events I attend. For more information, see the Notes Policy.

080229 Clay Shirky Book Release for Here Comes Everybody @ ITP

The book

After talking about this kind of thing for years, the book started when Clay realized the social forces he was interested in were no longer limited to geeks.

What’s the book about? In a sentence: “group action just got easier”.

There’s ladder of group action:

  • Sharing
  • Conversation
  • Collaboration
  • Collective Action

Where We Are Now

    Schacter’s innovation was “sharing first, then groupings follow”. Previously, the assumption was that groups had to be assembled first and only then could they share. The only real primitives in del are the user, the link, and the tags.
  • flickr
    Every URL is the potential for a community. A technique like HDR would have taken years to percolate through the old photo ecosystem of trade magazines and hobbyists, but by turning ever posted picture into a potential community (or tutorial), conversation moves much faster.
  • Buffy Bronze
    When one TV network sold the rights to Buffy and discontinued the fan board, fans pooled resources and hired a programmer to build a new one. They didn’t want user accounts. They didn’t want tagging. They didn’t want threaded conversation. Nothing fancy; just the same stacked list of comments that they’d been using for years.

“like unitarians’ they’ve survived the death of their object of veneration”

  • AEGISUB Anime Fan Software
    Anime fans develop a software/system to subtitle japanese anime that hasn’t been commercially released in English.

“As anyone who’s developed software for multiple platforms knows, if you’ve got a BSD version, yr serious.”
commercially agnostic: not for commercial gain, but not stealing IP. By the rationale of a market economy, this should not exist


Collective Action

  • 1999 An NWA plane was stuck on the runway for 8 or 9 hours without being allowed to deplane. Toilets overflowed, supplies ran low, babies cried. Lawyers ran up and down the aisles taking names and plotting class-action lawsuit, but in the end little changed: the airline settled out of court, and a toothless “Code of Passenger Rights” was implemented.
  • 2006 Same situation different airline. More poop, different babies, same crying. But this time, the results were totally different: within 8 months of the passengers organized complaint, congress passes a law to establish a Passengers Bill of Rights which kick in after 3 hours on the tarmac. What changed? The technology for communicting and organizing existed in 1999, but internet penetration was not yet deep enough for groups like this to achieve critical mass. The instigator in this case began by commenting on a news article which then turned into an impromptu meeting place for passengers/victims.
  • The American Philosopher Henry James said “thinking is for doing”. Clay updates with “publishing is for acting”.
  • Flash Mobs: Bill Wassic from Harpers Magazine started emailing groups of people so as to spontaneously gather, perform a coordinated odd task (eg 400 people in the Times Square Toys’R’Us bowing down to the giant animatronic Tyrannasaurus Rex) for a short period of time, and disperse. He conceived of it as a critique of hipsters: tell them its in the service of irony and calling out the establishment, and they’ll do anything you tell them, no matter how inane.
  • In Belerus, one of the most repressive of the former Soviet satellites, there is no freedom of assembly. Pro-democracy protesters started Flash Mobs where sympathizers would all meander to the main town square and, at the appointed time, begin to eat popsicles. The repressive state was caught on the horns of a dilemma: allow the protesters to freely congregate and organize, or have the Secret Service arresting people for eating ice cream in public, documented for all the world to see.

The Lesson? In high freedom environments, new technology is used for entertainment.
In low-freedom environments, any opportunity for group action turns political.

  • In Polermo, Italy: businesses organize against mafia (“Pizzo”) extortion by group action.

One response to “Notes from Clay Shirky’s Book Release @ ITP

  1. there is an interesting conversation between clay shirky and daniel goleman (the author of emotional intelligence) on this topic which is available at

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