Anyone who is interested in crowdsourcing and utilizing the power of groups – whether non profits, as in WCIU’s situation, or for-profit organizations – should read Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. The book centers around two questions that he brings up in the introduction: “Why has group action largely been limited to formal organizations? What is happening now to change that?” Well researched and easy to read, Shirky lays out the dynamics of groups through a series of interesting chapters. While the topic of crowdsourcing can be a little dry, Shirky relies upon real-life examples and stories which bring the topic to life. There isn’t space to discuss each chapter, however here are some sections which I found most interesting.
Chapter 3: Everyone is a Media Outlet
Chapter 3, “Everyone is a Media Outlet” addresses the effect social media is having on previously professional jobs, such as journalism and photography. Before the expansion of social media, it was easy to determine who was a journalist, for example. Previously, all journalism was tied to newspapers or magazine, which had the extensive funding and resources to pay the journalists and publish papers. However, with the advent of the internet and the ability for anyone to self-publish, the lines between professional journalist and amateur became completely blurred. Shirky says:
“The pattern here is simple- what seems like a fixed and abiding category like ‘journalist’ turn out to be tied to an accidental scarcity created by the expense of publishing apparatus. Sometimes this scarcity is decades old (as with photographers) or even centuries old (as with journalists), but that doesn’t stop it from being accidental, and when that scarcity gets undone, the seemingly stable categories turn out to be unsupportable…it means that the primary distinction between the two groups [pro and amateur] is gone. What once was a chasm has now become a mere slope.” Page 76)
Chapter 9: Fitting Our Tools to a Small World
Chapter 9, “Fitting Our Tools to a Small World” also brings up an interesting point about the power of bridging capital. Bridging capital, “the increase in connections among relatively heterogeneous groups” (page 222), is more likely to lead to good ideas than are individual traits (page 231). Mixing up decision making to include people from various departments and levels of the company, he asserts, can potentially lead to better ideas than just gathering the top “innovative” thinkers from the same department, who are drawing from similar mindsets and work experiences. How do you imagine this could be utilized in your organization?
Chapter 10: Failure for Free
Chapter 10, “Failure for Free” addresses the point that in open source projects, failure is good and acceptable. This is completely different from a traditional model of projects, in which decisions are made based on what has the greatest chance of success, even if that may not be the best or more innovative solution. He says, “open source doesn’t reduce the likelihood of failure, it reduces the cost of failure; it essentially gets failure for free.” (Page 246).
Chapter 11: Promise, Tool, Bargain
Finally, in chapter 11, Shirky lists the three things important to a successful open source project, which he had basically been describing throughout the book: promise, tool, bargain. To have a successful open source project, there must be the “successful fusion of a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users.” (page 269) Promise and tool are easy to understand, and seem to occur in most projects, open source or not. What are you offering, and what tools will you utilize to achieve that goal? The bargain, however, is what seems to be unique about crowd sourcing projects.
“A bargain helps clarify what you can expect of others and what they can expect of you…The bargain is the most complex aspect of a functioning group, in part because it is the least explicit aspect and in part because it is the one users have the biggest hand in creating, which means it can’t be completely determined in advance.” (page 270)
These are just a few of the sections that could be highlighted from his book. Overall it is a very good book; the only negative is that since it was published in 2008, some of his examples are already outdated. He references social media sites like Myspace and Livejournal quite a lot, which four years later have waning influence. However, the principles and application still are very applicable for many situations, and I highly recommend it.
What’s your favorite book for crowdsourcing or open source projects?