Here comes everything

Herecomes2

I've been reading Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody. In it he argues that organisations have costs that means they struggle to compete with masses because the masses can afford to have lots of failures, because the cost of failure is low, and the ease of organising is now drastically reduced. I made a similar argument in the Future of Content, by using natural selection as an analogy. Natural selection can afford to make lots of mistakes because it has thousands of individuals and millions of years to experiment over. An individual designer cannot afford to have so many dead-ends. But when it comes to producing complexity, this massively distributed process wins.

Shirky's argument is that social communication tools have lowered the threshold for organising. He gives an example of organising photos from an event – previously this would have required someone to organise it, to get in touch with all possible photographers, to collect and publish their photos. Now all that's required is that people stick them up on Flickr, and use a tag, independently of each other. The cost of organisation has collapsed overnight.

Things such as eduglu, sociallearn, loosely coupled teaching apps, and PLEs have been much on mind recently, so when reading Shirky's book I thought some of the same arguments he makes for organising people could be made for technologies. The 'cost' of organising, or integrating, applications used to be high, but through approaches such as widgets, RSS, web services, etc this cost has drastically reduced.

To make my point here are a couple of Shirky quotes which I'll then rephrase for technologies.

"By making it easier for groups to self-assemble and for individuals to contribute to group effort without requiring formal management, these tools have radically altered the old limits on the size, sophistication, and scope of unsupervised effort"

becomes:

"By making it easier for tools to (self) assemble and for applications to
contribute to the environment without requiring integration, these
approaches have radically altered the old limits on the size,
sophistication, and scope of any individual to create their own environment"

And this Shirky statement:

"because the minimum costs of being an organisation in the first place are relatively high, certain activities may have some value but not enough to make them worth pursuing in any organised way. New social tools are altering this equation by lowering the costs of coordinating group action."

Can be recast as:

"because the minimum costs of being an integrated environment in the first place
are relatively high, certain applications may have some value but not
enough to make them worth pursuing in any organised way. New data techniques are altering this equation by lowering the costs of integrating all applications."

So, it isn't a case of here comes everybody but here comes everything. What's an educational tools? Whatever you want it to be.

3 Comments

  1. Very nice, Mr W. Does this now mean that I have to re-read the tome with a marker in hand? I’m spotting the comparisons everywhere! :-)

  2. Martin says:

    If we had the digital copy Ewan you could just search for ‘groups’ and replace with ‘tools’ and that would be pretty much the sum of my argument šŸ˜‰
    Martin

  3. Will says:

    Hmm. I’m not sure if I agree with you on the tools things Martin, I can see that generally the costs of getting something up and running as a startup, spawned off other tools and widgets, is low but that doesn’t make a sustainable product.
    A mashup-based site is reliant on all the individual tools to be both available and with the correct API’s intact in order for it to work. If we could make failover mashups then this would increase robustness and move us into the true realm of the useful LCO marketplace without compromising.

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