four and half things: Clay Shirky at Picnic08.

Clay Shirky went home yesterday and tore up his prepared speech for today. He figured that the audience here at Picnic08 pretty much got the kinds of things he was going to say . So instead he told us he would talk about 4.5 things that we will be needing to deal with in social media again and again.

Disclaimer. I am not a live blogger and this is now an hour after the event. More links and photos to follow. I am paraphrasing in some areas – and hope you will correct me, dear reader, if I miss a trick

Story 1 was about Flickr:- He talked about the High Dynamic Range (HDR) group and the kind of discussion that has grown up around the photos. So going from one photo , with one comment to several comments to the photo with one url delivering a whole seminar on how to do better HDR photography can diffuse through the community and this happens in about three months – instead of formerly a few years of waiting for an essay to come through in a Photo journal. Every photo is potentially a seminar. It’s a social object. Every url has this potential. First a photo, then a comment, then longer comments so the photo became the locus for the conversation about how to become a better photographer.

He then talked through the downside. Black and White Maniacs, another Flickr group….It’s about sharing but with some extra dimensions – not just look at mine and I will look at yours. On the about page is a description of the group – in that description is a para describing the ground rules. It’s four sentences. .

Post ONE photo, then immediately comment on the PREVIOUS TWO photos (to the right of your photo) and include “Black+White Maniacs” with your comment. Wait until two more photos have been posted before posting again. IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO COMMENT IMMEDIATELY, PLEASE WAIT TO POST YOUR PHOTO. It’s unfair to expect people to comment on your work when you’re not able to give them that same courtesy. (**NEW RULE: If you consistently leave one or two-word comments like, “nice,” “good b+w,” “great catch,”….etc. you’ll be removed from the group as well.)

So – the dilemmas that are being faced here are not design dilemmas, but social. Working out those problems are now the design problems.

Story two: : The Bronze Beta – is a Buffy fan site, When Warner Bros was selling Buffy to UPN – they told them that they had also set up a community bulletin board. UPN said please tell the users the old board will close down and we will set up our own. Clay told us that the users were not happy. They pooled resources and paid for a new site. They had fallen in love with each other and just wanted to be there. When they got their new site they didn’t want lots of new features, just text really.

And so this story confirms for me (Clay) that social software is the only area in software that I know that the later products have fewer features than the previous products – not the same in other areas. If someone a few years ago had told you that most of what would be published in 2008 will use the simpler tools not the more complicated tools. You wouldn’t have believed that if someone had predicted it as you want as many toys in your box as possible. If the tool is social then it matters a lot how you use it and how I use it.

Social media tools are tending to shift now with fewer and fewer features. It’s the easiest way to synchronise the mental models of the users. Nobody wants a door with 37 handles. Twitter launched with two features, and now they have six. Bronze beta has very few features – but look at the rules page They have 10 x more rules than they have features. Most of Bronze Beta runs in the minds of the users. For example …No changing the colour of the text without express permission of the management.

Sharing is the simplest pattern – and even here rules proliferate. Collaboration is harder. I have to do something with you to synchronise with what you are doing to create something shared.

Story 3: the Wikipedia article on Pluto – I use this as Observatory on Wikipedia. It got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago. It came in for a lot of edit revision. and got a lot of attention as a result. If you want to show someone the best kind of Wikipeda article show this one. But if you look at the Galileo article you will see an icon on the top right of the page so it’s semi protected. What you are seeing reflected on this page is a 500 year old flame war that has been raging in the Catholic Church and has landed here.

In social media design as you can see here you have to give up on the idea of designing for the user. It’s not just about users. But you are designing for one side of the argument or the other to take advantage and win the argument. So programmers are not just designers, but an avant garde wing of political philosophy…

Story 3.5: Clay referred us back to the talk Aaron Koblin gave yesterday when he decribed his 10,000 cent project .

Ethan Zuckerman did a write up of that session here:

What this story showed Clay was that when we are now operating at a global scale in this way we have (design) problems that we have never had before. You could say that Aaron had 10,000 people working for him as in a way he did – he only payed them a penny – but they were working to collaborate with him and each other. If this were a real company then that would put him high up the list of employers with a large staff. The largest groups in the world that are working collaboratively are working like this.

What we are seeing now is spontaneous conditions of labour springing up. The Division of labour is spontaneous and there is a spontaneous division of motivation. No-one who runs a large company with a management structure cannot understand this.

So yesterday I was asked what are the optimal conditions for collaboration? The answer is we don’t know. We can look at optimal conditions but it’s more like the weather as Linda Stone said yesterday “cloudy with a chance of collaboration”. So like the Linux community you can’t recruit you can only invite. Noone who runs a large company with a management structure cannot understand this.

Point 4. Collective action is harder. Clay told the story of the HSBC Bank and their recruitment of students to a no interest account. When the bank changed the terms and the account was no longer interest free they did not predict that not only would this be covered in the usual way in the press, but also there would be a Facebook page where people and people affected could go and find out what they could do. So Publishing is also for Acting. What the Telegraph does is to say – “just look what the bank is doing reneging on its terms”. But what the Facebook publishers are doing is saying “just look what they are doing, and here is what you can do about it”

So the big design challenge is around the fact that all these stories are about stop energy. Around getting people to stop doing things. But when we look at the phenomena of the explosion of intellectual and creative community and all the creative energy unleashed it seems long lived – so we are missing something ( ie where is the community collaboration with creative energy that is long lived and not about stopping stuff)

In 1980 Xerox delivered an important printer to the lab at MIT. Richard Stallman realised that it had no source code ..and he saw the future. He developed the GPL (Gnu Public License) and solved the Black and White Media problem for software developers by saying these are the circumstances in which we can share. Now we don’t have a license for collective action. If twelve friends go to a bank to open a bank account to do a project they can’t open a group account unless they are incorporated. Society recognises groups via incorporation or embodyment . But we need something like a group license that can be recognised. In Britain they have the CIC (community interest company) which has an assett lock on community value. In Vermont state we see the first state to allow virtual companies. We are seeing things like the MeetUp alliance – but which is going to work out we don’t know.

What I do know is the right area to be thinking about. The need is there and the potential. We have seen the explosion of creativity in the area of the intellectual, social and emotional spheres. But not around collective action . So we need to work this out in the area how we act and the way in which we act, as well as in the way we think…..”

There is so much here that resonates with most of what I am doing these days and thinking about I need to stop and think myself before editorialising in any way. But more later. Definately.

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Filed under collaboration, conferences, open, participation, picnic08

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