Here Comes Everybody Response

Shirky offers some interesting insights in his book Here Comes Everybody. The main thrust of the book is that what we have today is a culture that is shifting from mass market communications and ideas being funneled out by experts to a new kinds of open-source projects and mass amateurization of most fields. A good example of this is the birth of Wikipedia which he talks about in chapter 5. Wikipedia originally had started out as Nupedia. Anyone could contribute to Nupedia but if the contribution was not vetted by a panel of experts, then the article was simply trashed. As a writer, people had no incentive to write since unless he or she was an expert writing on the matter, there was little hope of getting an article approved. Also, there was no gain to have an article published by Nupedia; writers got no money from it and the approval process made it virtually worthless to even try. Now, according to Shirky, with the rise of the free, easy, and simple ways to record and publish information, thoughts, political views, etc. we have a monumental shift in organization. Now Joe Smith can shre his knowledge and expertise (or lack thereof) with the of the world with only a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse.

The only problem I am seeing here is that there is not much of an argument in the book. Great, Wikipedia is an example of collective collaboration and I can see the power of collective collaboration.What I am not getting is what are the downsides to all this? Shirky identifies some of the problems, like free-riders and humans making poor decisions in prisoner’s dilemmas but there is no discussion of how to fix those problems. The book just appears to be a mechanic telling me what the tools are in his toolbox and how they work without telling me why or how to fix whatever is leaking from my engine compartment. I think that is truly where the book falls flat: it just seems to be facts and some insight without any kind of underlying thesis. If I had to cobble together a thesis, it would be something like “though we have relied upon professionals and centralized management in the past, the digital age has begun to wipe away such analogue forms of organization and distribution for an open, crowd-controlled model for production and distribution.” Even with this, I am not really making an argument but rather stating how I am seeing the course of events take shape. What I am lacking is why is this relevant? Ignoring the bad side of something does not make me more inclined to like it. It is like Shirky is arguing that the norm is changing, which I agree with, but I don’t get why it matters due to the lack of coverage of both the good and bad sides of a shift to collaborative models of generation, production, and distribution.

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