Changing Group Collaboration

Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody is a very interesting read about the increased simplicity of group formation, coordination, and collaboration due to new technology.  This type of formation was considered easier when ran by an institution with management systems rather than uncoordinated individuals, but this is no longer the case.  The obstacles that prevented sharing on a global scale are gone. We now have decreased transaction cost of forming groups due to the unneeded oversight or management.   Now it’s possible to achieve large scale coordination with lower cost. And this is changing the world.

Flickr is one of many examples Shirky uses to explain this theory.  Flickr allows its users to upload images and share them with whom they desire.  For example, if a group of individuals attended Mardi Gras, took pictures at the event, and wanted to share them, they could upload these images to Flick and use a Mardi Gras tag (user-generated labeling) to categorize them.  Everyone using the Mardi Gras tag is automatically linked to one another. This allows people all over to world to see the images thereby creating a group with an interest in the parade.  The users are ordinary people who take control and do the work themselves.

Imagine if the mechanism of Flick didn’t exist and Flickr attempted to organize the group of photos taken by Mardi Gras Participants.  The process would be much more difficult.  First, an employee would have to propose a tag for the images.  Then they would have to get the word out about the tag and the need for participants.  Then it would get even more difficult; Flickr would have to send out advertisements to everyone in hopes that the right people would see it.  In the end, the company would have to spend lots of money and take risk on a topic that is not really that important. The gap between payoff and effort would be too large. Therefore, a company would simply not invest. However, thanks to new tools, control is now in the hands of the people.

Another example Shirky uses to illustrate the power of collaborative effort through technology is Wikipedia.  Wikipedia had tough beginnings starting with Nupedia, but now it is a huge success.  The process of people working together to produce a massive collection with no need for extrinsic awards is amazing.  Something I found interesting was Shirky’s attempt to answer why so many people love and contribute to Wikipedia freely.  The first was the chance to utilize unused mental capacities. The second was the idea of changing something in the world and leaving an imprint.  The third was the desire to do a good thing.  These three points reminded me of Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken in which she talks about some things missing from reality that humans need.  These seem to be reoccurring concepts when exploring human’s basic needs.  I agree with the idea.  The thought of contributing something thereby making change is a satisfying experience.

“Our social tools are turning love into a renewable building material.  When people care enough, they can come tougher and accomplish things of a scope and longevity that were previously impossible; they can do big things for love. “

Shirky writes this while explaining why people defend and contribute to Wikipedia.  But this quote goes beyond the scope of the successful website. It stands for all collaborative efforts which are becoming increasingly easier. Our new technologies are bringing people together, and for great causes. Even though there can be some negative backlash, the positives are so much greater.


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