Sunday, September 27, 2009

READING: Here Comes Everybody

Shirky's Here Comes Everbody is a sophisticated glimpse into the social and economic changes taking place as the internet helps drive us from an industrial paradigm into a digital, information economy.

Referencing numerous anecdotes and an impressive range of social science concepts, Shirky explores the subtleties of how evolving electronic communication tools have facilitated radically new group behavior.

Shirky maps out how the internet challenges the logic of conventional institutions.

As much the internet has dropped transaction costs, it has reshaped the marketplace that made institutions as we know them necessary.

Now that the landscape of transaction costs has been fundamentally altered, the stability of institutions is very much problematized.


Charting changes from mass amateurization to the ability of ephemeral groups of people to spontaneously create campaigns with political significance to collaborative production of software and other products, the internet is giving groups of people new ways to create.

It is shifting some of the longstanding social bargains behind modern society.

On very emblematic example from Shirky's book is the industrial (railroad era) relic that is the top-down org chart. As much as the org chart represents a command and control management paradigm, the internet allows for a new paradigm...a new org chart for the 21st century.

If Shirky is right, the 21st century version of an org chart will be a work in progress for a while to come.

The logic of group management during the industrial era - and the institutional infrastructure it gave birth to - has been derailed.


Shirky's book actually catalyzed my decision to go back to school for communications.

Throughout Shirky's book, McLuhan’s words resonate deeply, ‘we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.’

As much as railroads and industrial machines shaped organizational logic, I believe the internet has potential to reshape that same logic and drive new kinds of human endeavor.

In my statement of purpose, I tried to explain why I think it's so important to study communication:
Considering our evolutionary track record, mankind’s ability to develop increasingly complex technologies – iron smelting and agricultural methods, written language, moveable type, industrial machinery – has consistently set the stage for the punctuated development of increasingly complex human culture. I believe digital communication technologies are an important enunciation of this larger historical arc and will accelerate the ongoing evolution of man, his tools, and his social order.
In short, Shirky's Here Comes Everybody pulls back the curtain on a cultural shift that is ushering in a new era of human collaboration and participation.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

READING: Mobilizing Generation 2.0 (steal this strategy)

Ben Rigby's Mobilizing Generation 2.0 is a comprehensive how-to written for a new kind of organization and a new kind of a citizen.

The book covers pushing messages and narratives online, organizing and convening publics in virtual space, and wielding an integrated set of communication tools in the name of social change.

As I read the book, it registered like a 21st century version of Abbie Hoffman's Steal this Book for geeks (minus the illegality & political radicalism): a practical handbook focused on changing society and democratizing discourse.

Hoffman, an activist and organizer of sorts, understood the limitations of the media landscape of his generation:
To talk of true freedom of the press, we must talk of the availability of the channels of communication that are designed to reach the entire population, or at least that segment of the population that might participate in such a dialogue. Freedom of the press belongs to those that own the distribution system. Perhaps that has always been the case, but in a mass society where nearly everyone is instantaneously plugged into a variety of national communications systems, wide-spread dissemination of the information is the crux of the matter.
Mobilizing Generation 2.0 effectively maps a communications landscape that Hoffman didn't live to see.

We now have 'channels of communication' with the potential of reaching the entire population...

Rigby charts the shifting ground between a paradigm of broadcast and control and the emerging paradigm of conversation and engagement.

He also speaks to some of the old psychologies still at work and the difficulties of dealing with busy people and organizations with tight budgets.

So while the tools have changed and we're living in a dramatically different world, it is still unwritten how exactly the tools will change us and how they will change society.

Reading Rigby's book however, it makes you realize the extent a small group of people can really make a difference if they're organized, strategic, and understand both the logic of tools and what motivates people to participate.


Notable quotes:

"Blogging purists will say that operating a successful blog necessitates shifting the very structure of your organization - making it more open" (Rigby, p. 43)

"Sustainable advantage in Web 2.0 is not about maintaining control; it's about delivering value to a community over time" (Rigby, p. 45).

"To be effective in this environment, you have to behave more like an organizer and less like a marketer" (Rigby, p. 83).

The demographics of social networks (specifically Myspace)

While the above video may be one of the most articulate demographic mappings of the social networks that I've ever seen (even though it's a bit dated), there is some very good academic research being conducted on social networks.

danah boyd (@zephoria) is well know for her work researching social media and the activities of youth online; at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York this past summer, she gave this talk which created a ton of buzz.

"The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online" discussed how online networks are subject to the same logic of homophily as offline networks and communities (homophily = tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others).

boyd touched on the social divisions that occurred as Myspace experienced a major exodus of its wealthier, more educated white users who left for the land of Facebook:
What happened was modern day "white flight." Whites were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. The educated were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those from the suburbs were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those who deserted MySpace did so by "choice" but their decision to do so was wrapped up in their connections to others, in their belief that a more peaceful, quiet, less-public space would be more idyllic.
Researchers out of Harvard recently looked at a dataset of 100,000 Myspace users and mirror Boyd's "white flight" findings; they reported that Myspace users...
...populate smaller cities and communities in the south and central parts of the country. Piskorski rattles off some MySpace hotspots: "Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Florida."

They aren't in Dallas but they are in Fort Worth. Not in Miami but in Tampa. They're in California, but in cities like Fresno. In other words, not anywhere near the media hubs (except Atlanta) and far away from those elite opinion-makers in coastal urban areas.

Exploring the web site, I'm realizing how important it is to understand that Myspace is a non-random collection of voters and constituents who may have fundamentally different political sensibilities - as well as aesthetic sensibilities - as the people who spend their time in Facebook (or any other social network for that matter).

It seems like it would be useful keeping this in mind for organizational interests attempting to brand and execute their respective campaigns online.


The other thing that came to mind was @planetmoney's recent podcast MySpace Was Born Of Total Ignorance, which is pretty awesome.

They talk about how creators of Myspace - who came out of the Hollywood/internet porn scene - wanted to create a nightclub atmosphere online.

Hearing about the thinking and experiences of the sites founders, the podcast helps make sense of why Myspace would attract different kinds of folks than the Ivy-League-generated Facebook.


Related stuff:
-Short interview w/ Global Voices' Ethan Zuckerman (@EthanZ) on homophily
-Stealing Myspace (Book by author interviewed on mentioned Planet Money podcast)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Digital Political Strategy

This blog is for the JHU class Digital Political strategy with Alan Rosenblatt of the Center for American Progress.