It's Clay Shirky's Internet, We Just Live In It

I can't remember when, exactly, I discovered Clay Shirky, but I suspect it was around 2003 or so. I sent him an email about micropayments, he actually answered it, and we had a rather nice discussion on the topic. I've been a fan of Clay's writing ever since. (In case you're curious, Clay was right -- micropayments are dead -- and I was dead wrong. All the more reason to be a fan.)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:
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You’d be surprised at how many couples (myself included) play WoW together.

“Technology for what?”

See Nader’s “policy talk at Google.” I think you’ll find his charge to the tech community both challenging and relevant.

oscar: Eurovision is serious? For real?

Jeff: You said “almost all software is social software”.

Are you quite sure about that? Maybe you’re living too close to the Web Social Software Clique?

There’s a lot more software in the world than “social networking” websites, forums*, MMORPGs, and IM clients, though one might not think that if one just followed the hot topic of the moment on download sites.

(* The Devil.)

I’m a huge believer in the fact that the social aspect of the internet is a passing fad. People often forget that the internet is litte more than tv, print, and the telephone all rolled into one. At its core it’s nothing more than a means of communication and often times it feels like people get confused into thinking it’s a magical world where anything is possible.

It’s not.

Secondarily, groups DO NOT always think up the best solutions by consensus. Often you will find superfluous elements, disagreement, lack of other necessary elements, and in general lesser quality offset by greater quantity. (ever hear the jok about how the platypus being a duck designed by a committee? or have you watched a good portion of the user created content on youtube? granted there are a few gems but they’re amongst a vast amount of utter trash.)

Secondly, I would propose taking a look at a reatively big “crowdsourcing” project:’s Mechanical Turk.

The vast majority of the “tasks” they have listed are spamming techniques such as “post a link to here” or “write a review about something here” or “give me ideas on how to make money with X” or “call up this customer service number here” and on and on and on…

All at a remarkably low pay.

This is a perfect example of a relatively noble effort to harness group effort into something that benefits both parties involved that has gone relatively wrong.

I can only say that you should expect more of this to happen in the years to come.

Don’t worry Jeff.
There are a lot of people who love you and your blog.

We love code. Yes. Really.

We will make SOF work. Just don’t be afraid.

In response to Postindustrialist…

the social aspect of the internet is a passing fad
I doubt this, however, I doubt that it’s going to be very useful in many situations (e.g. sewer system maintenance, battleship design, engineering software design, etc.)

groups DO NOT always think up the best solutions by consensus
It all depends on the task and whether the group judgment is invalidated by too many group members listening to each other rather than doing their own independent resarch. Unfortunately, social networking makes this much too easy.

The vast majority of the “tasks” they have listed are spamming techniques
True. Every ecology develops parasites (e.g Bear Stearns, or any large military contractor). Eventually, the system develops resistance or dies. Successful systems reproduce, in the case of social networking projects, by means of information distribution.

Curiously television was early in the fifties seen by some as primarily a revolutionary social media, where groups would self-organize and communicate by television. Didn’t quite happen that way :wink:

I believe that stackoverflow will become something good because all of us reading Coding Horror will want to contribute, an opinion that relates to your post as well…

Thanks for post and recommendation.

these days, almost all software is social software.

“The Devil” is correct–to judge by this comment (and to be honest, I think you just got carried away in a momentary delirium of new-media fanboyism), you are too close to the current hipness centroid, and are losing sight of the wider picture of software development.

The overwhelming majority of software is not social software. Twitter, Facebook, and the billion little startups with dorky Web 2.0-compliant names are a small fraction of what’s going on. Most software is still the Linux kernel, Nvidia drivers for my Mac, internal webapps for companies that make physical products, Oracle, screamingly hideous CRM Elder Gods. Most software is bespoke automation of internal business processes, and it never sees the light of day outside its originating company.

The stuff that is social software does have a cultural impact far well beyond its proportion to the rest of the software universe; that’s great, but it’s important to bear the real proportions in mind as well.

We all love code…
Jeff may be you can use that statement as a punch line for stackoverflow : ))

Shoot, I meant to work this into the post and forgot. Be sure to read Nick Carr’s response to Shirky’s “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus”

Shirky’s response to Carr is in the comments there. Don’t miss it!

We all love code, but do we all code what we love?

Because these days, almost all software is social software.

Couldn’t agree more. The substance of the Internet itself is social media.


How is going to get me laid?

(well, I’m one year off the target demographic, but close enough)

As Justice does, perhaps we should try to see the good sides of things, but also the bad ones, if any…

I use to think that these new ways of communication between people turns societies into a high scaled brain, each of us being like a small a neuron that receives, micro-process and sends information again. I feel dizzy thinking of it, and I see it as very good news. But…, is there a “but”? Is it too good to be true? Is there a hidden dark side inside social autoregulated systems?

Only an example: Here in Spain we all were free to choose our singer to represent us in Eurovision contest. Many countries chose their better singers. Spain, however, chose a “freak” with a funny (and bad) song, and some musicians and other people said that it was not the right choice sending a clown to a serious song contest. Summing up: A few music experts opinion was unable to stop the massive non-expert opinion of the rest of people, and the freak went to the contest.

The point is: Is a freely autoregulated system always able to evolve to higher levels? Is there a risk that the system, when choosing the easiest (or funniest) way to do something, will also choose the worst?

Another example can be PHP, as you said before.

“My happiness only becomes real when I share it with all of you.”

If that isn’t true I dont’ know what is. And if you have a hard time understanding this or just agreeing with it, I recommend seeing the movie “Into the Wild.” I promise it will present a new perspective to how you view everything (the world, your work, coding…whatever).

How is going to get me laid?


Jeff, this is why I read your blog. Not because I always agree with you (only about half the time!) And not because your topics are always entertaining (they are most of the time.) No, I read your blog because they always provide me with new information, new knowledge that I didn’t have before. Keep it up.

And there is some great foresight there by Mr. Shirky. Interactivity is only going to grow. People want to connect to other people. We are social animals. We need to feel wanted, to feel like we matter, and we get that through social response.