Clay Shirky In Charge
September 19, 2008 9:12 PM   Subscribe

This is *really* good talk, right.
posted by mrzarquon at 9:48 PM on September 19, 2008

Shirky is so smart it makes me sick, right.
posted by cortex at 10:06 PM on September 19, 2008

I haven't gotten to the post yet because I started reading this. It's like the ideal gas law of Wikipedia dead horse flogging.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:40 PM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Student of Man at 11:17 PM on September 19, 2008

Have a look at rejected MeTa pony requests for more examples of this...
posted by anthill at 11:50 PM on September 19, 2008

Jesus, I was watching this other Shirky talk in another tab when I popped by here to see what was new on mefi.
posted by mathowie at 12:16 AM on September 20, 2008

mrzarquon, cortex:

I can't really tell if you guys are being sarcastic or not?
posted by Sangermaine at 12:26 AM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another example of the kinds of purposeful inconveniences that can help shape a group are the ones put into private BitTorrent trackers. Starting with Napster, most P2P networks were basically a free-for-all of low quality material, malicious content, and freeloaders. Private torrent trackers usually make joining the site itself difficult by using invite-only schemes, and make staying a member difficult by imposing upload/download ratio minimums. Those simple methods work surprisingly well, and BitTorrent communities seem to form more cohesive and efficient communities than any of the previous systems, even when the communities contain tens of thousands of members.

In my opinion the area that needs this kind of overhaul the most is peer-to-peer goods sales. eBay was the first and most dominant site in that area, and although they provided a feedback system to make staying a member difficult, it was easily gamed to the point of being useless. Craigslist has become a popular alternative more recently, in part due to its smart strategy of keeping transactions local and in real life, but it also has major problems which have gotten worse as the site has become more popular. In both cases, the communities started with a high percentage of honest people, but as time went on more and more scammers were able to successfully integrate and drag down the usefulness of the overall group. I think the only way to make a sustainably useful site to buy and sell goods is to make joining and staying a member significantly more difficult than in existing sites.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:29 AM on September 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

That Shirky is one smart cat, and a great speaker!

'Finite and Infinite Games' by James Carse is a great little book. The chapters are broken down into small succinct ideas anywhere from a sentence to a couple of pages long. Check it out sometime.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:56 AM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

burnmp3s, be careful, or before long MeFi will implement this.
posted by mystyk at 3:00 AM on September 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

His ideas on this seem a little muddled at this stage. I counted:
1. Mechanisms for making it harder for freeloaders to flourish in an online group.
2. An anecdote about one woman's privacy-related problems with Facebook and how it might be better to build the system in such a way that it is harder to send or receive some kinds of status change messages.
3. The idea of sports and other activities which flourish only because they are about competition for a limited resource.
4. Some ideas about how online groups can drive activism.

I get that "inconvenience" can be a part of all of these examples but I think it needs something more than a 20 minute talk to explain exactly what all that might mean for the design of social systems.
posted by rongorongo at 3:07 AM on September 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Bald man, a podium and glasses. The setup promised profoundness. How disappointing.
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 4:29 AM on September 20, 2008

I can't really tell if you guys are being sarcastic or not?

I'm (I can probably safely say we're) not being sarcastic. It is a really good talk, and Shirky is all kinds of smart in ways that make me want to strangle him and abscond with his unpublished work. He also uses "right" as a sentence-terminal filled pause, which you'll note happens approximately five hundred thousand times in those twenty three minutes, right.
posted by cortex at 4:33 AM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

See also, Nudge. Shirky is a pretty smart guy, but his ideas usually show up somewhere else, first. He's a kind of an academic translator and bricoleur of cool ideas, working over the scrap heap and pulling out useful detritus. Nudge, though, has gotten tons of press and it seems a little soon to be declaring it abandonware unworthy of a citation. Something tells me he did a stint in a consulting firm somewhere between college and grad school.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:49 AM on September 20, 2008

Meh, his problems are already solved by "religion". Free riders are regulated by burdensome rituals. Collective action is organized by a moderate amount of power centralization. Engineered inconvenience is maintained by hand-me-down dogma. Problem solved!
posted by sandking at 5:49 AM on September 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Shirky is all kinds of smart

As someone said, Shirky is what you get if you spend your time thinking about things instead of blogging about them.
posted by effbot at 6:15 AM on September 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

> I can't really tell if you guys are being sarcastic or not?

The guy is brilliant, and while some of his stuff is not individually ground breaking (making it work to participate in a group leads to the group regulating itself and its goals), he was able to wrap up the entire concept and explain it in a 23 minute lecture.

Also, cortex pointed out the verbal tic of him saying right almost every breath (as a replacement for um), so now I can't stop hearing it every time I listen to him, right.
posted by mrzarquon at 9:00 AM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cory Doctorow dealt with some of these themes in the book: "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" back in 2003.
posted by robertmyers at 9:23 AM on September 20, 2008

I don't think his problem with social groups is a new one. It's the classic problem of being able to get people to protest in mass, even through traditional means, but always having problems with manning the soup kitchen. Groups that have be able to man them, like churches, as sandking said, social mores and dogma to control group action. When these actions are taken off the table, it becomes harder. Social mores are difficult to enforce in groups created in "non-organic" means, like through facebook or livejournal.

With a church, even if you disagree and quit the group, you still live in the same town, and have to interact with the people you broke from. They have a geographic monopoly on your social sphere, which gives a real societal cost to breaking from a group. If you don't like the way your online social group is going, you can simply walk away. Any perceived problem in the group can lead it to hollow out as people run for better climes, which makes long, drawn out actions that don't have immediate positive results difficult to follow through.
posted by zabuni at 10:23 AM on September 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

The "right" thing would have bothered me a few years ago. However, one of my favorite professors at my college has the same tic (only worse), and his kindness and brilliance more than made up for having to hear "right?" at the end of every spoken line. Because of him I've learned to give speakers like Shirky the benefit of the doubt when it comes to tics like that - listen to what they say, not to their tics.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:46 AM on September 20, 2008

Yes, absolutely. And I'm full of filled pauses myself when I speak. It got to be more of a Don't Think Of An Elephant thing, listening to this last night; once I noticed it for whatever reason, I couldn't un-notice it, and Shirky's consistent use of it at the end of sentences or even just clauses functions almost as verbal punctuation, which is interesting and funny in a mild, light-hearted, I-don't-think-one-whit-less-of-him sort of way.

To put it another way, it's no big deal that he has this tic. But he really, really evidences this tic, and it's very specific and not an (as far as I'm aware) common candidate for filled pauses, which is kind of linguistically interesting.

When I was a kid, there was a period, when I was still clawing my way out of a period of powerful shyness and social nervousness, where I would follow nearly every social interjection with a quickly muttered "yeah no"—instinctively sort of apologizing, or so I later came to see it, for what was often a humorous interjection, potentially at someone else's expense, in conversation with peers who I didn't feel were particularly accepting of me and who had displayed in the past a willingness to rebuke a zing with shove or a punch. Getting out of that habit, cutting off the social/stress feedback loop that reinforced that habit in the first place, was a long, weird semi-conscious process.

Which, anyway: drifting far from the subject of the talk.
posted by cortex at 11:23 AM on September 20, 2008

I'm not familiar with his work, but Shirky in this instance seems to me to be trying very hard to be an Original Thinker, but without a very systematic approach to fleshing out his Original Thinking. His idea labeled as "inconvenience" is really just energy expenditure. His point seems to be that groups expend energy and members need to get rewarded for expending it, and the more the energy required, the greater the reward must be. Engineering social systems must take this into account. But then, given my moniker, I may be missing the point entirely.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2008

Well, I think it's useful that he's describing it in terms of inconvenience, actually, and here's why: so much of what goes on in the implementation of things like social software and internet applications is framed explicitly in terms of convenience—with convenience as presumed virtue, a fair perspective (look at how consumer internet has changed the world in the last decade or two) but one which when taken to without caution can mask unintended consequences.

It's a framing thing, in other words, and a valid point to make. We get a complaint via the mefi contact form probably at least once a week from someone who is angry that (a) they can't post a question yet or (b) they can't post to the front page or (c) we expect them to pay five dollars to sign up, all of which are things that can be reasonably described as inconveniences we're enforcing on new users.

And they're not wrong, as far as that goes, in describing these things as inconvenient; I can defend those policies (and do, at least once a week, heh), but I don't do so by saying that they're not inconvenient. Convenience in this case would be a bad thing, for the site; convenience is behind a lot of the things that suck about the internet, in many cases because that convenience is an inherent part of an otherwise good thing. (Email? Fantastic. Spam? Well, shit.)

So I don't think Shirky's trying to pull a fast one by saying "inconvenience" instead of "requires energy expenditure" as if he'd invented the latter idea. I think the framing of how we think of convenience is a big part of his point, and it's a pretty useful way to make the idea of what's good and bad about this kind of, as you say, accounting for such stuff in the engineering of social systems, more obvious and approachable to folks who may not have otherwise considered it in that light. And more so yet for people who haven't had a reason to consider this stuff at all, even as they are daily more and more affected by it as casual social users of the net.
posted by cortex at 12:04 PM on September 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

I would agree with cortex.

When I first delved into Freire's 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed' I thought much of the analogous language he used was contrived. Then I began to see that it was more than apt for the subject he was talking about.

Truthfully I don't recall noticing the 'right'(s) he was using, but I did notice him flubbing his speech a few times and I still thought it was great!
posted by P.o.B. at 5:19 PM on September 20, 2008

Thanks cortex for finally showing me the light.

I now realize his long unsubstantial speech full of divergent anecdotes were really just his concept of 'inconvenience' applied to the real world. Genius! What better way to teach, than through example.
posted by Raff at 5:16 AM on September 21, 2008

Clay Shirky is the Joel Furr of Cory Doctorowism.
posted by felix at 7:40 AM on September 23, 2008

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